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English Essay Prewriting Techniques

by Kori Morgan, studioD

Most English students have experienced the dread of staring at a blank word processing document, feeling something akin to stage fright as they realize that they have no idea where to start. Taking time at the beginning of an assignment for prewriting, the preliminary work writers do as they begin to construct a project, can put you on the right track to getting words on the page. Some successful strategies for English essays include freewriting, visually mapping your ideas and thinking in detail about your audience and purpose.

Audience and Purpose Analysis

Ultimately, you are writing your essay to a specific audience with a specific purpose in mind. Imagining who might read your essay and how you can frame your information to fit their needs, you can clarify whether your goal is to persuade, inform, entertain or evoke sympathy. If you are writing about school violence, for example, your readers might be parents, high school students or administrators and you might use a combination of statistics, stories and descriptions of other schools' solutions to appeal to each of these groups.


Sometimes, just starting to write can give you the motivation to face the challenge of an essay. In freewriting, you write about your topic in complete sentences without censoring yourself. You might freewrite about various aspects of your topic, including things you're interested in, questions you have and ways you might organize your information. The University of Berkeley suggests being open to all ideas at this point, even if you initially think you'll end up throwing them out. Giving an idea a chance to develop might help you reach a breakthrough.


Clustering is a technique in which you visually represent your thought process through interconnected bubbles. You can start a cluster by writing your topic inside a circle in the center of a piece of blank paper, then branch off with other circles representing related ideas you come up with, connecting them back to the topic using lines. By the time you finish your cluster, the page should be filled with ideas related to your subject that you can review, choosing two or three thoughts to develop for your essay.


Once you have an extensive list of potential directions for your essay, you can narrow it down to the most important ideas and create an outline for your introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. Your introduction should include a working thesis statement, which may change as you develop your paper. Then, jot down ideas for each body paragraph, including what your main points will be and what evidence and examples you'll use. Your conclusion can give a general idea of what you might leave the reader thinking about after they finish reading the essay.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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