5 Ways to Prewrite (on Your Way to a Perfect Draft!)

Once you’re assigned an essay and have decided what to write about, your next step is to prewrite. Prewriting is a step in the writing process that helps you get some initial ideas down on paper before you start writing a draft. Getting all of your ideas out of your brain and onto the page can be the first step toward writing an effective and complete essay. 

There are many different ways to prewrite, and, as a writer, it is up to you to find out which prewriting style works best for you. Give each of these a try: listing, outlining, mind mapping, freewriting, and cubing.


1. Listing
You may have heard of this prewriting strategy referred to as brainstorming! With this method, you write down a list of everything you can think of about your topic. For example, if you’re writing a personal essay about an experience you’ve had, create a list of everything you remember about that event. If you’re writing a research paper, write down a list of everything you already know and everything you want to know about your topic. This can be a numbered, bulleted, or freeform list — there are no formatting requirements while brainstorming ideas! Listing can help you put your ideas down in a digestible and easily re-organized way.


2. Outlining
If you know that you are a very logical thinker, this type of prewriting style might work best for you. Just know that there are many different ways to outline an essay before you write it. This could be a formal outline with Roman numerals and lettered lists. Or this could be an informal outline of each section of your essay. For example, you might create an outline that covers what info you’d like to include in the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion of your essay. Either way, you’re organizing your ideas, and you’ll be able to refer back to your outline as you write. Outlining helps with linear thinking and allows you to see what you know and what you need to find out.


3. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is helpful for people who like to visually organize information. It’s a way to show the relationships between ideas by putting your topic at the center and branching your ideas outward. In this example, notice the topic of the essay in the center bubble, four main supporting points and several details branching from it, and connections between ideas represented by solid lines:


Think about each main idea as a separate paragraph and the ideas that branch off of it as the supporting details within that paragraph. Mind mapping can help you discover connections between your ideas while also demonstrating how they are distinct from each other. 


4. Freewriting
Freewriting is a really good way to get over writer’s block because it forces you to write for a specific period of time. To use this method, set a timer for two or three minutes. Turn to a fresh piece of paper or a blank document screen, start the timer, and keep writing until the timer goes off! Try to write only about your paper topic, but also allow yourself to write about anything that comes to mind — just don’t stop writing until the time is up! Because freewriting forces you to write without stopping, it can help you discover ideas about your topic that you hadn’t considered yet.


5. Cubing
The cubing method of prewriting helps you to consider your topic from many different angles. With this method, imagine a cube (like the one below) and each side of the cube represents a different perspective of your topic: description, analysis, application, compare/contrast, association, and argument. 


Then, use each side of the cube to consider your topic in a new way. For example, if I were trying to persuade someone to agree with me, how could I argue for this topic? What further analysis can I perform to drill down even deeper into this topic? What kinds of descriptions would my reader benefit from in order to better understand my topic? Cubing helps you dig deeper, consider your reader, and flesh out your topic before you start on a draft.


What’s Next?
Once you have tried out a prewriting strategy, the next step is to look back at what you wrote and decide what belongs in your essay and what doesn’t. Once you’re done editing it down, then decide how you can organize your ideas in a logical way. Next, start on your first draft!

  1. Prewrite
  2. Edit
  3. Organize
  4. Draft


Remember: the writing process is recursive — you move back and forth between steps of the process as you go. In other words, just because you prewrite one time doesn’t mean you’ve figured out everything you want to say in your essay. It might require a second round of prewriting or trying out another method to get even deeper into the topic.

Either way, using prewriting helps you to free your mind, create connections between ideas, and see your topic from a new perspective. Which method will you try?


Written by Katie Kottemann
Student Success Coach

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *