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The Technical Writing Process: Prewriting, Writing & Rewriting

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  • 0:03 Importance of Planning
  • 1:16 Prewriting
  • 5:06 Writing
  • 7:54 Rewriting
  • 9:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Having a plan for your writing will help ensure that you effectively communicate your message. This video provides definitions and strategies for the three steps of the writing process: prewriting, writing, and rewriting.

Importance of Planning

When I was in college, my boyfriend and I decided to hop in the car one day and just start driving. We had no idea where we were going, but the adventure of traveling without a plan seemed so exciting! Well, five hours, one flat tire, and a tow truck later, we were lost in a place we'd never been with still no idea where we were going. The trip was a disaster. We hadn't planned on having to pay for any unexpected 'emergencies,' so the cost of the tow and the tire left us without money for food or a place to stay. After getting the car back in working order, we headed back to our apartments, discouraged and disgruntled. What promised to be a spur-of-the-moment adventure turned out to be an expensive lesson on the need to plan ahead.

As an English teacher, my students often ask me, 'Do people really follow the writing process in the real world?' And I guess if I'm honest, the answer is no, not always. But they should. Because not prewriting, writing, and rewriting can lead to a lot of extra time and frustration. If you don't know where you're going, how will you get there? Writing, like road trips, requires pre-planning. You need to have a direction in mind, and a plan for what you want to do along the way.

Prewriting

Prewriting is the process of gathering information on a subject and planning out what our communication will say and look like. Prewriting is the roadmap for our documents. We must establish our purpose, identify our audience, and plan out our message.

Laying out a plan will help ensure that we effectively communicate our message and that our target audience is able to easily understand and apply the information. During the prewriting phase, consider following these steps to help map out a plan for your communication:

1. Establish your purpose. Ask yourself, why are you creating this document? Are you trying to inform an audience of something? Do you want to instruct the audience in how to do something? Do you need to persuade them to believe something? Establishing your purpose will help determine the type of communication you create.

For example, informing an audience about a new scientific breakthrough may mean you write a magazine article or a research paper on your topic. However, instructing your audience on how to use a new sewing machine will require a totally different type of document. You may need to create a how-to manual with lots of graphics and step-by-step instructions. Knowing what your purpose is will help you choose the best format for your communication.

2. Identify your audience. For whom are you creating this document? Who your audience is determines how you will communicate your information.

For example, if you intend your document to be read by computer geeks creating a new processing system, the language you are going to use will be high-tech and full of jargon. But if you're explaining to the general public how to use the new processing system, your language must be simple and easy to understand. You must determine who your target audience is before you begin writing so that you know how to say what you want to say.

3. Gather your information. Now that you know what you want to say and who you want to say it to, you need to collect the details. Make sure you consider everything the audience needs to know. Do you have the correct dates, times, expenses, locations, and required actions? Communication cannot be effective if it is not complete and accurate.

Imagine going on a road trip with part of the map missing. You need to gather all of the information you need to write your document so that you don't accidentally leave out any important detail in your communication.

4. Plan your message. Once you have all of your information together, you can begin to lay out exactly what you want to say. Consider using one of these prewriting techniques as you plan out what to say and when to say it in your communication:

  • Bubble-mapping - Bubble maps allow you to brainstorm ideas by putting your main topic in the center circle, then linking all of the ideas you need to express about that topic in circles that link to the center.
  • Outlining - If you like your information organized in a more orderly manner, you could make an outline of your information. The concept is the same as bubble mapping in that you determine your main points and the details that explain those points, but the layout allows for a neat, orderly examination of how the details fit together. Outlining may be the most beneficial for those who have a lot of little details you want to make sure you include in your document.
  • Storyboarding - If you are a visual learner, storyboarding is an excellent way for you to visualize what you need to say. You simply draw out all of the important details of your communication in order of importance or action.

There are many different prewriting techniques, so choose the one that best suits your needs. Using one will ensure that you present your information in a logical, orderly manner and that you don't accidentally leave out an important detail.

Writing

Once you have determined your audience and purpose, gathered all of your information, and planned out what you want to say, it's time to start writing. Writing is simply the process of putting your information into appropriate words, sentences, and paragraphs. The most important points to consider when writing your draft are the organization and format of your document.

Organization is the method by which you arrange the information in your document. You have many options for how you organize your information. The following are some of the more popular organizational structures:

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