Process Writing: Prewriting

Table of Contents | Introduction | About the Author

Pre-writing is any activity in which a writer engages in preparation for the writing process. It may be activities designed to provide inspiration, or it may be part of the decision making process needed before one is motivated to write. It may be of a short duration-nearly invisible or it may be rather involved.

A fluency activity serves a variety of purposes. Use of a fluency activity is designed to allow writers to become more comfortable in the writing process. It may also provide inspiration for the actual written product by acting as an idea gathering activity. Frequently the term brainstorming is used to describe these activities; however, brainstorming actually is only one of the methods used to develop fluency in writing.

Brainstorming is the process of putting down ideas at random about a particular topic. No regard is given to appropriateness although an effort is made to record as many facets of the topic as possible.

Small/large group brainstorming uses the technique of free association with a group of any size. It allows the idea of one person to generate ideas within another. No criticism of any suggestion is allowed in order that the widest variety of thoughts be recorded. From the group brainstorming, a writer may draw any ideas which are appropriate to the topic.

Cubing is a formalized approach to pre-writing. It requires that a topic be approached from a variety of viewpoints. Frequently, an actual cube is used as a visual reminder of the process. The cube consists of the following instructions: describe it, analyze it, argue for or against it, apply it, associate it, and compare it.

Free association is the concept that a writer merely jots down words, phrases, or perhaps sentences on a subject without concern for the appropriateness of any idea. It is the foundation premise of brainstorming.

A journal is a form of diary writing not usually designed to be read by someone else. It is very informal in nature and may cover a wide variety of subjects without regard to rule. A journal may be written in daily, weekly, or erratically. It is one of the best means of developing a written voice. It is usually ungraded or graded only for performance. What is begun in a journal entry can be used later in more formalized writing.

Listing is the most common approach to pre-writing. The writer merely lists all the ideas he or she intends to cover on a particular topic. The list can then be organized by making deletions and additions where necessary.

Looping requires a writer to write at least a paragraph on a particular topic. The writer then takes a single sentence from this paragraph and creates an additional paragraph using the sentence as a starting place. A sentence is taken from the second paragraph and used to create a third paragraph. This is a means of forcing a writer to go into greater depth or detail.

Mapping/Webbing is a means of listing ideas and showing their relationship to one another. Lines are drawn between and among ideas forming a web or map.

New uses requires a writer to list a number of new uses for an object such as a shoe. The usual uses are not allowed on the list. This helps the writer build creativity and extend thought.

Oral reportage allows a writer to talk about ideas to others. The act of verbalizing can bypass a writing block and allow the writer to then use what has been said as a basis for a written work.

Small/large group discussion is a form of oral telling by a group. A particular subject is discussed by members of the group, but it is more focused than in brainstorming.

Power writing or timed writing is a form of forced writing in which the writer is required to generate written words on a specific subject during a timed writing exercise. No regard is given to organization or rules. Instead the intention is to force out onto paper any ideas on a given subject.

Sentence stubs are used to generate responses to a particular subject by beginning the sentence and allowing the writer to finish it. I wish ______.

Trigger words are a series of words to which the writer responds. It is designed to increase the thinking process and perhaps provide a foundation for a writing topic. It is similar to free association except that a series of words are used rather than one leading to another.

Visual representation is the drawing of ideas rather than writing them. From the drawing, the writer can then create a written work.

Word shaking is designed to help writers see how words can be used in more creative ways. It asks them to respond to a series of questions on a particular sense. What does a cloud sound like?

Writing roulette is a written form of group brainstorming. A single statement is written by one writer and passed on to another. This writer adds a statement and passes the two statements to a third person who adds another statement. This continues for as long as it is productive. It encourages contribution by everyone within a group.


Preliminary decisions require the writer to make certain choices before the actual writing begins. Without a clearly defined purpose, form, and audience, writing loses its focus. Frequently writers make these decisions automatically: I'm going to write a letter to Aunt Martha thanking her for my new bike. In formal writing assignments, these decisions are made more consciously.

The arrangement of a written work may follow any pattern which effectively conveys the idea intended. It may be chronologically organized according to a time sequence. It may be spatially ordered such as up-down or right-left. It may be logically arranged which can be general to specific, specific to general, or according to importance. It may be ordered narratively which is a story telling technique building to a climax.

The audience may be no one, the writer only, or someone else. It may be someone known to the writer such as a friend, a parent, a relative, or a teacher (superintendent, principal, coach, staff member). It may be someone unknown to the writer such as a sports figure, a politician, a movie star or singer, a court official, readers of a newspaper or magazine, a manufacturer, a store owner, a government agency, a radio or TV audience, or the president of a company.

The development of a written work is the means through which ideas are explained and made clear to the reader. Comparison-contrast shows the similarities and differences between two ideas which have something in common. This can be done either by comparing how something unfamiliar is similar to a familiar object, or by contrasting two familiar objects to reveal their intrinsic differences.

Development through definition or classification places a concept within a particular class and then proceeds to show how it deviates from other things within the same class. Cause and effect shows how a single idea or event is either affected by a number of other events or causes a number of other events.

Development may also be through details giving specific facts about a particular subject. One way is through description using the five senses (taste, hear, see, smell, feel) to make the reader aware of the physical nature of a particular subject.

The form in which the ideas will be conveyed is dependent upon the purpose. It may be a letter/memo, a poem, an essay, a story, a report, a newspaper article, or a journal/diary.

The organization of a written work will be determined by the needs of the content. Outlining is a formalized arrangement of the content. It allows for a clear visualizing of the relative importance and arrangement of ideas. It may be in sentence or fragment format.

The purpose of writing may be to inform or to persuade, to entertain, to record for posterity, or to act as a catharsis.

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