The Writing Process: Pre-Writing

In these Lessons, you will learn:

To recognize prewriting as the first step in the writing process and to identify a variety of prewriting techniques.

To recognize drafting as a step in the writing process and to become familiar with the steps in preparing a draft.

To identify and use the traits of effective writing.

To recognize editing and proofreading as steps in the writing process.

To use editing and proofreading techniques.

To recognize ways to reflect on the writing process.



Proceed with a Process

Writing, like drawing, is a creative process that begins with an idea. How do you turn an idea into a piece of writing? Do you start off with one idea and then replace it with something better? Maybe you stay with the same idea and gradually craft it into something special. In any case, at some point you must put your idea on paper. Having a good system for getting ideas from brain to paper will make your life as a writer much easier.

Asking Questions

You can use the following questions to help you get started. Don’t worry; you don’t have to know all of the answers before you begin to develop a topic. As you work through the writing process, you’ll probably change your mind about some things. You can always revisit these questions to see whether your writing is accomplishing what you want it to.

Purpose Why am I writing this piece?

Am I writing to entertain, inform, or persuade?

What personal need does it fulfill?

What effect do I want to have on my readers?

Topic Is my topic assigned, or can I choose it?

What would I be interested in writing about?

What do I already know about my topic?

Audience Who is my audience?

What might they already know about my topic?

What do they need to know?

What about the topic might interest them?

What approach and language might they respond to best?

Form What form will work best? Which of the following formats would be most suited to my purpose, topic, and audience?

essay poem script letter research paper

short story news article review speech

Exploring a Topic

Sometimes you’re assigned a topic to write about. Sometimes you choose your own. In either case, explore your topic to find a fresh, unique way to write about it. You might use one of these methods:

Free-writing is a way of discovering what you know or think about a topic by writing rapidly, without stopping.

Here’s How

  • Focus on a topic.
  • Set a time limit—for example, ten minutes.
  • Write as quickly and continuously as you can. Then read what you wrote.
  • Circle the best ideas and free-write about them for a few more minutes.


If you find yourself with a lot of ideas about a topic, the fastest way to get them down is by listing them. Jot down phrases or even just words. When you are done, see which item on the list strikes you as the most interesting. You can then make a second list of ideas related to the item you selected.


If you like to use graphic organizers to explore ideas, try clustering. Write your idea in the center of a piece of paper and circle it. Outside the circle, write related ideas. Circle these and draw lines connecting them to your topic.

Open and take a look at the Graphic Organizer Handout:

Cluster Diagram (click on link). You can print this and use it to help you organize your ideas.


Refining a Topic

One you’ve explored your topic, you’ll want to see if it’s a manageable size. Choose from the following options when you need to refine your topic.

  • Create a rough outline about your topic to get an idea of how much information you will need to cover. If there is too much material, look for a narrower topic within your outline.
  • Ask yourself what aspect of your topic your readers would be most interested in.
  • Check books about your topic to see how information is arranged in the tables of contents. See if there is a subheading that fits your topic.

Gathering and Organizing Ideas

Before you start writing, you’ll need to spend some time gathering and organizing ideas. Your search for information may lead you to an interview with an expert or to a magazine article that raises new questions about your topic.

Developing Research Questions

Suppose you decided to write about Sherpas, guides for mountain climbers in Nepal and Tibet. To help focus your search for information, make a list of questions that you want answered.

Finding and Organizing Ideas

You can find ideas about your topic in a number of ways. You can draw on any of your personal experiences that are related to the topic, or you can do research. Your research can include personal observations or secondary sources such as books and magazines. When you have finished gathering ideas, you can organize them by using graphic devices.

Open and take a look at these Graphic Organizer Handouts:

Venn Diagram and Spider Map and Sequence Chain (click on links). You can print these and use them to help you organize your ideas.

Lesson 2: DRAFTING

There is no right or wrong way to turn prewriting ideas into a first draft. Some writers write freely to get ideas on paper. Others work from a detailed outline. Either way, don’t worry about errors at this stage. It’s more important to start writing.

Drafting to Discover

Drafting to discover means that you use your first draft to explore ideas, developing the topic along the way with no set plan or structure. Review the ideas you produced during your prewriting, and then simply begin writing. You may be surprised by how absorbed you get in your topic.

Drafting from a Plan

If you know ahead of time that your ideas have to be arranged in a certain way, you may find drafting from a plan useful. There are several plans or outlines to choose from. You may decide to use a formal outline that actually spells out each main point and the supporting details in the order they will be presented. Or you may decide on a modified outline that gives you a rough idea of the points you want to cover.

