Prewriting is an essential step in planning for effective writing. It includes: THINKING!
Brainstorming = Thinking
Locating main topics = Thinking
Freewriting = Thinking
Organizing = Thinking
Creating a thesis = Thinking
Writing a rough Draft = Thinking
Notice that compared to all the other steps, THINKING comprises the majority of the planning and the work! Think about it all the time! By turning it over in your mind, you will work out most of the ideas before you even begin to write. Here are the other simple steps, though crucial, that take less time than you think.
- Be sure you clearly understand the specific goal and scope of your assignment. Look it over and ask questions before you leave the room. You can’t write about something you are confused about. NOW THINK ABOUT IT.
- Brainstorming: the process of getting on paper every conceivable topic associated with your assignment. This should be a disorderly, unconscious process that permits you to write even the remotest association, if not just to get it out of the way. Take about 3 minutes to write words, phrases, lists, cartoon bubbles. . . Once you let go of the editor in your head, you will produce a plethora of topics and support concepts.
Now look at the mess on your page, and start locating the main topics that interest you, and their associated subtopics. If you did this on paper, circle them and draw lines. If on the computer, start cutting and pasting them together, and add headings. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE.
- Take each topic and Freewrite for a few minutes everything you can about them. It takes some practice to let go, but don’t edit before it gets on the page—that comes later. Just get it out and see what you have.
- Based on your freewriting, start evaluating the strengths of each topic and what you feel you have to say about them. Even if you still have research to do, this process can give you a framework for where you want to go. Organize your essay based on the most natural progression for that assignment.
- Create your thesis statement to most effectively encapsulate the scope of your main topics, making your intent clear. You can always shift the scope of your thesis based on research or new ideas.
- Once you have enough information, begin your rough draft. The benefit of writing your rough on the computer is that you can organize a list of goal topics and concepts on the page for your reference. Just write your essay ABOVE the list of notes and as you incorporate the concepts, highlight them or delete them until all your ideas have been incorporated. You can even scroll down and quickly add thoughts as they occur to the list, and return to what you were writing, knowing it is safely recorded.
Common Writing Concepts
BIAS: when a writer holds a point of view on the subject being written on. Every writer has a set of bias, and every reader must be cognizant of this. Every reading should be approached with an eye out for clues to the writer’s bias. Since everyone has them, they are not necessarily bad, unless the writer is misleading about them. A writer who is presenting the piece as objectively informational, when it is the product of selective information is disingenuous, and the information given should be scrutinized. As a writer, it is better to be forthright about your bias, which will likely gain the trust of your reader, especially if you handle the opposing position honestly. A good, well-expressed position will stand up to opposing arguments.
Evidence: What the writer offers in support of an assertion. Evidence can be facts, rationale, or examples. Even when an essay is expository, such as a biography, certain claims will be made that need supporting evidence. EX: “Benjamin Franklin was one of the greatest innovators in American History.” Now you can’t just move on to another concept. You have to support this with clear, documented examples, and sometimes even their significance. As a writer, it is not enough to say what someone else said. You are the writer of your essay, and you are the one deciding what to include and not include. Every point you include should have evidence so that YOUR reader will understand or believe. Everyone may say that using credit cards is a wasteful debt, but if you say it, you need to support the claim with evidence, and not just a quote: Dave Ramsey said “Credit cards are a wasteful debt” (Ramsey 2002, 78). That will not be enough for your reader, and it is your responsibility to explain to them exactly why this is so well recognized—a statistic, or a study, a rationale, or an example.
Thesis Topic: The specific scope and aim of an essay.
EX: Expositional essay: How I came to faith, or Benjamin Franklin, American innovator, or How trees convert light into energy.
Analytical essay: Implications of state-run surveillance cameras in every city, or the validity of theory developed by experiment on jellyfish, or evaluating Bradbury’s earlier work versus later.
