Prewriting is the first stage of the writing process. It is common for many writers to skip this stage of the writing process as it can feel daunting for them to select a topic. However, using a prewriting technique that matches well with the writer’s personality can help reduce anxiety and provide direction for their project. In addition, prewriting techniques can help prevent writer’s block throughout the writing process.  


Some key questions to ask yourself during a prewriting activity are:

  • What is the purpose of the writing?
  • How will it accomplish its goals?


Below are several techniques that may be used for prewriting. If you are new to prewriting, try each method on a different project and see what works best for you. Note that there are other prewriting techniques, but the ones presented here are the most common. You may also consider using all three in sequence (brainstorm, freewrite, and then cluster) for the same project and see how your results differ compared to using one technique.


Brainstorming is the process of listing out your ideas. While some elements may change, here are the basic steps:

  1. Set a Timer: About 5 minutes is enough, even for longer projects. However, you can give yourself more or less time if needed. The point is to write down your ideas, unfiltered, so there should be some sense of a “time crunch.” You are just targeting what your topic will be. It will be further developed in the next stage of the writing process (outlining).
  1. Generate a List: Do not overthink. If an idea pops into your head, write it down. Do not edit or evaluate your ideas. Let your brain go where it wants to go and keep moving forward.
  1. When Time is Up: First, underline what might work and rank your best ideas. Finally, make connections between similar ideas.

While the process listed above will not change, you may take slightly different approaches such as...

  • Using good ol’ fashioned pen to paper. Perhaps use different colors when you are underlining and making connections.
  • Instead of writing it on paper, use sticky notes. One sticky note gets one idea. Just move through the sticky notes until your time runs out. You can then categorize them as you see fit.
  • Use your computer or laptop to write as quickly as possible.



Freewriting differs from brainstorming in that you are not creating a list. You are simply writing, using complete sentences and seeing where your mind goes. ​​​

  1. ​Set a timer: We recommend using about 5 minutes for freewriting. The intent and purpose is the same as the brainstorming technique.
  2. Write: Use complete sentences and write. Some guiding questions to guide your freewriting include: 
    • What interests me? What do I want to learn more about? 
    • What do I already know about the topic? 
    • How does this ​apply to other areas of my academic, personal, or professional life? 
    • What is the purpose of the writing? 
    • ​​How will it accomplish its goals? How does it meet the assignment requirements?
  3. ​​​​​​​When Time is Up: Read what you have written and ​​underline parts that look promising in developing your paper. Rank your favorite ideas and see what connections can be made between ideas.

​*Accessibility Suggestion: For individuals who use assistive technology, try using the diction function in Microsoft Word to do your freewriting. You can also use the Read Alound function to listen to and review your writing.


Mind ​Mapping

Also known as webbing or clustering, mind mapping is not as bound to time constraints because you are making connections to your ideas as you write them down. The image below shows a sample mind map​.


​In the center of your map, write the main topic. In the example, “The Writing Process" is the main topic. Once you have your main topic, write down components that you would like to cover within the main topic. For this example, Prewriting, Research, 1st Draft, Revision, Proofreading, and Publishing have been included as main points within the topic of The Writing Process. Once you have identified those, see if any connect. Here, we can see that Prewriting, 1st Draft, Revision, Proofreading, and Publishing​ connect to the writing process. However, Research connects to Prewriting. This implies that Research is a key part of Prewriting and requires a more in-depth description than others. Then, w​​ithin each of the main points, add details. For example, within Proofreadng the author of this mind map wants to discuss Diction, Format, Mechanics, and G​rammar.


You may find that you do not know how to organize your thoughts when you use the clustering technique without first doing brainstorming and/or freewriting beforehand. If that is the case, try using pen and paper methods or writing your ideas on sticky notes so that you can move them around.

​Mind-Mapping Resources​

You may also use technological tools such as: