Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 2: The Writing Process

Prewriting

Techniques to Get Started

Outlining

Some students use only the outlining technique to get started in their writing. Formal outlining, which often results from organized lists, is a highly analytical technique that assumes the writer knows already the how, what, where, when, why, and who aspects of the topic. For an outline to be effective, the writer must also have some ideas about the writing strategy to use for the assignment. Many writers can combine their brainstorming and freewriting results and come up with a tentative, or informal, outline of their topics. Other writers may start with lists of ideas, organized into related topics, and create a general informal outline of the subject matter. 

Many writers in the prewriting phase use grocery lists of topics, loosely organized into some sequence that seems to make sense. This grocery list often is enough to get the writer started with ideas and an organizational structure. 

At some point, you will have to stop generating ideas and answers to questions and begin organizing all your notes and raw material. You will have to decide how to order your material and to shape your draft to meet your needs. There is no clear-cut place to stop prewriting activities and begin drafting; the prewriting, writing, and revising do not follow a strict linear sequence. You might need to return to idea generation when you are writing your first draft or even reorganize your thoughts a few times until you discover the best way for you. 

If you have tried these techniques to generate ideas and get started, you now have several pages of information for the next step. You have at least one major idea on which to write, an articulated sense of your interest in the topic, an accounting of what you already know, and some ideas for how to find more information. Add to this substantial start your audience analysis, and you are ready to begin drafting.