Prewriting is any kind of activity that contributes to the development of a lengthy piece of writing, such as a paragraph, an essay, or a research paper. Prewriting can take many different forms, so use the method with which you feel most comfortable.
Brainstorming: When a person brainstorms, he or she writes whatever comes to mind without editing it. The thoughts flow freely from the brain to a piece of paper. It's all good. There isn't any concern about making a mistake. I personally prefer this method above all others because I use a computer when I write something and I need to get my ideas out quickly. Once I can see what I'm thinking, it becomes easier to focus on a main idea and develop that idea in a way that is well organized and includes enough examples to prove whatever point I want to make. That's how I wrote this paragraph.
Outlining: Making an outline is a good method for organizing your ideas for an assignment or anything that will be of great length. An outline for an essay, for example, is organized around an idea that the writer wants to promote. The idea is supported by examples and detailed information that is specific enough for a reader to accept the main idea. An outline looks a little like this:
I. Immigration contributes to the health of the American economy.
A. Legal immigration
1. Skilled workers
2. Unskilled laborers
B. Illegal immigration
1. Countries of origin
2. Economic consequences and benefits
a. cost of labor
b. community development
C. Assimilation of new immigrants
II. Today's immigration patterns are different from those of
(and so on....)
When you make an outline, your ideas generally move from something that is general to something that is very specific. Once the outline is finished, it's quite easy for a writer to see how ideas are organized and make changes according to a thesis or a main topic.
Clustering / mind mapping: Some writers like to draw their ideas on a piece of paper with the main topic in the middle and all of the other ideas related to that main topic surrounding it. Clustering or mind mapping or whatever you want to call it looks like this:
Click for a larger image.
In this case, someone wants to write something about summer but isn't sure what to focus on. By writing down ideas at random it might be possible to see the development of a pattern, and it's in this manner that a person can discover something that he or she hadn't considered before. The cluster is a visual representation of how a person thinks. Connections emerge and from this an outline or an essay can be written.
Listing: You don't have any idea about what to write, so you just make a list of different ideas. This is similar to brainstorming, but it really does look like a list of ideas.
Reading: Before writing anything, consider finding a book from the library to do some reading on the topic that interests you. It can be fiction or nonfiction. The reason for reading is to get another persective on the subject. The book that you choose may be in line with your own thinking or in direct contrast to it. You might want to consider taking notes while reading if you are writing a research paper. If you do this, be careful to properly paraphrase the author's ideas.
Thinking: You need time to think before, during, and after you write anything. Trying to complete a writing project quickly at the last minute produces bad results.
In the next lesson, you'll learn about paragraphs.