What Is Prewriting?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Prewriting is the process of generating ideas and potential content for a piece of writing, prior to beginning the actual writing process for the work. Someone writing a report for a class, for example, might begin by first sitting down and gathering his or her ideas about the subject and writing it out to create a plan for the paper. There are many different strategies and methods used during prewriting, though they are all generally used to create and arrange the writer’s thoughts on a page. Common methods include freewriting, brainstorming, the use of idea maps or clustering, and asking questions about the subject.

The prewriting process typically takes place before writing has begun, though false starts in the writing process may lead to some ongoing use of similar activities. Different methods can be used to generate ideas about a writing project, and the best method usually depends on the preferences of the writer. The purpose and nature of the written work a person is doing can also impact which type of prewriting activity is best in a particular instance.


One of the most common types of prewriting activity is referred to as freewriting. In this process, a person sits down at a computer or with a pencil and paper and just begins to write. The initial ideas do not need to be about the subject matter he or she needs to write about, and the first lines can be little more than “I am writing about the fact that I am writing. I am supposed to be writing about the Emancipation Proclamation but I do not know what to write about.” This type of freewriting is used to help someone begin writing, to get the pencil moving, and to begin shifting his or her thoughts toward the right state of mind for writing.

Brainstorming is a common form of prewriting in which a person begins listing or writing down various ideas and words that seem important to a given subject. These words are not always directly usable in the final paper, but they can help someone start thinking about what is useful. Rather than simply listing out words, or after initial brainstorming, someone can also use idea maps or clustering to arrange these ideas. Prewriting that includes such methods allows a person to arrange his or her thoughts more cohesively, which can make their use in the actual writing process easier or more effective.

Someone can also ask questions about the subject he or she is writing about before beginning the writing process. This can help the writer identify questions that should be answered in the written work, as well as generate ideas for where to begin with research. The easiest questions to begin with are often the “5W’s and an H” of “who,” “what,” “when,” “why,” and “where” along with “how.” Other questions can be more specific in nature, depending on the subject, and this can all be used as a framework for developing the full paper.


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