There's a lot that has to happen before experienced writers actually begin the drafting process, and much of that work falls into the category of prewriting.
Prewriting is the planning and organizing that a writer does before actively beginning to write. It features several distinct phases or purposes, each of which will have to be tailored to a particular writing project.
One of the most important benefits a writer can get from prewriting is a narrow, manageable focus. It's important for the goals of a writing project to be realistic.
The most common way writers get into trouble with writing projects is that they bite off more than they can chew given the limitations put on their time and the number of allowed pages or words involved.
Keeping a focus narrow makes it possible to fully explain the ideas and fully answer the questions that drive an essay. There's nothing worse than a writing project that can't take into account the relevant details involved in its claim, or one that can't support the broad argument it's trying to make.
When planning an essay or other writing project during the prewriting step of the writing process, a writer should consider her audience and purpose, then ask whether the focus of the argument is tight enough that she will be able to do it justice in the time and space allowed.
This will help the writer narrow in on a working thesis. As you may know, a thesis is a single sentence that becomes the driving idea behind a piece of writing. A working thesis is a thesis that the writer develops during the prewriting stage to be used as the basis of the outline and, eventually, of the essay itself once it has been fully thought through.
Once you've got your focus narrow enough to be manageable, the next thing to do is create an outline for your essay or writing project. Outlines vary depending on the writer and the writing project at hand.
Generally speaking, outlines are the prewritten plans for an essay or other piece of writing, and generally include a working thesis and the primary ideas to be discussed, as well as some form of structural plan or organization. Metaphorically speaking, an outline is the blueprint, not the house!
Outlining makes for a stronger piece of writing, as well as a faster, more focused writing process. There are multiple kinds of outlines, just as there are multiple ways of making them. In this lesson, we will cover three different forms that an outline can take.
As you will see, each of these three methods of outlining would contain more or less the same information and be equally useful in writing the essay. Here, as in many other aspects of the writing process, it all comes down to personal preference or assignment requirements.
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The first type is a traditional outline, which is highly detailed and includes headings and subheadings.
Suppose you are writing a persuasive proposal about unlimited time off policies, and your thesis is that offering employees unlimited time off is better than having a set amount of sick and vacation time allotted each year. You might make an outline that plans out the three main headings you'd need to cover:
- Problems with existing time off policies. You may include, for example, the impacts of health emergencies or extended illnesses. Or, you may discuss how companies target mostly the young, healthy people on whom they'll make the most money.
- Ways that an unlimited time off system might help both employees and employers. You'd likely use information about companies that have adopted this policy, and how it has positively impacted the work environment.
- Reasons that unlimited time off hasn't been adopted as widely as it could be. This could include employer concerns that people will take too much time off, as well as the reverse: People may take less time than they should if they won’t “lose” the days at the end of the year.
3b. Less Defined
Another form of outline, one a little less rigid and detail oriented, might work in certain circumstances.
You might simply write out your thesis, stating that unlimited time off policies should be implemented across companies in the United States, then quickly note down any reasons and presumed evidence.
Again, this may include the problems you see with many current time off policies, examples of how companies that have implemented unlimited time off policies have benefited from them, and the reasons why some companies are hesitant to move toward unlimited time off policies.
A third, perhaps less common form of outlining, is called storyboarding. This involves drawing a series of panels or squares with notes and images detailing a writing plan.
For the working thesis on unlimited time off policies, you could break up your outline into three pieces or panels:
- Problems with many current time off policies
- Possible alternatives to current policies
- Reasons why unlimited time off hasn't been adopted at some workplaces