Anything you do before you start writing is prewriting. You should always start by making sure you understand the prompt. Other activities that are completed in this stage are brainstorming and outlining.
First, make sure that you understand the requirements of the task. If there is a specific prompt (question) you are supposed to answer, make sure your writing answers the question.
Sometimes you are given a specific prompt (e.g., Describe your favorite holiday tradition), but sometimes you can choose your topic. If you can choose your topic, then brainstorming can help you think of ideas to write about. There are many methods you can use for brainstorming. You can discuss the topic with a partner, freewrite, make a list of ideas, make an idea map like the one below, etc.
If your topic is really broad, you should narrow the topic down to have a more specific focus (i.e., My first day at the ELC > Coming to the United States).
Making an outline is a prewriting activity you should do for everything you write. An outline is kind of like a map of your ideas. It helps you organize your ideas from the brainstorming part of prewriting, and it helps you keep your writing focused on answering the prompt. Making an outline also helps you create a plan for your writing. That plan helps you to simplify your drafting process and makes it easier for the reader to understand your ideas.
The first step to making an outline is knowing what kind of outline you need. Even though all outlines have a similar purpose and organization, not all outlines are exactly the same. Some outlines will be very short and basic. Some outlines will be long and detailed. How much detail you need for an outline depends on the kind of writing you need to do. For example, if you are writing a timed paragraph, your outline will be very simple because you will not have a lot of time to make one.
On the other hand, if you are writing a drafted essay for a class, your outline will probably include more details. Teachers often ask students to make and submit a very detailed outline for an essay. This is so that students can demonstrate what ideas they will write about and how they plan to organize those ideas. That way, teachers can give feedback to students before they spend a long time writing everything out. When you need to make an outline for a class, be sure to ask your teacher how much detail they expect you to use in your outline.
Every outline should have at least the main idea of what you are writing, as well as the most important ideas that support and/or explain your main idea. These are called major supporting ideas (MSI). If you are writing something short with a time limit, like a 10-minute paragraph, this means your outline needs at least your topic sentence (TS) and usually at least two major supporting ideas. To save time, you might choose not to write your major supporting ideas in complete sentences at first, and do it later, instead. If you are writing something longer with a time limit, like a 30-minute essay, your outline should have at least your thesis (Th) and two or three topic sentences. You might want to include some major supporting ideas in your esaay outline, as well. For any basic outline, you can also include your concluding sentence (CS) or restated thesis (RTh), too.
Each part of this example outline for a narrative paragraph is labeled. When you are doing timed writing, you do not have to label the parts of your outline, unless that is helpful for you. If you do label your outline, you should delete the labels before you submit your writing.
TS: The day I lost my first tooth was one of the most memorable days in my childhood.
MSI1: learning about the Tooth Fairy
MSI2: pulling out my tooth
MSI3: showing $1 bill to everyone and then losing it
CS: I will never forget the lesson I learned from losing my first tooth: Never take your eyes off the money!
Each part of this example outline for a problem/solution essay is labeled. When you are doing timed writing, you do not have to label the parts of your outline, unless that is helpful for you. If you do label your outline, you should delete the labels before you submit your writing.
Th: Some of the best ways to prevent sleep disorders are establishing good sleep habits, doing regular exercise, and making a comfortable bedroom environment.
TS1: Creating a good habit of regular sleep will help prevent a sleep disorder.
TS2: Doing regular exercise decreases the chance of having a sleep disorder.
TS3: Making a comfortable bedroom environment enhances the quality of your sleep.
To create your outline, think about the question that you are answering (e.g., what are important characteristics of a good student?). Answer the question (e.g., hard-working and patient). The supporting points in your answer will become your topic sentences (abbreviated TS). Write your thesis (abbreviated TH), by summarizing your supporting points into one sentence.
Look at the example outline below. This basic outline is the type of outline you could create when you are writing a timed essay. Notice how the topic sentences directly support the thesis.
Read each prompt and answer the related questions.
Brainstorm ideas for the following prompt using an idea map.
Prompt: What is the most important quality in a leader? Give reasons and details to explain your answer.
Set a timer for 90 seconds and create a basic outline for one of the prompts. Repeat for each prompt.
This content is provided to you freely by BYU-I Books.
Access it online or download it at https://books.byui.edu/foundations_c_writing/prewriting.