Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Prewriting
Take your pick:


Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about the prewriting stage of the writing process.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

312 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Source: [image of blank page, public domain,] [image of hand writing, public domain,] [image of keyboard, public domain,] [image of timer, public domain,] [image of lined paper, public domain,]

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

Today we're going to practice a skill that's more of a process than a product. We're learning about prewriting. By the end of our lesson, you'll know what prewriting is and you'll have explored some prewriting methods.

So have you ever sat at your computer staring at a blank screen, totally unsure of what to write? I know I have. That kind of experience can be so frustrating. So today we're going to practice some tricks to help us prepare to write. Because writing isn't a product, it's a process that has many different stages, steps, and methods.

To produce a finished, polished, beautiful piece of writing, I don't just sit down and write it. Not a chance. I go through many different steps and engage in a whole host of activities in order to turn an idea into a piece of text. And one of the most essential steps I take is to prewriting, which is part of the early development of a piece of writing.

I guarantee that all writers engage in some form of prewriting. So to become a great writer, we all need to understand the kinds of prewriting activities that we can try out before we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Well, then what is prewriting? Prewriting is an activity or set of activities that you might do as a writer to generate ideas for your paper. The reason we prewriting is to get a whole lot of ideas down on paper really quickly. This helps relieve the anxiety that might come along with a writing project, or might help us end writer's block, if we have it.

The whole goal of this prewriting is to encourage thinking, which means it's also a time to remain open to all sorts of ideas, opinions, and possible directions for your writing project. So there's a few different ways we might facilitate prewriting. We might think over our topic while walking the dog, talk about it with our friends, or discuss our ideas with a professor or a peer.

But there are also systematic strategies that we can use to prewrite. Some, like free writing, listing, and clustering, are almost like games we play with ourselves. Others may be more like a way of organizing thoughts to prepare for writing, such as outlining.

Outlining is a prewritten plan for an essay or other piece of writing, which generally includes ideas to be discussed and a structural organization. So to get the ideas that we'll put in an outline, we might want to try some of these fun prewriting strategies.

We'll start by thinking about listing as one prewriting strategy. When we list, we're just writing things down as they come. You might think of a topic, set a timer for a few minutes, and then spend those minutes listing every word, phrase, image, or concept that comes to your mind until the timer rings.

So what are the rules? Well, there aren't any. If a word or concept comes to your mind that seems silly, write it down, anyway. Don't censor anything. If the thought doesn't seem relevant to your topic, write it down, anyway. That connection could be useful later. You'll sort through those thoughts once you're at a point in the writing process where you're starting to organize your thoughts into a paper outline.

So let's do this together. I'll show you in real-time the kind of list I'd make on this topic. The first thing I think of is my dog. So I'll write down-- some of these animals are working animals and some are just pets.

So that makes me think about the difference between pets and other kinds of animals. I wonder what categories could we put animals in. What kind of work do animals do for humans? Now I could go on. But see how we already have a list forming of all the different thoughts that came up as I sat and considered human-animal relations?

With listing as a prewriting tool, we can perhaps even transform these ideas into outlines that will help us organize our essays later on. This is a really big benefit to listing. But note also that this list isn't necessarily pointing out the connections between ideas. It's just free form.

So the disadvantage of listing is that it might not help you connect your thoughts or develop those networks of ideas. So let's practice that. If we want to generate ideas like we did in listing, but we want to be more attentive to the connections between our ideas, we might want to try clustering.

When we cluster, we start by writing down what our topic is in one word or short phrase. This might even be a topic that your professor gave you in the assignment. So write that in the center of a piece of paper.

Then, just like you did when you were listing, let ideas come to you about this topic. Write down other words or phrases that are related to the topic in spots around the center word. Now here's where you're going to connect those ideas. Draw a line from the center out to each of those bubbles. So then think about all of those words and phrases and their connections.

When you have another idea, write it down too. If it's closely related to the main topic, write it close to the center. If it's less relevant, put it farther away. If it's related to one of the other words, write it with a connecting line to that other bubble. Now you have a bubbly map of your ideas.

So clustering is a great tool for people who like to learn visually because it represents the paper that you'll eventually write in a visual fashion and helps you make connections between ideas to explore the whole network of thoughts that can be generated by any topic. But again, you might also notice that this isn't as easy to turn into an outline as that linear list was.

So let's try one last method of prewriting-- free writing When you're listing and clustering, you're focusing on short bursts of ideas-- single words or phrases. In contrast, when you free write, you might use full sentences and develop your ideas using a more narrative approach, which is a great way to get started on the writing process.

So free writing works just like it sounds. We spent several minutes writing without pause about anything that relates to our topic. And you don't just have to focus on ideas here. You can write about the feelings that this topic brings up in you, about any concerns you might have regarding the topic, or really about anything else that's relevant to the whole writing process.

I'll show you what that might look like for me. What do you notice about this free writing? Well, I started off writing about why I like this topic and that led me to thinking about the topic itself in more detail.

Because I was exploring what I personally find interesting about human-animal relations, I got the chance to hone in on a particular focus. And when I considered the variety of opinions that were possible about this focus, I discovered a connection that might not have originally occurred to me.

So this is why free writing is so useful. It helps writers explore any aspect of the topic that comes to them. But again, notice that this might not have resulted in a lot of work that I can use directly in an outline or in my paper.

So what did we practice today? Well, we thought about why it's so important to think of writing as a process that begins with prewriting. Then, we practiced three different methods for prewriting-- listing, clustering, and free writing.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

A pre-written plan for an essay or other piece of writing which generally includes the primary ideas to be discussed and a structural organization.


An activity or a set of activities that you do as a writer to generate ideas for your paper.