Prewriting Study Guide (page 3)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011


Outlines are great for taking notes from your readings, but they are also one of the easiest ways to organize your thoughts before you write a story or essay. First, write down your topic and one or two main ideas, and then add the supporting details to your outline.

An outline can be general or specific. Each line can include a single word, a complete sentence, or something in between. Include as much information as you need to get your thoughts organized. For example, look at this outline for a student's essay about the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

Attack on Pearl Harbor

  1. Events leading to the attack
    1. United States halted trade with Japan (1940)
    2. Japan invaded French Indochina (1940)
    3. United States halted oil exports to Japan (1941)
  2. Damage caused
    1. Naval equipment and ships
    2. Injuries and casualties
      1. Military personnel
      2. Civilians
  3. Results of attack
    1. United States enters WWII

There are many correct ways to reorganize these ideas, and it is much easier to change the order before you start writing your essay. Seeing your ideas arranged as an outline can help you identify the points that need more support. It can also help you make sure that the ideas follow a logical order.

Review Your Prewriting

When you've completed your prewriting, read it over carefully. Circle, highlight, or put a star next to the ideas that seem most promising. Ignore or cross out the ideas that you don't plan to include in your writing. If you wrote a list of ideas, and then picked one or two, try making a cluster diagram with those ideas to develop them further. You could also share your prewriting with a friend, parent, or teacher to get their feedback and additional ideas. The more planning you do, the easier it will be to write.

Even after you start writing, don't throw your prewriting notes away. They can be a useful reference when you get stuck or start to stray off topic.


Spend some time prewriting before you start writing. There are many ways to prewrite: brainstorming, freewriting, lists, graphic organizers, and outlines. Choose the prewriting method that works best for the topic, and don't be afraid to experiment with new methods. These prewriting notes will be a plan for your essay, helping you to focus your ideas and write with confidence.


  1. Read a magazine or newspaper article that interests you. What kind of prewriting might the author have done? If you were assigned to write an article about the same topic, what type of prewriting would you choose?
  2. Think of your favorite park or building in town. Imagine that the city has proposed to tear it down to make room for a new skyscraper. You decide to write a letter to the mayor about it. Do a freewrite or make a cluster diagram to brainstorm reasons why your park or building should be saved.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Prewriting Practice Exercises

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