The Prewriting Phase of Essay Writing

Getting started on an essay can be more daunting than the act of writing the essay itself. By breaking the writing process into a series of manageable steps, the blank page staring at you will seem less daunting. The first phase of writing an essay is the prewriting phase. Prewriting begins the moment you receive your assignment and ends when you are ready to begin writing your first draft.

Consider the Topic

Before doing anything else -- before you complete your research or begin writing, even before you begin talking to others about your topic -- spend some time sitting with the question or subject that you will be writing about in your essay. Let your views on the essay take form in your mind. Consider different ways of approaching the issue, your personal feelings and what you already know about the topic.


Once you have had some time to think about your topic, and before you do any research, make a list of questions that you have. List the places where you already know you have holes in your knowledge or in the argument that you would like to make and write down questions that you feel will help you fill in those holes. Remember to consider the 5 W's and the H -- who, what, when, where, why and how -- and use these questions to guide your research.


The thinking and questioning you have done in the early stages of prewriting will give you an idea of where to start your research. As you learn more about your topic, continue adding to your list of questions. In the beginning, good research will provide you with as many questions as it does answers. Take notes on what you learn and, once you run out of questions, wrap up your research.


Now is the time to assemble your thinking, questioning and research into the bare bones of an essay. Create an outline for your writing. Start with an introduction and choose the information that is most crucial to present to your reader first. Introduce your thesis and any background information that is important for understanding your essay. Pull evidence from your research to back up your thesis and return to your thesis idea in your conclusion. List any references at the end of your outline. With this outline in place, your prewriting is complete, and your essay is off to a great start.