Using Prewriting Activities to Organize Ideas

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Prewriting is an essential first step toward organizing ideas for any type of writing. This lesson will explore several useful prewriting strategies and will end with a quiz to see what you have learned.

The Dreaded Paper

When is the last time you wrote a paper for school? There are very few people who actually get excited about writing papers. This dread usually comes from uncertainty about how to begin the paper. Most struggle when they get started. Finding the correct words to say what you want is sometimes hard. Perhaps you just rambled on about everything you could think of related to the topic. These approaches typically don't end well. Prewriting can help solve these problems by organizing your ideas.

What is Prewriting

If you were asked to write a paper on our galaxy, how would you begin? You might start by thinking for a moment about what you actually know about the galaxy. Next, you might write down a few facts. These easy steps are both forms of prewriting.

Prewriting is the first step in the writing process, occurring before any writing actually happens. It is a time to organize ideas and outline your plan for composition. Now let's take a closer look at some specific prewriting exercises.

Prewriting Strategies

You already know what prewriting is. Now it is important to understand how to do it. The following methods are good tools for prewriting. These are just a few examples of the many prewriting exercises available to you.


When given a writing assignment, it is important to think. This may sound obvious, but many people just dive right into writing without doing so and end up with a confusing and poorly organized paper. Let's assume that you have been asked to write a paper about our galaxy.

To begin with the galaxy example, ask yourself what the paper is looking for. What is the topic? What do you already know about the topic? Where should you look for more information? If you are not given a topic, you will need to brainstorm ideas to write about.


Brainstorming is quickly listing as many things that you can think of. Usually, people brainstorm on a specific topic. For example, what do you know about bananas? They are yellow. They are a fruit. Bananas have a unique shape with an outer peel and taste sweet and mushy, etc. This is brainstorming.

Now, try to brainstorm for a moment or so using our galaxy example. What types of things did you list? Can you see how these ideas might lead you to more content in the actual paper?

This Student is Brainstorming Ideas on a Specific Topic
brain storm

Journalism Notes

After taking a moment or two to think and move through the exercises above, jot down your thoughts and ideas. A good place to start is to ask yourself the who, where, what, when, why and how of your topic. To use the galaxy example from above, perhaps you know that our galaxy is called the Milky Way. Write that down. That may just become your title. There are probably a few other things you could list about our galaxy using this who, where, what, when, why and how format. This is the time to do just that.


Now that you have a rough plan of some ideas, it is also important to note what type of writing is being asked for. Is it a persuasive essay where you will need to pick a side? Is it an expository piece designed to inform? Are you being asked to analyze a work? These are important questions to consider in prewriting.

What would a persuasive piece about our galaxy look like? It might take a side on one of the many theory of how the galaxy formed. How about an expository essay? This type of essay would be informative and might list the many facts about our galaxy. An analysis might compare and contrast other written works regarding the galaxy.


Most academic essays and papers follow a format that begins with an introduction, continues with several body paragraphs, and closes with a summary or conclusion. The introduction will lay out what you plan to discuss.

So, what would you want to discuss about our galaxy? Each body paragraph will explore one part of the discussion. Therefore, the body will more fully explain the topics related to the galaxy that you have decided to discuss. The conclusion will tie it all together. This can be done visually with what is called a mind map. Let's try mind-mapping this now.

The Mind Map

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