Prewriting and Outlining: Writing Review Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Prewriting and Outlining: Writing Review Practice Exercises.

The first step in writing any kind of essay is to organize your thoughts and ideas. It's kind of like baking a cake. Without a recipe to tell you what ingredients to use and the order in which to use those ingredients, you may end up with something that resembles a cake, but it probably won't taste very good. The same thing is true of essay writing. Unless you know what the parts of your essay are going to be and in what order you're going to write those parts, you will probably end up with a very disjointed, unclear piece of writing. So, here's some help with organizing your ideas, so that your cake is as tasty as possible!


Often, the most difficult part of writing is getting started. Sitting and staring at a blank piece of paper or a blank word-processing document can be a lot of pressure. To relieve some of that pressure, try jotting down anything related to your topic that comes to mind. Don't worry about how you phrase it or if it's really what you want to say. All of that will come together later. For now, just write anything. You'll find that, as you write, new ideas and thoughts will come to you. Write those down, too. This is often called a freewrite, because it involves writing completely free of any expectations.

Pace Yourself

Keep a journal. It's a good way to practice writing your thoughts without editing yourself. Plus, you never know when you may be asked to write about yourself. A journal provides excellent material for a selfreflective essay.

So now you have a bunch of jumbled ideas that somehow relate to your intended topic. Now what? You need to organize all of those great ideas into an order that will form the basis for your eventual essay. You need to sort out your main ideas from your supporting ideas. Maybe you've thought of some examples or anecdotes that you want to include. You need to take all of these components and organize them from a jumble into a web. A web is just one way to organize visually all the components of your essay so that you can start to get a better sense of which thoughts are main ideas and which thoughts are going to play supporting roles.

Inside Track

Bounce your ideas off someone else. Brainstorming doesn't have to be a solo activity.

Webbing and Charting

Are you wondering why you should take the time to make a web or a chart? Well, here's why it's helpful. Both webs and charts serve as visual representations of how your ideas relate to one another. Ideas are pretty intangible things. You can't see them or touch them, which makes it difficult to get them organized. Imagine trying to organize your sock drawer without being able to see your socks. Organizing is much easier when you can see everything laid out in front of you. That's what webs and charts do. They allow you to see your ideas and to see how they will support one another in your essay.

Making a Web

Here's how to make a web. Sift through your mess of ideas and find the central idea of your essay. Start by writing that central idea in the middle of a piece of paper.

Qualities a friend should have

Draw a circle around it, or a rectangle, or even a hexagon. The shape doesn't matter.

Making a Web

Then, all around your central idea, write your support for that idea and connect each support to the central idea with a line.

Making a Web

At this point, your web should start to look very weblike. In the previous example, you can see that Loyal, Understanding, and Funny are all examples of Qualities a friend should have. Finally, connect some examples or, in this case, reasons to your supporting ideas. Here's what your completed web may look like.

Making a Web

Notice that each quality that a friend should have is linked to two reasons why that's a good quality in a friend. You may have more than two for each. That's fine. The idea is to organize what you have so that you can see how all the information holds itself together.


Don't get caught up in what your web looks like. No one but you will see it.

Like free-writing, when you're making a web, you don't need to worry about how you phrase your ideas or even which ones you will use. Maybe you've thought of a lot of examples for one of your supporting ideas, but you think some of them may be better than others. That's okay. Just leave them in the web for now. You'll go through them later to weed out all the weak links.

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