Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Do I Have to Prewrite?

A painting of a man catching vague dreams.
The Wisheater by Amy Lynn Hess

Prewriting is a method writers can use to dig down deep into their brains and pull out the best and most interesting ideas and opinions about a topic before they start writing about that topic.  

Thinking through all of the potential topic questions and categorical breakdowns of a broad topic gives a writer time to discover and focus on an interesting angle or a unique approach to an essay about that topic.  When prewriting, writers takes the time to think about their audiences, their purposes, and their own interests.

Divergent Thinking

The type of thinking a writer does during the beginning prewriting stage is different from the type of thinking called for in later stages of the writing process.  Prewriting calls first for divergent thinking, a process defined by the online Merriam-Webster dictionary as “creative thinking that may follow many lines of thought and tends to generate new and original solutions to problems” (n.d.).  Writers should feel unfettered, not be hampered by following conventional lines of thought, and they should playfully consider the topic from all avenues aligned with their own interests and understanding before choosing their narrowed topic.

Most student writers can relate this to clustering, mind mapping, freewriting, brainstorming, and looping.  When writers give these types of prewriting techniques their full and undivided energies, they find they can tap into previously unrealized and exciting ideas about any topic.

Critical Thinking

Once a writer exhausts all ideas about a topic, and then writes a little more beyond that exhaustion, he or she is ready to begin choosing the best ideas from the prewritten materials.  Once the writer stops generating ideas and begins choosing the best ideas, that writer changes gears: first gear, divergent thinking to second gear, critical thinking.  Critical thinking is “that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them” (The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2011).

The processes most related to this are the narrowing down of a broad topic to fit the scope of an assignment, the composition of a thesis and topic sentences, outlining, and generating or finding the best evidence to support topic sentences.  It’s at this point a writer has to stop and consider how a line of thought might develop, what might convince an audience, or what sort of insight they can offer a reader.

Not Just Because I Said So

When I tell students they have to prove to me they have completed the prewriting stage of the writing process for any given essay, they groan and fuss because they think I am asking for “extra” work.  However, when a writer takes the time to prewrite, really takes the time and writes well, it pays off in the end.

Writers who let the floodgates open and jot down a plethora of ideas about a topic without stopping to edit or censor any of those ideas are writers who give themselves more options for the choosing when it comes time to be choosy.  Plain and simple, writers who prewrite write better and more interesting essays than writers who do not.

Want to read more about prewriting? Try

Prewriting the Research Essay: Starting with "I Think"

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  • Divergent thinking. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/divergent%20thinking
  • The Foundation for Critical Thinking. (2011). Defining critical thinking. The critical thinking community. Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Please contact the author for permission to republish.

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