Writing Process: Prewriting

“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.”
– Steven Wright

Prewriting is the first stage of any writing project. This is where the writer first starts to gather information and ideas around their chosen topic. One way of achieving this is through research. Other methods include freewriting, mapping out your thoughts in a diagram, or using journalistic questions. Let’s look at each of these separately.

Research. Your research is going to rely on your topic at hand. Print sources include newspapers, journals, books and magazines. Electronic and digital sources may include podcasts, ebooks or audio books, websites or a PDF. Each research method is specific to your topic, just as specific industries have their own citation methods. Some industries conduct research through surveys or studying participants. If you require this in your research, you may seek out a scientific journal for your search. Regardless of your source, however, don’t forget to paraphrase. This is where you put someone else’s words into your own. Failure to do so is plagiarism, which is always wrong.

Freewriting. If getting started is a struggle, start free writing. Have your research off to the site and write whatever comes to mind. It may not be exactly what you’re supposed to write, but keep going. Free writing can be a wonderful confidence booster. Often times we stare endlessly at research, unsure of how to begin. But freewriting allows us to unleash our creativity. We’re not bound to any guidelines pre-determined by our publisher or instructor. This is your viewpoint on the topic and it could open your mind to a new perspective. If you’re writing a research paper, for instance, start by writing a paragraph. Maybe you write your thoughts about the subject. Now, keep going. Before you know it, you have found a great start to your paper.

Mind maps. Visual writers will appreciate mind maps. This is where you place your main topic in the center of a page. Let’s say you’re comparing/contrasting states located in the southwestern United States. Place “southwestern United States” in the center of a blank page. drawing a circle around it. Now, draw 3 lines going away from it. Three states you may choose are Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Draw circles around the three states. Then, write at least things that are relative to each state. You can then draw additional lines coming from these circles with more specific information. When you’re finished, your page should be full. This is going to give you a good start to your writing project.

Journalistic Questions. Finally, the six journalistic questions are important in the prewriting stage. These questions are Who, What, When, Why, Where and How. During the research stage of prewriting, try to answer these questions. Keep in mind, however, they may not all be relevant to your topic. If you’re comparing/contrasting three types of fruits, for instance, you won’t have a who. Don’t stress if you can’t find information for all the questions. It may just mean they are not applicable to the topic of which you are writing.

What other pre-writing tips do you find most useful?

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