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  Home > InfoWrite > The Writing Process > Prewriting Strategies

InfoTrac College Edition

Prewriting Strategies

Developing Ideas Through Prewriting

Discovering and developing a topic for writing can be challenging. There are a number of techniques writers use to create ideas. Don't confuse prewriting with writing a first draft. At this stage you are simply exploring ideas, looking for topics, discovering needed details, identifying subjects that need further research.

  1. Consider What You Have Thought About Recently
    What ideas or opinions do you have on current events? Has a recent experience given you insight into yourself or seemed symbolic of larger issues?
  2. List Ideas About A Topic
    List as many ideas as you can. At this point don't attempt to organize or edit ideas -- list as many as possible. Later you can eliminate minor or repetitive ideas and draw connections between related items.
  3. Ask Questions
    Journalists develop stories by asking the basic Five W's -- who? what? where? when? why? You can explore and deepen your understanding by asking questions about a subject: Why are soap operas popular? Who benefits from cyberspace? What caused the team to win or lose? When will race relations change? Where is the best place to buy a computer?
  4. Use Freewriting
    Sometimes you can use writing as a way of directing your thinking. Freewriting is not a rough draft of a paper, but writing that directs or stimulates your thinking. Like doodling, freewriting is a means of discovery. Many writers will sit down and write non-stop, filling a page or a computer screen with ideas without stopping. Let the ideas flow and later look at what you produced. You may discover a single word or phrase in a jumble of ideas that focus your thinking about a subject.
  5. Cluster Ideas
    If you are more visually oriented, you can develop writing ideas by drawing, sketching out ideas in a tree-like fashion or by using circles or squares. Use underlining to emphasize ideas and draw arrows to show connections. Clustering is useful to organize comparisons and classifications. You can use clustering -- or drawing -- to arrange ideas and rank points by importance. Cross-out unrelated or minor ideas and reshape your diagram into an outline to guide your first draft.
  6. Talk To Other Students Or Friends
    Sometimes you can feel lost or overwhelmed by a writing assignment. Just as a friend can sometimes enter a room and instantly spot the car keys you have have spent an hour searching for, someone else can give you a fresh perspective on your topic.
  7. Explore Cyberspace
    Plug a key word or phrase into a search engine and see what web pages the browser pulls up. Scan these to learn more about your subject or develop a new angle on your topic. Trolling the internet can be fascinating -- don't lose track of time. Limit your explorations.

    Start a chat room on your subject. Pose questions to gather some random comments or critiques of your ideas. The anonymity of the internet may generate more honest comments than those by friends.
  8. Experiment With A Variety Of Techniques
    As you write in this course try different methods of discovering and developing ideas until you create your own style.

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From The Sundance Reader, Third Edition, Web Site by Mark Connelly.