Effective Prewriting Techniques

Prewriting is any activity that helps you create, develop, and organize ideas for writing.


  1. To find a definite direction for your writing assignment
  2. To help organize your ideas before trying to write your first draft
  3. To build off of ideas and think of new ones


  1. Were you given a topic, or can you choose one?
  2. What is the purpose of this assignment? Are you informing, persuading, analyzing, entertaining, or summarizing for your readers?
  3. What are the five W’s of the assignment? Who? What? When? Where? Why?


Brainstorming is a technique where you record every idea that comes to mind that relates back to the topic.

Helpful Hints

  • Be comfortable and in a space with good lighting. You’ll think best when you’re in a pleasant environment.
  • Eliminate distractions. Stay focused and record everything.
  • Make lists of all the ideas that come to you. Don’t worry about trying to write in complete sentences.  Just capture your ideas quickly.
  • Brainstorm by having conversations with other people. Bounce ideas off of a friend, or raise a topic of conversation with a group of people.
  • Brainstorm while reading. Annotate and interact with the text (use sticky notes if you need to) to capture your reactions, commentary, and own ideas.

Brainstorming can make it easier both to think of a good topic and to start finding supporting evidence and examples.


Clustering is a technique where you map out your thinking using circles and lines to display “branches” of your ideas. It is a great way to show how many ideas can connect to one central idea and can also help you prioritize and organize your ideas for use in your writing.

Helpful Hints

  • Draw a circle and write your central idea in the middle.
  • Branch off by drawing a line and creating another circle. Note an idea which relates back to your central idea. Continue the process.
    • How do all your ideas connect to one another? What do the new additions make you think of? What is another aspect of the overall topic?


Freewriting is a technique which asks users to write without stopping for a short period of time (approximately ten minutes is a good goal) to allow ideas to flow freely.

Helpful Hints

  • At this stage, grammar, punctuation, etc. doesn’t matter. Don’t let those concerns distract you.
  • This process focuses on getting down all of your ideas on paper quickly.
  • When you free write, you don’t have to use complete sentences or paragraphs, as long as you understand what is being written.
  • Allow yourself to think more about the subject and develop more ideas. If your ideas dry up in one direction, start off in another.


After deciding on a general topic, think of broad search terms. These can be used to gather research and refine ideas. The sources that are available will help you further limit your paper’s focus.

Helpful Hints

  • Once you know your focus, try to use the most specific search terms possible.
  • Use the library databases to your advantage.
  • Look up synonyms for your key words.
  • Email yourself any relevant research.


Source: Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference: Third Edition. Boston, St. Martin’s Press. 1995.