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Prewriting

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Anything you do before you start writing is prewriting. You should always start by making sure you understand the assignment. Other activities that are frequently completed in this stage are brainstorming, choosing a focus, and outlining.

Understand the assignment

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.

To understand how to answer the prompt, make sure you know the following things about the essay before starting to write:

  • Style (What function should you focus on? Comparing? Describing? Arguing? Explaining a process? Telling a story?)
  • Topic (What should you write about?)
  • Controlling idea (What can you explain about the topic?)

1 Exercise: Practice understanding the prompt

Read each essay prompt and answer the related questions.

  1. Prompt: What are some of the benefits of learning English?
    1. What style of essay should you write?
    2. What is the topic of the essay?
    3. What can the controlling ideas focus on?
  2. Prompt: Describe an influential person in your life. Why was the person important to you?
    1. What style of essay should you write?
    2. What is the topic of the essay?
    3. What can the controlling ideas focus on?
  3. Prompt: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use reasons and examples to support your answer: Cell phones should not be used in class.
    1. What style of essay should you write?
    2. What is the topic of the essay?
    3. What can the controlling ideas focus on?

Brainstorm

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, do a free write, make a list of ideas, make an idea map like the one below, etc.

IdeaMap.JPG

2 Exercise: Practice brainstorming

Brainstorm ideas for the following prompt using an idea map:

IdeaMap.JPG

What is the most important quality in a leader?

Give reasons and details to explain your answer.

Choose a focus

If your topic is really broad, you should narrow the topic down to have a more specific focus (i.e., When I came to the United States > my first day at the ELC).

Outline

Making an outline is a prewriting activity you should do for everything you write. An outline is a plan that will make sure your essay is easy to write and understand.

Not all outlines are the same. The amount of detail you need in the outline depends on the purpose of the essay as well as the purpose of your outline. If you are writing a timed essay, your outline will be very simple. If you are writing a drafted essay for a class, your outline may include more details.

When you write an outline for a class, your teacher may ask you for a very detailed outline of your essay so that you can show your whole plan. When you need to make an outline, be sure to ask how much detail your teacher expects you to use in your outline.

At a minimum, every outline will at least state your thesis and topic sentences. To create your outline, think about the question that your essay answers (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 directly the topic sentences support the thesis.

Example: Basic Outline

TH: Some of the best options available for preventing sleep disorders are practicing good regular sleep habits, doing regular exercise and making a comfortable bedroom environment.

TS: First, building a good habit of regular sleep will help to prevent a sleep disorder.

TS: Second, doing regular exercise decreases the chance of having a sleep disorder.

TS: Third, making a comfortable bedroom environment enhances the quality of sleep.

3 Exercise: Practice outlining

Create a basic outline to answer each prompt.

  1. Prompt: What are some of the benefits of learning English?
  2. Prompt: Describe an influential person in your life. Why was the person important to you?
  3. Prompt: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Use reasons and examples to support your answer: Cell phones should not be used in class.