Kiosk Guides for Learning

Science is organized knowledge.
Wisdom is organized life.
Immanuel Kant,
1724 - 1804
German philosopher

Writing series

Organizing and pre-writing

Seven stages of writing assignments

Prewriting exercises provide key words, meaning, and structure
to your research before you write your first draft, and may help you overcome "writers block."

These exercises can help you

  • Focus intellectually
    and clear distractions while opening your mind to ideas within your subject
  • Narrow and define topics for your paper
    and begin the process of translating research into your own words.
  • Develop logical or architectural structure to topics you have identified.
    This provides a visual and verbal document for reaction, review, discussion, and/or further development in your rough draft. However, these exercises are dynamic or subject to change in the actual writing process as you understand, develop, and build your argument. Some topics will go, some will stay, some will be revised
  • Provide a context for "project management"
    to further define the topic, set timelines, identify gaps in information, etc.

Use one of these four processes,
free writing, mind mapping, brain storming, or listing and outlines to both develop your topic and get started. Better yet, try them all to see which suits your style and/or the topic.

(See the text versions below for more information.)

Four exercises in prewriting:

Focused Free writing

Listing and outlines

This is a more structured and sequential overview of your research to date. You may also outline to organize topics built from free writing, brainstorming, or mind mapping:

  1. Arrange items or topics, usually without punctuation or complete sentences
  2. List topics and phrases them in a grammatically similar or parallel structure (subjects, verbs, etc.)
  3. Sequence topics in importance,
    defining what "level" of importance they are. Items of equal importance are at the same level

Example (using this web site):

Kiosk Guides for learning

I. Preparing to learn
  1. Learning to learn
  2. Managing time
  3. Setting goals/making a schedule
II. Studying
  1. Thinking critically
  2. Memorizing
  3. Organizing projects
III. Writing Essays
  1. Basics of essays
    1. Prewriting
      1. Definitions
      2. Basics of prewriting
      3. Exercises
      4. ...
    2. Rough drafts
      1. definition
      2. basics of drafts
      3. exercises
      4. ...
    3. ...
  2. Types of essays
    1. The five paragraph essay
    2. Essays for a literature class
    3. Expository essays
    4. Persuasive essays
    5. ....


  1. Use a blank paper or computer screen and set a time limit of 5 - 15 minutes
  2. Summarize the topic in a phrase or sentence;
    generate a free flow of thought
  3. Write down everything that comes to mind to generate a free flow of thought:
    • Think of ideas related to this topic, the crazier the better: be wild and amuse yourself; eliminate nothing
    • Make up questions and answers about the topic, no matter how strange:
      Why am I doing this? What could be interesting about this to me? Why don't I like this? What color is it? What would my friend say about it?
  4. Review:
    are there words or ideas you can grab onto for the topic?
    Is there a main idea within this sequence of ideas?

Mind mapping

  1. Think in terms of key words or symbols that represent ideas and words
  2. Take a pencil (you'll be erasing!) and a blank (non-lined) big piece of paper or use a blackboard and (colored) chalk
  3. Write down the most important word or short phrase or symbol in the center.
    Think about it; circle it.
  4. Write other important words outside the circle.
    Draw over-lapping circles to connect items, or use arrows to connect them
    (think of linking pages in a web site)
    Leave white space to grow your map for
    • further development
    • explanations
    • action items
  5. Work quickly
    without analyzing your work
  6. Edit this first phase
    Think about the relation of outside items to the center,
    Erase and replace and shorten words for these key ideas
    Relocate important items closer to each other for better organization
    Use color to organize information
    Link concepts with words to clarify the relationship
  7. Continue working outward
    Freely and quickly add other key words and ideas (you can always erase!)
    Think weird: tape pages together to expand your map; break boundaries
    Develop in directions the topic takes you--don't bet limited by the size of the paper
    As you expand your map, tend to become more specific or detailed
Seven stages of writing assignments:

Index | Develop your topic (1) | Identify your audience (2) |
Research (3) | Research with notecards | Summarizing research
Prewrite (4) | Draft/write (5) | Revise (6) | Proofread (7)