Prewriting on the word processor

Some instructors provide time during class for prewriting exercises. These sessions are useful in helping to generate ideas, but an equally efficient way to get started on your next writing assignment is by prewriting on a word processor. Composing at the keyboard offers you the advantages of speed and clarity. When you begin to experiment with new ideas or ways of saying something, you may be able to type more quickly (and probably more legibly) than you can write. Handwriting can slow you down and make you forget what you wanted to say next, but once you get used to typing, you can keep up with ideas as fast as they spill out. During the prewriting stage, composing at the word processor frees you from the need for perfection or (if you haven’t mastered touch-typing) the hassle of finding your place as you look back and forth from paper to screen. Just stare at the screen (or into the air) and type your ideas as they occur.

The variety of word-processing programs can accommodate practically any prewriting approach. If you like to brainstorm or list ideas, you’ll end up with nice clear columns. If you prefer freewriting, you’ll be able to read your prose as it emerges in neat, clean paragraphs. If you are more orderly, some software has the capacity to arrange your ideas into outlines. If you have a hyperspace program, you can cluster ideas all over the screen, then click onto the one you want to develop and save the rest. (This is especially helpful if you’re taking notes for a research paper—no more lost or unorganized note cards.)

Writing by hand can be time-consuming; once you have committed ideas to the page, the labor intensity of the process can make you reluctant to write more, erase, or go off into another direction. In contrast, the prose on your computer screen is not carved into stone, but rather written in light. Composing at the keyboard offers you ease in moving or developing ideas. Moreover, once you find a good idea, you do not need to recopy it when you are ready to draft. Instead, just return to it, delete what you no longer want, and go from there. In sum, prewriting on the word processor gives you a head start on that next assignment.


To a certain extent, the decision you make regarding methods of development will influence or even determine how you organize your paper. If you choose cause and effect or comparison and contrast, you have in effect already made the preliminary decisions about organization. However, if you choose other methods, you will need to decide which organizational strategy is most appropriate. For example, if your method of development is analysis, classification, or definition, you might decide to organize your paper following the principles of general to specific or increasing order of importance. If your paper relies on examples, narration, or process as methods of development, you could use a chronological organizational pattern, whereas with description, you could use either chronological or spatial organization. In sum, decisions regarding methods of development and organization go hand in hand. But they are also determined by your papers thesis.

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