Prewriting Study Guide

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Prewriting Practice Exercises


Writers plan ahead to organize their ideas. This lesson shows you how to brainstorm and organize your thoughts before you start writing.

Think of your favorite book. Did the author sit down and write the whole book in a day, or even a week? Chances are, your favorite author uses the writing process. Writing is called a process because it isn't just one step. Writers spend lots of time thinking before they even start writing. That's because the purpose of writing is to communicate ideas, so the first step to good writing is to have strong, clear ideas to convey.

Prewriting is the first step in the writing process. This step helps you to come up with ideas about the topic. There are many ways to prewrite, and you can experiment with the method that works best for you. When your ideas are clear, you'll be ready to organize them and start writing.

Why Prewrite?

Suppose you plunge right into writing an essay about your summer vacation. You write about the new bike you got and the tree house you built with your best friend. As you reread your essay, though, you might realize that your first paragraph sounds silly, or that you left out the story about your trip to your grandparents' house. You might have forgotten lots of interesting details, or strayed too far from the original topic.

The purpose of prewriting is to generate ideas about the topic. You probably have lots to say about your summer vacation, but it could be harder to come up with ideas for an essay about politics or history. By prewriting, you can write down all the ideas you think of, and then pick the best ones to include in your writing. You'll also be able to see whether you need more information about the topic. This can save you lots of time in the long run!

There are many ways to prewrite. This lesson shows you several simple methods to get your ideas flowing.


Brainstorming means coming up with many ideas that are related to a topic. You can brainstorm by yourself, with a friend, or with a teacher or parent. In fact, talking with another person about your topic and ideas can be quite useful, because he or she might have a different perspective on the topic. Brainstorming with someone else can help you see connections and ideas that you might not have thought of before.

When you brainstorm, be sure to take some notes on paper. You'll want to remember all the great ideas you come up with! You can start by writing down the topic. What does the topic make you think of? Do you associate it with a particular person, event, or experience? If it's tough to make your own connections, try to think of it from another person's perspective. How would your grandparents respond to the topic? If a student from Africa were going to read your essay, what information would she find really interesting?

Suppose you're assigned to write an essay about American culture in the 1920s. Your brainstorming notes might look like this:

      The 1920s
      "Roaring Twenties"
      modernist art and literature
      Babe Ruth

From the list, you'll be able to pick a specific direction for your essay. You can draw connections between ideas, or eliminate the ideas that won't work well for the assignment. If you already have a pretty good idea of what you want to write about, try brainstorming for specific details. You might brainstorm for the five senses: what sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings are significant to the topic? You might think of a specific story to tell, or identify strong words or images to include.

Remember, when you are brainstorming, there are no wrong answers. Just write down all the ideas you have, to encourage your brain to think creatively. Later, when you start to organize your essay, you'll be able to choose only the best ideas and ignore the rest.

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