Argument/Persuasive: Elvis is not dead, or Women are more physically resilient than men, or Hunger Games the movie fell short of the bar set by the book, or Christians need to be politically active.
Thesis Statement (main claim): The specific sentence (sometimes two) that tells the reader exactly what the essay will explain, explore, examine or assert (and why, if applicable).
EX: Expositional: Trees demonstrate the complexity of God’s design by their photosynthetic processes.
Analytical: There appears to be a substantial change from Ray Bradbury’s earliest works to the work produced near the last 20 years of his life.
Argument: In an argument essay, the thesis statement MUST take an arguable stand. This means that there should be a significant number of people who will not agree with you, or will not want to do what you assert—otherwise there is no clear rationale for writing the essay.
Topic Sentence: The first sentence in a paragraph that tells the reader the scope of that paragraph. It should be a natural transition from the previous paragraph, with the momentum that swings the reader into the next area of topic. Your Topic sentence should act like an umbrella that covers that paragraph, and anything that does not directly reflect that topic sentence should be in another paragraph.
EX: Topic Sentence: “People who pray a lot experience a sense of God’s active presence in their lives.” With this, the reader can imagine what types of examples and evidence the writer might give. The reader would be surprised to find this sentence in this paragraph: “People who sing a lot experience joy.” This may fit under your paper’s thesis, but the topic is new, and either it belongs in its own paragraph, or the topic sentence needs to be broadened to include it, like “Christians have many ways they experience the intimate blessings of God.”
Organization: Every essay must be organized into its most effective form so that the reader does not have to do the hard work of making connections the writer has failed to provide. Important organization features include: planning how wide and how narrow the thesis should be for the essay; deciding what the main supporting topics will be; ordering the topics for effectiveness and comprehension, and keeping the main topics clear and within separate paragraphs. Generally an essay is ordered based on the purpose of the essay.
EX: Expository, or explanatory essays take the most natural progression: chronological order, process order, historical order or some other fitting structure.
EX: Analytical essays generally order the topics in the most effective way to evaluate the subject of the essay: either one view point, then the other, or each view presented point by point, or progressively through the work being analyzed.
EX: Argument/persuasive essays generally order the topics to make the most powerful, profound or memorable argument last. The only exception to this may be in a timed essay, when the writer may run out of time to fully develop the final point. If this is the best point, its impact will be less effective than as an earlier point that is fully developed.
General Essay Parts
Introduction: a paragraph of about 4-5 sentences: General to specific.
- First Sentence: Introduces the reader to the general topic of your essay. It should have a hook (interesting opening statement, question, fact) that gets the reader’s attention, and naturally leads to the topic of the essay.
- Three or so sentences: These bring the reader into your essay by shaping their perspective toward the direction you are going in. Topics can be very general, and you want to funnel the reader in a natural transition from the general topic to your specific target concept, or THESIS.
- Thesis Statement: It is generally the last sentence or two of your introductory paragraph (more seasoned writer with complex papers don’t always put their thesis statement here). This sentence tells the reader exactly what you will attempt to accomplish in the essay. This promise to the reader is so important that the rest of the essay will be measured up to it. If you make a promise that you do not keep, you will lose your reader. The THESIS STATEMENT is what your entire essay will point to, so it should be clear, specific, and most of all, take a stand. Make that intriguing promise to your reader, and they will want to go with you.
Body paragraphs: Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence that signals the reader of the scope of that paragraph. Use language that transitions your reader from one paragraph to the next and one idea to the next so they can follow a natural progression. Each topic sentence should be followed by pertinent evidence to support specifically the scope of paragraph as it supports the overall thesis.
Conclusion: The first sentence of the conclusion should essentially take the opposite form of the introductory paragraph. While the introduction started on the general topic and narrowed down to the specific thesis, the first sentence of the conclusion should re-affirm the validity of the thesis statement, and move to a broader application through the concluding paragraph, so that the last, poignant statement leaves the reader with the sense that this specific idea has important broader significance.