Introduction to Prewriting

What you’ll learn to do: analyze prewriting activities

"Prewrite" bullet list: Free writing, Listing, Clustering, Questioning, Dialoguing.

Writers generally plan their documents in advance. This stage, often called “prewriting,” includes everything from making a tentative outline, brainstorming, or chatting with friends or peers about the topic. For some writers, the prewriting stage is mostly mental—they think about their projects, but do not write until they are ready to start the actual document. Others plan extensively and map out exactly how they want their document to look when it’s finished.

The activities associated with prewriting might seem like they have little in common with formal, academic writing. Prewriting is, by its nature, loose and free-flowing. It’s the most open-ended part of the writing process, open to creativity and experimentation. Because of that, some people might see it as silly: a step worth skipping to get to the more “serious” work of real writing.

Avoid that temptation. Prewriting can be fun, so take the time to enjoy this part of the process. This type of writing allows you to explore your interests with your topic while finding a way into the project. Prewriting helps you sort what seems worthy of exploring in depth.

It is also a very productive time. Raw content generated during prewriting can eliminate hours of hard labor further into the writing process. It’s truly an investment that you’ll thank yourself for later in the project.

This section explores kinds of prewriting activities and the purpose behind each, so that you can select which is appropriate for each new writing task you undertake.