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Effective Prewriting: Instructions and Examples

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  • 0:01 Effective Prewriting
  • 0:48 Getting Started
  • 2:59 Brainstorming
  • 5:46 Mapping
  • 7:16 Freewriting
  • 8:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

You should learn prewriting techniques, such as brainstorming, mapping, and freewriting, to produce well-planned, focused essays. This lesson explains the basics for how to conduct effective prewriting.

Effective Prewriting

There are certain things in life that we all know that we should do, but that many of us just don't do - like flossing, drinking eight glasses of water a day, or vacuuming. If we just took the time to do those things, though, we'd probably be able to see the benefits pretty easily.

Prewriting is a bit like that. Prewriting is the process of generating ideas for a writing assignment. You may have had an English teacher who insisted that you do prewriting for each writing assignment you've done. You might have thought that it was a waste of time - a step that you didn't really need to take.

However, there are real benefits to prewriting. A well-planned essay will pretty much always be better than one that the writer just sat down to write without thinking about it beforehand. Doing some planning is a surefire way to improve your writing abilities and your scores on writing tests.

Getting Started

The first step to prewriting is figuring out what you're going to write about.

With a writing assignment, you might be given a writing prompt, which is a specific question to which you must respond or a specific topic that you must address. Alternatively, you might be given more of an open-ended assignment for which you can choose your topic.

With most timed writing exams, and even with some term papers, you'll be given a writing prompt to which you'll have to respond. First, before you even start thinking about specific prewriting strategies, take a moment or two to read and reread the prompt. Make sure that you have a good understanding of what you're being asked. You don't want to dive into a timed writing exam only to realize halfway through that you haven't focused on what's been asked but rather something vaguely related to it.

Let's consider a sample essay exam writing prompt:

Some states have made certain types of cell phone use illegal for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles. Some of these bans apply only to texting, and some bans apply to all handheld cell phone use. Some people argue that all cell phone use by drivers is dangerous and that all use by drivers should therefore be banned. Should your state completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles? Write a persuasive essay in which you present your argument. Be sure to provide a clear thesis and examples in your essay.

Again, the very first thing you must do in your prewriting process is: carefully read and interpret the writing prompt. If you read the prompt only once, you may remember that bans of texting while driving are mentioned. You might then just start writing about whether you think that your state should or should not ban texting for drivers while they are behind the wheel.

This would be a misinterpretation of the prompt, however.

Take another look at what the prompt actually tells us. Specifically, the key question is, 'Should your state completely ban all cell phone use for drivers while they are operating motor vehicles?'

Remember that there might be a lot of information in a writing prompt; your job is to zero in on the key question to which you're being asked to respond. It's worth taking an extra minute or two to make sure you've got the question figured out before you waste valuable time writing about the wrong thing.

Brainstorming

Once you've gotten your head around the writing prompt and what's being asked, you'll need to determine how to actually go about prewriting for your essay. There are a lot of different methods, but we'll focus on three specific types.

The first is brainstorming, which involves taking a few minutes to write down every phrase or idea that you can come up with that might be relevant for your essay. An easy way to do this is to grab a sheet of paper and make a list of each point that comes to mind.

Don't worry about spelling or editing at this point. Just get the ideas out of your head and onto the paper.

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