Prewriting and planning is a way of organizing your ideas and beginning to put the information you have on paper. It is best to do a prewriting activity before you actually begin writing your paper or essay.

Here are some useful strategies you can use:


Freewriting is when someone writes freely what comes to mind in sentences or phrases, without worrying about grammar, punctuation or making sense.

If you cannot think of an idea, try taking five to ten minutes with a blank piece of paper in front of you and a pen in hand. Write whatever comes to your mind about your topic or paper. Do not lift your pen from the paper. Keep writing, and don't stop until your time is up. Here is an example of how this technique works:

Freewriting Example about Advertising

What about advertising? TV ads or magazine ads? TV commercials have lots of ______, which makes them more appealing or easier to remember than magazine ads. Commercials are usually pretty short, although it seems like there sure are a lot of them jammed together. Why is there always music in commercials? Music is easy to remember and must hit people in their heart. The action is important in commercials, too.

Brainstorming or Listing

Brainstorming or listing is when you freely write down all ideas in the order which they occur to you. Unlike freewriting, this technique requires the writer to record only ideas and phrases. Because you are completing this task with a goal to arrive at many ideas quickly, no idea is too ridiculous or stupid. Let us assume you are given the topic of advertising. This general topic is very broad. If I were to make a list of ideas or related words with the topic of advertising this is what it might look like:

Brainstorming about Ads

located everywhere
grocery store ads
a lot of blue eyes
liquor ads
perfume ads
people having fun

Now you can look at your ideas and put them into categories:

  • Kinds of ads: perfume ads, liquor ads, grocery store ads
  • Contents of ads: a lot of blue eyes, people having fun, music, colorful
  • Places ads are located: newspapers, magazines, television, billboards
  • Promises ads make: power, immortality, friendship


Clustering is used to establish relationships among your ideas. To cluster ideas, write your topic in the center of a sheet of paper. Draw a circle around it, and surround that circle with related ideas, connecting the two together with lines. If some of the ideas lead to more specific ideas, write those down, stemming from main ideas. See the example below:

Clustering ideas

Here is a link to some other useful graphic organizers.

Asking Questions

Organize your ideas by answering the following questions:

  • Who was involved? Who are the participants? Who is affected?

  • What happened? What is the topic? What is the significance of the topic? What is the basic problem?

  • Where did it happen? Where does the activity take place?

  • When did it happen? When is the issue most apparent? (past? present? future?) When did the issue or problem develop? When is action needed to address the issue or problem?

  • Why did it happen? Why did the issue or problem arise? Why is it (your topic) an issue or problem at all? Why did the issue or problem develop in the way that it did?

  • How did it happen? How is the issue or problem significant? How does it affect the participants? How can the issue or problem be resolved?


A thesis statement is the central message of a paper, or what you want the reader to learn after reading. All supporting details will refer back to the thesis. Start by stating your topic and your position/focus regarding it.

Here is how you can begin creating a thesis: Thesis=Topic+Focus (Specific Assertion)

Using the topic information, develop this formulaic sentence:

I am writing about _______________, and I am going to argue, show, or prove ___________.

What you wrote in the first blank is the topic of your paper; what you wrote in the second blank is what focuses (Specific Assertion) your paper.

For example, a sentence might be:

I am writing about polygraphs, and I am going to argue, show, or prove that its use by employers should be banned.

Next, refine the sentence so that it is consistent with your style. For example:

Because the polygraph has not been proved reliable, its use by employers should be banned.

A good thesis must prepare readers for facts and details. It must be a generalization that can be proven or developed throughout your paper. A thesis should not be too factual, broad, or vague. Here are examples of what you should and should not do:

Too Factual

The polygraph was developed by Dr. John A. Larson in 1921.


The polygraph, developed by Dr. John A. Larson in 1921, has not been proved reliable, thus its use by employers should be banned.

Too Broad

Polygraphs are now being used worldwide to solve crimes.


Despite forensics, polygraphs are still considered as valid tools in criminal investigation in the United States.

Too Vague

Polygraphs are unreliable and it is wrong to use them.


Because the polygraph has not been proved reliable, even under the most controlled conditions, its use by employers should be banned.