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Prewriting - Strategies for Finding a Topic

Prewriting is the planning process, which consists of determining your purpose and audience, narrowing your topic and creating a framework for your documentation.

Determine your purpose

The purpose of your writing is to perform a specific goal. It may be writing an email to a friend describing a recent trip to Europe or a lab report describing an experiment you performed in Chemistry lab. Another reason for writing is to explain the process of installing software or an argument paper explaining why your college needs a new food service organization.

When determining your purpose, you will determine the design of your information (report, essay, list, letter, etc) along with style or formality, organization, and appropriate evidence. 

Analyze your audience

The audience is the primary reader of your document who reads it and takes action upon it. The purpose of the writing should adjust the style or formality, the organization and level of evidence to address the primary reader’s needs. (Note: In college writing, your audience will often be your professor, or a teaching assistant.)

Generate topic ideas

As a writer, you need to determine the topic and narrow it depending on the purpose and target audience. 

Freewriting, brainstorming and clustering are the most common ways to generate ideas in writing.

Freewriting helps you arrive at more focused ideas about your topic. The process of freewriting is to begin writing about your topic, noting everything that comes to mind. Continue writing for 10 to 15 minutes without stopping. While freewriting, do not worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation, it is just to collect ideas to be used later in your writing.

Brainstorming is used by writers, scientists and business people to generate ideas. Techniques to brainstorming can be found on Mindtools website at mindtools.com/brainstm.html.

Clustering or mapping is used to narrow a topic or break a topic into categories. Begin with a general concept and make radiate out different patterns of words or phrases. For example, clustering ideas from the general concept of "Aspects of College Life," the following cluster may evolve:

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