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Effective Prewriting Activities for Academic Writing

Prewriting activities are a great way to find out how much you know about a subject. It is the first step of the writing process, typically followed by drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. It helps you focus your ideas, determine a topic, and develop a logical structure for your paper.

Prewriting activities are things you do before you start writing your first draft. They help you get your thoughts together to start your paper. Prewriting activities can be simple or complex and can take a few minutes or several hours.

They can consist of a combination of outlining, diagramming, storyboarding, and clustering. It is often used for planning and organizing your thoughts and ideas before writing.

When writing an assignment, particularly when you're writing a research paper, essay, or other written assignment that involves researching a topic, it’s important to prewrite before you begin drafting your paper.

However, because prewriting can take many forms, students sometimes struggle with the concept. Here are 5 effective prewriting activities for academic writing to get you started:

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is probably the most common method of prewriting. It involves writing down all the ideas that come to mind on one topic. To brainstorm:

  • Write down all possible topics that come to mind when thinking about your task.

  • Choose one idea that you like more than others.

  • Brainstorm some more by listing everything that comes to mind about the topic or idea (even if it seems silly).

  • Make a list of questions related to the topic and write down the answers as well.

  • Consider various approaches to your topic.

Don’t worry about including only good ideas at this point. Just try to get as many ideas as possible. After brainstorming, you can always go over your list and circle the best ideas for supporting evidence in your paper (you can also cross out any irrelevant points).

2. Mind Mapping

Sometimes called clustering or idea mapping, mind mapping is another great prewriting activity. It helps get your thoughts moving. During mind mapping, all you have to do is express your ideas freely without worrying about organization or grammar.

This prewriting activity involves taking a broad topic and narrowing it down to one specific idea. Then, using your brainstormed topics, you can create a map of related ideas that will help you determine how each part of your topic relates to another.

To mind map, simply draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and write your topic in that circle. Then draw lines out from the central circle and create "branches" with new topics or ideas that relate to the original idea or topic.

Each branch can have its sub-branches as well, which can connect back to other branches or sub-branches so that everything is connected in some way.

3. Word Webs

Word webs are similar to mapping but focus on just one word instead of multiple topics at once. They are great for determining how many different ways you can think of describing an idea or concept.

For example, if your topic is “colors,” a word web might include terms like red, blue, and green, and also phrases like “stop light” and “eye." Word webs help to provide many supporting ideas for a particular topic.

4. Freewriting

In freewriting, you write continuously with no fear of grammar or spelling errors, or even making sense. You simply write whatever comes to mind based on a starting topic that you already understand well.

Freewriting is beneficial because it helps you overcome writer’s block and forces you to come up with ideas as you write. To free write, you can set a time limit (10 minutes is common), and put your thoughts on paper without worrying about things like spelling, grammar, syntax, and length.

5. Journaling

Journaling is a process that helps you think about an issue or subject through regular writing practice. For example, if I’m assigned an essay on “education in America,” I could think through the various aspects of education in America by writing regularly in a journal.

The more I journal my thoughts, the easier it becomes for me to collate these ideas into full-fledged points when the time is right.


If you’re looking for a way to boost your academic writing skills, try doing some prewriting activities.

Prewriting activities are aimed to help you come up with ideas and choose effective strategies for your work. They can also motivate you to do research and generate new content.

For example, while I was writing this post as a prewriting activity, I created an outline listing the main topics that I wanted to cover in my post. As I typed each section of my post, I checked it off my list of topics that needed to be covered. This helped me stay on track with my writing and ensured I didn’t miss any important points about the topic.

By utilizing prewriting activities, especially for longer writing assignments, you just might find it easier to write your essay.

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