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Main Body

Prewriting: Moving from Abstract to Concrete

It’s important to break down your topic into manageable ideas so your topic sentence or thesis is well developed and your reader has a clear idea what you mean. The following continue to build on ways to break down your ideas, part of “prewriting” in the Writing Process.

NOTE: The key is that using any of these methods at any time during the pre-writing process depends on what works best for the writer. However, time and time again, those students who do not follow some process generally write drafts fraught with problems and must do significant revision before a solid finished product is created.

There are several ways you can generate ideas.

Charting: One way to develop specific minor supporting details.

Major Support #1 Major Support #2 Major Support #3
Add minor supports . . . those details that explain this major support. These will be the most specific ideas in your paper and give a clear image to your reader what you mean.

Freewriting

Freewriting is an exercise in which you write freely about any topic for a set amount of time (usually three to five minutes). During the time limit, you may jot down any thoughts that come to your mind. Try not to worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Instead, write as quickly as you can without stopping. If you get stuck, just copy the same word or phrase over and over until you come up with a new thought.

Writing often comes easier when you have a personal connection with the topic you have chosen. Remember, to generate ideas in your freewriting, you may also think about readings that you have enjoyed or that have challenged your thinking.

Quickly recording your thoughts on paper will help you discover what you have to say about a topic. When writing quickly, try not to doubt or question your ideas. Allow yourself to write freely and unselfconsciously. Once you start writing with few limitations, you may find you have more to say than you first realized. Your flow of thoughts can lead you to discover even more ideas about the topic. Freewriting may even lead you to discover another topic that excites you even more.

Exercise 1

Freewrite about something you have recently experienced. With this event in mind, write without stopping for five minutes. After you finish, read over what you wrote. Does anything stand out to you as a good general topic to write about?

Asking Questions

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? In everyday situations, you pose these kinds of questions to get more information. Who will be my partner for the project? When is the next meeting? Why is my car making that odd noise? Even the title of this chapter begins with the question “How do I begin?”

You seek the answers to these questions to gain knowledge, to better understand your daily experiences, and to plan for the future. Asking these questions will also help you with the writing process. As you choose your topic, answering these questions can help you revisit the ideas you already have and generate new ways to think about your topic. You may also discover aspects of the topic that you would like to learn more about. All these idea-gathering techniques will help you plan for future work on your assignment.

You can explore topics by asking yourself questions about them. For example, your purpose might be the broad topic “media” and to refine media into a topic you felt comfortable writing about. To see how asking questions can help you choose a topic, take a look at the following table. The questions are often called the 5WH questions.

WH Questions for Prewriting

Questions Answers
Who? I use media. Students, teachers, parents, employers and employees-almost everyone uses media.
What? The media can be a lot of things. Television, radio, e-mail (I think), newspapers, magazines, books.
Where? The media is almost everywhere now. It’s in homes, at work, in cars, even on cell phones!
When? Media has been around for a long time, but seems a lot more important now.
Why? Hmm. This is a good question. I don’t know why there is mass media. Maybe we have it because we have the technology now. Or people live far away from their families and they have to stay in touch.
How? Well, media is possible because of the technology inventions, but I don’t know how they all work!

Exercise 2

Choose a general topic idea from the prewriting you completed in Exercise 1. Then read each question and use your own paper to answer the 5WH questions. It is OK if you do not know all the answers. If you do not know an answer, use your own opinion to speculate, or guess. You may also use factual information from books or articles you previously read on your topic.

5WH Questions

Who?

_________________________________________________

What?

_________________________________________________

Where?

_________________________________________________

When? _________________________________________________

How?

_________________________________________________

_________________________________________________

Why?

Now that you have completed some of the prewriting exercises, you may feel less anxious about starting a paper from scratch. With some ideas down on paper (or saved on a computer), writers are often more comfortable continuing the writing process. After identifying a good general topic, you, too, are ready to continue the process.

Exercise 3

Write your general topic on your own sheet of paper, under where you recorded your purpose and audience. Choose it from among the topics you listed or explored during the prewriting you have done so far. Make sure it is one you feel comfortable with and feel capable of writing about.

My general topic: ____________________________________________

More Prewriting Techniques

The prewriting techniques of freewriting and asking questions helped Mariah think more about her topic, but the following prewriting strategies can help her (and you) narrow the focus of the topic:

  • Brainstorming
  • Idea mapping
  • Searching the Internet

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Writing for College Introduction to College Writing with Grammar Skills Review by Cheryl McCormick, Sue Hank, and Ninna Roth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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