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Prewriting

Prewriting

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Author: Sophia Tutorial
Description:

Recognize the goals of prewriting in the writing process.

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what's covered
In this lesson, you will learn about prewriting and the way it is used for organizing thoughts, narrowing the focus of a writing project, and outlining or planning the essay. You will also discover how the prewriting process strengthens your productivity skill. Specifically, this lesson will cover:
  1. Prewriting in the Writing Process
  2. Narrowing Focus
  3. Outlining Methods
    1. Traditional
    2. Less Defined
    3. Storyboarding

1. Prewriting in the Writing Process

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.

Prewriting includes:

  • Planning, conducting, and organizing the research that needs to be done before any real writing can begin
  • Narrowing down the writing project's focus and making sure it's one that can be fully explained given the time and space constraints on the writer or the writing project
  • Outlining the project, or making a plan for what to write
It's important to do this kind of prewriting, because the organizing and clarifying of thoughts and plans that it provides gives writers greater control over their projects and usually saves them time in the long run. Effective prewriting enables the writer to be more productive as the writing process continues.

term to know
Prewriting
A stage in the writing process in which the writer generates ideas and creates a plan for the writing project prior to composing a first draft.


2. Narrowing Focus

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.

big idea
A main reason why writers bother with these early stages of the writing process is to help narrow their focus and keep that focus during the rest of the writing process.

terms to know
Working Thesis
A thesis statement that the writer develops during the prewriting stage of the writing process in order to build initial ideas for an outline.
Thesis
A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea of a piece of writing.


3. Outlining Methods

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.

Productivity: Skill Tip
Organization is a cornerstone to productivity. The more organized you are, the more productive you will be. Likewise, the more you can organize your writing, not only will it make sense to the reader, but it will make the rest of the writing process more efficient. When you develop an outline prior to writing, you will save substantial time in the writing and editing process, strengthening your productivity skill.

term to know
Outline
The prewritten plan for an essay or other piece of writing that generally includes a working thesis, the primary ideas to be discussed, and the planned structural organization.

3a. Traditional

The first type is a traditional outline, which is highly detailed and includes headings and subheadings.

IN CONTEXT

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

IN CONTEXT

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.

3c. Storyboarding

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.

IN CONTEXT

For the working thesis on unlimited time off policies, you could break up your outline into three pieces or panels:

  1. Problems with many current time off policies
  2. Possible alternatives to current policies
  3. Reasons why unlimited time off hasn't been adopted at some workplaces

summary
In this lesson, you learned about prewriting in the writing process, a stage that helps with narrowing a focus down to something manageable within the constraints of the writing project's rhetorical situation. Prewriting also involves outlining, or creating a plan for later drafts. Three possible outlining methods are traditional outlines, less defined outlines, and storyboarding. Finally, you discovered how outlining strengthens your productivity skill.

Best of luck in your learning!

Terms to Know
Outline

The prewritten plan for an essay or other piece of writing that generally includes a working thesis, the primary ideas to be discussed, and the planned structural organization.

Prewriting

A stage in the writing process in which the writer generates ideas and creates a plan for the writing project prior to composing a first draft.

Thesis

A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea of a piece of writing.

Working Thesis

A thesis statement that the writer develops during the prewriting stage of the writing process in order to build initial ideas for an outline.