Using Peer Response

Except for journals, nearly all of your writing will be addressed to one or more readers. It makes sense, then, to test your writing on an audience, such as friends or family. Also, it is not always easy to be objective about your own writing.

Sharing your draft with another person can help you identify problems and find solutions. You can ask your peer readers not only to respond to your ideas and how you represent them, but also to share their experiences in reading your work. If you read another person’s work, you should respond to your peer by offering positive reactions first, respecting the writer’s feelings, using “I” statements, giving specific rather than general feedback, and suggesting changes without rewriting.


Lesson 3: REVISING

Revising is the process of turning your rough draft into a finished written product.

During the revision process, you will make changes in content, organization, and style. Pay attention to the following Six Traits of Effective Writing when you are revising a piece of your writing.

Ideas and Content Make sure ideas are clear, focused, and supported with relevant details.
Organization Arrange your ideas in a logical order to help the reader move easily through the text.
Voice Express your ideas in a way that shows an individual style and personality.
Word Choice Use language that is precise, powerful, and engaging.
Sentence Fluency Create an interesting rhythm and flow by using varied sentence lengths and structures.
Conventions Use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Six Evaluation Traits

Evaluating Ideas: Trouble-shooting Problems with Content

Problem Solution
Main idea not clear Make sure the main idea appears in the introduction and is mentioned elsewhere.
Not enough details Add more facts and examples that support your ideas.
Ideas hard to


Use simpler vocabulary and more examples.
Weak introduction Begin with an anecdote, a surprising statement, or a quotation.
Weak conclusion Restate your main idea in powerful language, or recommend a course of action.


Evaluating Organization

Here’s How

-Each topic sentence is related to the main idea.

-The details in each paragraph support its topic sentence.

-Paragraphs flow smoothly from one to the next through the use of transitional words and phrases, such as first, as a result, and similarly.

-Ideas appear in a logical order.

It’s not unusual to do a formal outline after you’ve written a first draft. At this point, the outline can help you see how well you’ve organized your ideas and how thoroughly you’ve covered them.


Evaluating Style

Voice in writing is the unique way in which a writer expresses himself or herself on paper. It is based on all aspects of writing, but especially vocabulary, sentence structure, and figurative language.

Word choice has a major effect on how a reader understands your writing. You can adjust your writing style by choosing from the following kinds of language, depending on your audience and purpose:

  • Figurative language Slang and idioms
  • Technical terminology Sound devices

Sentence fluency is the flow and rhythm writers create when they effectively build sentences into paragraphs. You can create sentence fluency by varying the length and structure of your sentences.



Editing and proofreading are the final steps you take to make sure you have followed the rules of writing. Mistakes in mechanics or grammar can distract readers from your message. Take time to read your work carefully so that you can eliminate careless errors.

Here are some TIPS that will help you focus on little details—those mechanical errors that could make a difference in your final product:

  1. If possible, don’t begin proofreading after you’ve just finished writing. Put your work away for at least several hours. You’ll find more errors if you take a break.
  2. Read your work slowly—one sentence at a time.
  3. Look for the kinds of mistakes that you have often made before, as well as other kinds of mistakes.
  4. Use a dictionary to check spelling.
  5. Ask a family member or friend to read your work.

Use the Checklist below to help you correct some of the most common errors writers make in usage and mechanics:

-Have I avoided nonstandard words or expressions?

-Have I corrected any errors in subject-verb or pronoun-antecedent agreement?

-Have I double-checked for errors in confusing word pairs, such as it’s/its, than/then, too/to?

– Have I corrected all of the run-on sentences and sentence fragments?

– Have I followed the conventions for correct capitalization?

– Have I used punctuation marks correctly?

– Have I checked the spellings of all unfamiliar words in the dictionary?

NOTE: The spell check feature on a computer is helpful, but it won’t catch the error if a word is misspelled as a different word, as in the following poem:

Eye halve a spelling checker.

It came with my pea see.

It plainly marks four my revue.

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye half run this poem threw it.

Eye em shore yore pleased two no.

Its letter perfect awl the weigh.

My checker tolled me sew.


Lesson 5: REFLECTING on Your Writing

If you reflect on your writing process, whether the end product is a poem or an essay, not only can you learn more about yourself, but you may be able to make improvements as a writer.

Questions to Ask about Your Writing Process

-Am I becoming more or less of a planner/explorer than I used to be? Is this good or bad, and why?

-Which parts of the process did I find easiest? Which parts were more difficult?

-What was the biggest problem I faced during the writing process? How did I solve the problem? Could I use that solution again in some future work?

-What changes have occurred in my writing style?

-Have I noticed any features in the writing of my peers that I can apply to my own work?

Thought for the day: A procrastinator is one who takes too long to start to get ready to begin to commence…

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