Ever had the “blank screen” syndrome? That is you didn’t know what to write or how to get started? That is where the step of preparation comes in.
Unfortunately many students skip this part. They rush into research, or if the paper does not require research they skip straight to drafting. Yet spending just a few minutes preparing to write not only helps make a better paper, it saves time in later steps as well.
Here are two ways to start thinking about a topic to write about.
The first is called freewriting. Write for a few minutes without stopping on whatever comes to mind about a topic. You could set a timer to force yourself to write without stopping. After the time is up reread what you have written and look for the most important idea, richest or most intriguing detail, etc. Then freewrite on this idea or detail you have chosen. This is called looping as you keep writing without stopping on each successive idea until you have a good topic for your paper
The second way to start thinking about a topic is simply by making lists. You write down your topic then list ten or so things about that topic; again don’t stop writing while you make your list. Then look over the list and see if you have a good idea for your paper. If not, pick the one that appeals to you most and make a new list. Keep going until you have an idea for your paper.
There are many other ways to start thinking about how to write besides the two listed in the above Write for 5. For example there are the journalists’ questions that you could ask about your topic: who, what, why, where, when, how? Or going back to Aristotle you can define (what is it?), compare (what is it like or not like?), understand relationships (what caused it?), understand circumstances (what is possible or impossible about it?), or even seek testimony about it (what have others said about it?).
You will encounter many types of writing as you continue your education and pursue your career. It is impossible to teach you all of the types of writing but you can learn to ask questions about your writing, analyze the writing situation by considering 1) purpose, 2) audience, 3) and context, and knowing how to find answers to your questions. This is where preparation can keep you from having to redo an assignment or being embarrassed at work for submitting a poorly written document. The next three pages teach you about using preparation to plan your purpose, audience, and context.