Prewriting Strategies

Brainstorming is the idea-generating prewriting strategy where you jot down whatever comes to mind, with the goal of generating short fragments of language that get you started on a line of thought. The results of a brainstorm might include phrases, images, ideas, single words, bullet points. Excavating these fragments gives you material to write about.  Because you’re not trying to compose complete sentences, you’re free to let your creative mind take over.  Brainstorming is particularly good for seeing connections.

Note-card writing for idea-generation purposes is different from note-card writing to record information for research purposes. Sometimes it can be intimidating to face a blank page or computer screen and feel the pressure to fill up all that space.  But most people have no problem believing that they can fill a 3×5 notecard with text. So, if you’re reluctant to get started, fill one note card, then another, and another.  Before you know it, you’ll have written quite a bit. If you don’t have notecards on hand, open Powerpoint or Google Slides and use those instead.

Freewriting is the idea-generating prewriting strategy of writing non-stop for a short defined period of time.  Write without expectations, without crossing out or erasing, without judgment.  Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, style or flow.  Just write without stopping, and see what you get.  Once you’re finished, organize your ideas into related categories or clusters and try to label them.  Write a sentence or two explaining to yourself what you learned through freewriting.  You can repeat the process as many times as necessary to come up with good ideas to write about.  If you free write about an idea you came up with in a free write, that’s called looping.

Passage-based focused freewriting is the strategy of apply the process of freewriting to a passage selected from a reading.  Copy the passage word-for-word and then start freewriting.  During your free write, you might try to paraphrase the passage, explore the meaning or implication of the writer’s choice of particular words, try to make sense of an example or concept, or make text-to-text, text-to-self, or text-to-world connections.  Once you’re done, cluster your ideas and consolidate your insights by writing a few sentences explaining what you learned.

Cubing is a strategy by which you generate ideas by a) describing, b) comparing, c) associating, d) analyzing, e) applying, and f) arguing a topic.  Here are some prompting questions for each of these cubing components from Humboldt State University’s Tracy Duckhart.

An idea map is a visual way to map the conversation between two or more writers. You take note of both “What you like about…” and “What bothers you about…” each writer and make connections between them. Here’s a good example of an idea map by John Bean.

Clustering, or concept-mapping is the visual idea-generating and organizing strategy of mapping relationships among related ideas, examples.  I often use sticky notes to make concept maps both to generate ideas and organize them.   Tracy Duckhart’s explanation of clustering is worth a read. Mary Anne Nestor does a nice job explaining what a concept map is in the graphic below and how to make one here.

Mary Anne Nestor's Concept Map
Mary Anne Nestor’s Concept Map