Pre-Writing Techniques

(Some of the materials in these “Pre-Writing” pages are borrowed or adapted from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Simpson College Hawley Academic Resource and Advising Center websites)

Learning how to associate memories and ideas with a topic will help you to create an interesting topic for you paper. Becoming familiar with different techniques will make it easier to do this, as you learn how to process information in different ways.

“Three such activities involve directed questioning, freewriting, and brainstorming.   You may not need to use all three, but you should acquaint yourself with each activity to find one that is most productive for you.”[i] 

Directed Questioning

If you already know what you will be writing about, but your topic is still very general, directed questioning can help you to narrow it down. Imagine writing about the history of skateboarding. There are lots of directions you could go in.  The following questions may help you to find a workable direction:

  • How can I describe the topic?
  • How can I define the topic?
  • How does the topic resemble or differ from other topics?
  • What are the major aspects or features of the topic?
  • How does the topic affect other things?
  • Can I argue for or against the topic?
  • Why does this topic interest me?
  • What ideas are generally associated with the topic?
    • Thinking of different ways to describe a topic may help you to find unique avenues to pursue in your writing. Ex: The topic is skateboarding. Skateboarding can be described as: a sport, a lifestyle, a sub-culture, a hobby or a genre of fashion.
    • Defining the topic will help to guide the writer in expressing their thoughts to the reader. Ex: For the purposes of this paper, I am defining “skateboarding” as a sport. As such, I will not be discussing or interpreting the popular culture associated with it, but merely the sport itself in the context of the competitions and personalities involved.

*In the above example, the reader can now focus on the writer’s definition of “skateboarding”, and appreciate the paper in the intended context.


    • The sport of skateboarding could be compared to other extreme sports like snowboarding, skiing or dirt biking. What are the similarities and differences?
    • Would you discuss major competitions in skateboarding? Would you focus on the careers of certain celebrities, or the evolution of skateboard technology?
    • Does skateboarding affect other sports? Does it create a market for fashion, equipment, or different forms of media?
    • Is skate boarding a healthy activity? Are there any legal issues related to skateboarding?
    • Does the writer skate? Does s/he surf? Is there a close relative or inspirational figure within the skating industry?
    • The writer could explore popularly held false assumptions, stereotypes and popular depictions of skateboarding in media.


Pre-Writing Techniques (p.2)

Pre-Writing Techniques (p.3)