Pre-Writing (Page Two)


Arrange the topic into manageable levels[i]

You can take a challenging (or even a not-so-challenging) assignment and break it down into easier-to-digest pieces, or levels:

  • the general topic, like “United States involvement in Haiti”
  • a specific subtopic or required question, like “How did the United States help Haiti after the Earthquake of 2010?


In this technique you jot down lists of words or phrases under a particular topic. Try this one by basing your list either

  • on the general topic
  • on one or more words from your particular thesis claim, or
  • on a word or idea that is the complete opposite of your original word or idea.

For example, if your general assignment is to write about the changes in inventions over time, and your specific thesis claims that “the 20th century presented a large number of inventions to advance US society by improving upon the status of 19th-century society,” you could brainstorm two different lists to ensure you are covering the topic thoroughly and that your thesis will be easy to prove.

The first list might be based on your thesis; you would jot down as many 20th-century inventions as you could, as long as you know of their positive effects on society. The second list might be based on the opposite claim and you would instead jot down inventions that you associate with a decline in that society’s quality. You could do the same two lists for 19th-century inventions and then compare the evidence from all four lists.

Using multiple lists will help you to gather more perspective on the topic and ensure that, sure enough, your thesis is solid as a rock, or, …uh oh, your thesis is full of holes and you’d better alter your claim to one you can prove.