Prewriting

Writing is a process, not an event. Taking the time to prepare for your writing will help make the writing process smooth and efficient. Follow these steps to ensure that your page does not stay blank for long.  All of prewriting resources should be used simultaneously—you will often find yourself switching back and forth between brainstorming, critical reading, organizing, and fighting off writer’s block as you begin a new assignment.

Take Careful Notes

While reading, make sure that you are taking notes on relevant information. Group these notes by topics or main ideas so you can see the connections among the material you have read.  Try some of the Writing Center's brainstorming activities for help generating and connecting ideas.

Be sure to provide a citation (author, year, and page number) for every note that you take. This way, you will not have to  interrupt your writing process later to find citation information.

Knowing how to read effectively will be one of your strongest assets in the prewriting process. Review the Writing Center's resources on critical reading for more tips on getting the most from your research and reading.

Choose a Topic

Review the notes you have made to identify trends and areas of interest.  Ask yourself where you have taken the most notes, where the most information is focused, and where any gaps in the literature might be.  Do not discount your own interests—it is easiest to write a paper on a topic that intrigues you! 

Use our resources to help narrow down your paper topic, or consult your instructor for extra help.  Once you have chosen a topic, you may need to go back to the note-taking stage and find more information to flesh out the body of your paper.  Do not forget that most scholarly papers should advance a clear claim, articulated in the paper's thesis statement.

Develop Your Analysis

Good scholarly writers ask questions as they research, and the answers to those questions often become the organizing arguments in their papers.  As you continue to read and take notes, think about the major claims that exist already about your topic.  Ask yourself if you agree or disagree—or think the major claims should have a different direction entirely!  Our resources on critical thinking can help you develop the main points of your paper before you begin writing.  Remember that you will likely also be continuing the brainstorming process as you develop your analysis.

Just Get Started!

The best way to fight off writer's block is just to write—do not worry about perfection in the drafting stage!  Some writers find it helpful to begin with an outline, but any way that works for you is the right way to begin a paper.  You can even start writing before you have finished reading.   The important thing is to just begin. It is easier to work with jumbled ideas and notes than nothing at all. Besides, you can always go back to edit and perfect your work at a later time.

Additional Resources

Still having trouble getting started on that essay?  Check out Matt's blog post, "Demystifying Prewriting: Yeah, There's an App for That."