Prewriting Strategies: How to Get Started on Your Writing

Prewriting is the first stage of the writing process, and using effective prewriting strategies will set you up for success from start to finish.

What is prewriting?

Prewriting is the process of thinking through and planning what you’re going to write. It includes a wide variety of strategies, from reading to brainstorming to diagramming or outlining. The prewriting process helps you come up with new ideas and organize them for optimal communication.

Why prewriting is important

Schools at all levels typically place a lot of importance on helping students develop prewriting skills because they’re a vital element of good academic writing. At the same time, they’re extremely useful for business writing, manuscript writing, and just about any other type of writing you can think of.

Preplanning your composition ensures you think through your topic carefully. It also helps you make sure you’ve covered every point you intend to and is an effective way to organize your thoughts.

Prewriting strategies

Here’s our list of prewriting techniques. Recognizing that we all have different thought patterns and ways of learning, we’ve included a broad range of strategies along with prewriting examples to show you how they might work.

1. Questioning

To write about something, you need to understand what you’re writing about and how you want to do so. Asking the right questions can help you accomplish that.
Asking questions about the writing project

  • What topics am I interested in?
  • Who am I writing for?
  • What kind of writing style should I use?

Asking questions about the topic

  • What is the prevailing opinion on this topic?
  • What information is missing about this topic?
  • How reliable are the existing sources?
  • Is one view stronger than another, and if so, how?

Asking the 5 W’s + H
These six questions are taught in journalism, and they can help you think through the basics of your topic, leading to deeper understanding.

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

2. Gathering

A lot of inspiration comes from the work other people have done, so gathering diverse perspectives is one of the key prewriting activities. The idea is not to copy previous work but to build on it by becoming well informed on your topic so you can add a new perspective. Here are three ways to gather information:

  • Reading – articles, studies, books
  • Researching – search engines, PubMed, Google Scholar, JSTOR, QuillBot’s research tool
  • Listening – audiobooks, podcasts, YouTube videos, lectures

3. Brainstorming

To brainstorm most effectively, create a setting that inspires you. For example, you might go sit in nature; head to a dim, quiet library; put on some background music; or sit at a desk with some clean sheets of paper and a set of colorful markers.
Then try some of the brainstorming strategies below, which are all the same basic idea in different forms. You can choose the ones that fit best with your way of thinking and learning. Forget about grammar and spelling, and just focus on pulling ideas out of your head.
Listing – writing down everything you can think of about your topic in list form

Marc Antony speech from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

friends, countrymen
Brutus
honorable?
ethos
pathos
logos
Caesar
ambitious?
heart is in the coffin with him
evil lives, good is buried

Mapping/clustering – writing down a main idea, then drawing branches connecting more specific aspects of that idea

Freewriting – writing down everything that comes to mind in paragraph form, no matter how insignificant or unrelated

In Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar, Antony shows grief at Caesars death and uses irony to question if Brutus is as honrable as he seems. Antony wants to make the people turn on Brutus and he paints them as his friends to win them over. Uses “actions spek louder than words” argument but implied. I neeed to feed the dog when I get home and I have dinner with my girlfriends fam tomorw Maybe caesar was good because he did good for his country but also is taking captives really good? their ideas back then were kind of messed up but they were good at convincing people

Drawing – creating images of your thoughts, sometimes called sketchnoting

Image Source
Talking – saying all your thoughts out loud, possibly recording them to listen to later, or having a conversation with a friend about your topic

Looping – repeating the brainstorming process with a focus on one of the points you came up with while doing the strategies above, such as focusing on the character of Brutus in the example

Using AI – entering a term related to your topic into an AI tool to generate ideas

AI can be a brilliant way to come up with ideas when they just don’t seem to be flowing. The outlines, opposing viewpoints, examples, and other outputs that you get from an AI tool like the one in QuillBot’s Co-Writer can help you through writer’s block or point you in the right direction.

For many of the prewriting strategies above, it can be helpful to write your ideas down on sticky notes, index cards, popsicle sticks, or other objects that you can move around and rearrange as needed.

4. Comparing

Another way to think through your ideas before writing is to compare them. The following are some common comparison strategies for prewriting.

Pros and cons – Pros are the good or positive aspects of a thing, while cons are the bad or negative aspects. You can compare them to improve your understanding or arrive at a viewpoint, like this:

Pro and Cons of Baking
Pros Cons
precise measurements must be exact
gives specific results procedures must be followed correctly
easy to instruct others ingredients can’t be substituted without more advanced knowledge
makes both sweet and savory foods requires an oven

Venn diagram – A Venn diagram is a visual way to compare how things are alike and different.

Side-by-side comparison In a side-by-side comparison, you think about different elements and compare them next to each other. Here’s an example:

Cooking Baking
easy to add, subtract, or substitute ingredients ingredients and techniques not very flexible
season to taste precise amounts of salt
recipes are more like guidelines than procedures recipes are more exact, making instruction easier
more art than science more science than art
can use several types of heating elements can be done only in an oven

5. Organizing

Once you’ve brainstormed plenty of ideas, but before you begin writing, you’ll need to arrange them into a logical flow. These are some prewriting strategies to improve organization.

Outlining – arranging ideas in a vertical list, typically with multiple levels, to show their logical progression

  • Introduction
  • Hook
  • Why cooking and baking matter
  • History of cooking and baking
  • Thesis – Cooking and baking have both been key to feeding societies throughout history, but cooking is more artistic and flexible, while baking is more of a precise science.
  • Argument 1 – Cooking allows easy addition, subtraction, and substitution of ingredients, while baking requires extra knowledge to do so
  • Example 1
  • Example 2
  • Argument 2 – Imprecision in cooking techniques can still lead to a good result, while in baking it typically leads to a poor result
  • Example 1
  • Example 2

Storyboarding – arranging ideas in a storytelling format, using images and a sequential flow

A storyboard looks similar to a comic strip. You can use it to show the progression of your paper from one idea to the next.

Diagramming – arranging ideas in a diagram that shows your logical progress from one idea to the next

Many types of diagrams can help you organize your ideas, such as the examples below.

How to use prewriting techniques to improve your writing

So often, just getting those first few words onto the page is the toughest part of writing. By learning the prewriting strategies that fit you best, you can stop being intimidated by the blank page, enjoy a limitless flow of ideas, and then arrange them in a way that makes sense to your readers.

Breaking the writing process into steps during the prewriting stage makes a writer’s work so much easier, but there are even more ways to simplify the task. QuillBot provides writing tools that are not only free but easy to use and widely accessible. Why not enter your text in the Paraphraser, see what ideas AI can give you in the Co-Writer, or root out errors with the Grammar Checker?

With fantastic prewriting and editing tools like those provided by QuillBot, you’re sure to succeed.

Frequently asked questions about prewriting

What is the purpose of prewriting?

Prewriting helps you generate and organize ideas so that your writing will be complete, cohesive, and communicative.

What is a prewriting technique?

A prewriting technique is a method of planning what you’ll write, such as brainstorming or outlining.

What are two types of prewriting?

One common type of prewriting is brainstorming, which includes strategies like listing and clustering. Another popular type is questioning, which involves asking questions about the topic to generate writing ideas.

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Hannah Skaggs

Hannah, a writer and editor since 2017, specializes in clear and concise academic and business writing. She has mentored countless scholars and companies in writing authoritative and engaging content.