CoverObjectivesThe Writing ProcessAddressing the PromptPrewritingWritingRevisingOriginalityEssay Shape and OrganizationIntroduction ParagraphsBody ParagraphsConclusion ParagraphsA Shifting StructureExample EssayUsing SourcesFinding SourcesCitationsQuotingSummarizingParaphrasingReference PagePersonal StatementsExample Personal StatementTypes of Personal StatementsOrganization for Comprehensive Personal StatementOrganization for Personal Statement with PromptRevisionExample Personal StatementCause-Effect EssaysExample Cause-Effect EssayPrewritingWritingRevisingRevise a Cause-Effect EssayArgumentative EssaysExample Argumentative EssayPrewritingWritingRevisingOther Genres of WritingTimed WritingTOEFL Independent WritingTOEFL Integrated WritingStudent Choice (Pick Two)Creative WritingFormal EmailsReflectionsReviewsRefining WritingDevelopmentUnityCohesion


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 researching, brainstorming, choosing a focus, and outlining.

Understand the assignment

Make sure that you understand the requirements of the task. If there is a specific prompt you are supposed to use, make sure your writing addresses the prompt.


You should never try to write an essay from your own experience and knowledge and then try to find research that agrees with your points. Research should be the starting point. In fact, try branching out. A lot of the writing you have done shows what you know or think about a topic. Researched academic essays are more about what you learn. Don't always choose topics you know a lot about for researched essays. Instead, choose topics you want to learn about.

You will find the other steps of the prewriting phase to be very difficult if you have not done some basic preliminary research, but you will also probably need to do research all along the way. Keep track of the sources you want to use while you are researching. Save links to the websites you find or print articles on paper. Saving source information can save you a lot of time later.

After you know about your assignment (e.g., write a classification essay), you may start searching online to find a topic (e.g., types of clouds). With the topic in mind, you will need to do more research (unless you are an expert on the topic) to know what to focus on (e.g., cirrus clouds, cumu- lonimbus clouds, stratus clouds, etc.). After you have your focus, you may need to do more research to create a good outline.


Sometimes you are given a specific prompt (e.g., Research and describe a famous psychologist), but sometimes you can choose your topic. If you can choose your topic, then brainstorming can help you generate 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, do a search on Google, etc.

Choose your focus

If your topic is really broad, you should narrow the topic down to have a more specific focus. For example, if you choose to write about the benefits of exercise, you will probably need to narrow down that topic to a few benefits of exercise (e.g., physical and mental benefits of exercise). Researching online or repeating a brainstorming activity may help you choose your focus.


Making an outline is a prewriting activity you should do for everything you write. An out- line is a plan that will ensure your essay is easier to write and understand.

Not all outlines are the same. The amount of detail required 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 without research, your outline will be very simple. If you are writing a researched essay, your outline will probably be more detailed and may include some of your sources.

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 is essential to have in every relationship?). Answer the question (e.g., trust and communication). The supporting points in your answer will become your topic sentences (abbreviated TS). Write the main idea of your essay, 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 an essay without research that is based on what you know (the type of essay you write on the TOEFL). Notice how directly the topic sentences support the thesis.

Example: Basic Outline


       TH: Communication and trust are essential parts of every relationship.

Body Paragraph 1

       TS: Relationships must be built on communication.

Body Paragraph 2

       TS: Trust is foundational in our relationships.


       TH: Relationships require both communication and trust.

You can finish one of these basic outlines very quickly. In fact, for timed essays, you need to be able to write an outline like this in about two or three minutes.

On the other hand, planning a researched essay will take more time. A simple method for planning a researched essay starts with a basic outline. Then, you add questions to the outline for each topic sentence. Then, you find quotations in soures that answer each of your questions.

One of the reasons that this method is helpful is because it gives you direction in your research. You can research more quickly because instead of reading everything you can find out about your topic, you are reading to find the answers to a few questions. It also helps keep unity in your paragraphs.

Write a basic outline after you have done some preliminary research.

Ask questions about each of your topic sentences.

Find sources that answer your questions. Copy the quote and put it in the outline.

Sometimes your questions may be difficult to find answers for. Asking questions is a good strategy to focus your research, but don’t hesitate to ask additional questions (or adjust your original questions) if you can’t find sources to answer all of them. It may be that there are no sources to answer some of your questions, and that is okay. Let the research guide you.

Oftentimes as you research and become more familiar with your subject, you will ask better questions based off of things you read. It’s also okay to adjust your outline based on the research that you conduct.