Sometimes just looking online at a news site, or skimming a newspaper or a magazine can help you generate an idea that might be useful for essay development. Skimming can be a form of prewriting, although you definitely will go back and forth between skimming and other prewriting strategies, such as brainstorming, making a list, or more.
If you can’t identify a focus for an essay through other prewriting strategies, skim a newspaper, magazine, blog, or website, something in which the writer offers his or her own thoughts and assertions about an issue. Does any article immediately interest you? Can you easily identify some personal thoughts about the same issue, or about a related issue that occurred to you as you skimmed the publication?
Skimming may lead to a closer reading of the text, and may lead into the prewriting strategy of responding to a text. Or it may simply jog your thinking about possible topics. Either outcome is fine, as a way of generating some ideas for writing. Once you have an idea, go back to other prewriting strategies and use what makes sense to you to help develop that idea further.
The following video explains how to skim effectively.
Responding to a Text
Many writers develop ideas from reading. For example, what do you think about a recent magazine article about manufacturers moving out of the U.S. to keep costs down (to pay workers $1.00 a day instead of $18.00 per hour)? What do you think about a newspaper editorial that is for/against quotas to ensure equal employment? What do you think about the idea, offered in a college textbook, that the U.S. is a society dominated by a traditional class structure? Reading can spark lots of ideas for writing, and it’s a sure bet that you will be asked to respond to certain assigned college readings with your own ideas.
You can prewrite for an essay by writing your ideas down as you read, which is called annotating a text. Record your thoughts in the margins. Agree or disagree with others’ ideas, and jot down your reasons. Jot down questions that occur to you as you read. In essence, carry on your own dialogue with the writer of the text, as though you were talking with him or her, and write that dialogue down so you can retrieve it later on.
The following video offers strategies for annotating a text.
(this page’s text © Empire State College)