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Prewriting Techniques: Taking the First Steps

Transcripts for the Writing Center's webinars.

Prewriting Techniques: Taking the First Steps

Presented December 20, 2017

View the recording

Last updated 1/16/2018


Visual: The webinar begins with a PowerPoint title slide in the large central panel. A captioning pod, Q&A pod, and files pod are stacked on the right side.

The slide says “Housekeeping” and the following:

  • Recording
    • Will be available online a day or two from now.
  • Interact
    • Polls, files, and links are interactive.
  • Q&A
  • Help
    • Choose “Help” in the upper right-hand corner of the webinar room.

Audio: Beth: All right. Well, welcome, everyone. And thank you so much for joining us on this December evening. It's nice and snowy here in St. Paul, Minnesota just like you would expect and we are really looking forward to this session with you today. My name is Beth and I'm just going to go over a couple of quick housekeeping notes and then I’m going to hand over the session to our presenter today, Kacy. So, a couple of quick things for everyone, the first is that I have started the recording for this session. So, if you have to leave for any reason or you’d like to come back and review the session, you are more than welcome to do so. I always post that recording in our webinar recordings archive so you're welcome to access that at any time. And I always like to take a moment to remind everyone that we record all of the webinars in the Writing Center. So, if you ever see a webinar that is going to be presented live but you can't make it to that session, you can always find that recording in our archive and then if you’re ever looking for help on a particular writing, APA or grammar topic, make sure to look at that recording archive and you can find a recording on those different topics. Additionally, today, we encourage you to interact with us much as possible with us, with Kacy, with your fellow students, all of us there's ways you can do that. I know Kacy has some chats and polls that she'll be using. But we also have links throughout the slides here so, Kacy’s included some links for further information and you are welcome to click those links, they’ll open up as hyperlinks on a new tab on your tab on your browser so feel free to do that throughout the session. But also know you can download the slides that Kacy’s using in the files pod that’s at the bottom right hand corner, so feel free to do that as well and we also have couple of other handouts and takeaways for you in that files pod and take away for you so feel free to access those at any point throughout any of the session. I will also be monitoring the Q & A box so if you have any questions or comments. I welcome you to submit those. I will make sure to try to respond as soon as I can as you go through the presentation here. But also, Kacy, if she has time, will stop for questions allowed, probably at the end, potentially, and then we can talk about those too. So, feel free to submit to the Q & A box. And I always like to note, if we get questions at the end and we have to end for time, then I encourage you to email us at, we encourage those questions to come through email, as well, we want to make sure to get you some answer and help you out. Finally, if you have technical issues, I'm happy to help and I have couple of tips and tricks I can give you. But also note there's a help button at the upper right-hand corner of your screen and that's a best place to go with any significant issues.


Visual: Slide changes to the title of the webinar, “Prewriting Techniques: Taking the First Steps” and the speaker’s name and information: Kacy Walz, Writing Instructor

Audio: Alright, so with that, Kacy. I can hand it over to you.

Kacy: Thanks, Beth. So, my name is Kacy Walz, I'm a writing instructor here at Walden University in the writing center. I'm really excited about presenting this webinar tonight. Pre-writing is something that I really enjoy and I'm also working on pre-writing right now myself. So, I'm excited to be presenting this and talking about this with all of you.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Learning Objectives:
       After this session, you will (be able to):

  • Understand what prewriting is.
  • Identify the stages of prewriting.
  • Understand which prewriting techniques are useful in which contexts.
  • Identify a prewriting technique you will try

Flexible             Reflective

Audio: So, our learning objective this evening, the goals for after this webinar is over is that you will be able to understand what pre-writing is, get a rough idea of some different definitions. Identify the different stages of pre-writing, understand which pre-writing techniques are useful and which contexts. And, so, not every technique that I'm going to talk about tonight will be useful for every project that you write on, and, hopefully, after this webinar, you'll have a good sense of what kinds of techniques are going to be most helpful for you in each of your different writing assignments. And then, finally, I hope you'll be able to identify a pre-writing technique that you would like to try after we talk about some different styles of pre-writing. And something to really keep in mind as I discuss these different techniques is that pre-writing is both flexible and reflective. So, it's flexible in that not every pre-writing technique is going to work for every assignment as I've noted. But it also might not work for every writer. So, it's best to think about what's going to work for you. And I really recommend trying out a lot of different techniques. But, obviously, some of them are going to be more helpful for some writers than others. And another thing to keep in mind is that pre-writing is reflective. So, it's something you can come back to, its something that can change and it's a really good process as you're writing, even after you start drafting to be kind of considering that, that reflection.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Chat Question:

How do you define prewriting?

What prewriting activities do you currently practice as you write?

Audio: So, to start us off, I'm interested in reading about your own definitions of pre-writing and maybe if there are already some pre-writing activities you do, you can include those in the chat box and we can discuss them as a group. So, I'm going to give you couple of minutes if you would like to enter into the chat box how you define pre-writing and what kinds of prewriting you already practice, or even maybe some prewriting activities you want to try out in the future.

[Pause as students type]

So, it sounds like you all have some interesting techniques for prewriting. And some of these could even be double as definitions. So, things like brainstorming, outlining, taking notes, even creating a rough draft. Definitely. And, so, we have, [reading from the Q&A chat box] “is the one method one chooses to write a paper or research?” I think that's a great definition. And “the first process to start drafting”. Definitely. And “the technique of freely writing” is something we're going to be talking about later on. Actually, several of the ideas you guys have mentioned like a web or note clustering are things we're going to talk about. So, thank you so much for sharing. I'm going to keep moving on to make sure we have plenty of time to get through everything.


Visual: Slide changes to following: The Writing Process

Reading --> Prewriting --> Writing --> Sharing --> Revising --> Reflecting --> Reading

Audio: So, something to keep in mind is that the writing process in general is very cyclical. So, you have all these different stages, but they kind of turn back on each other. So, you start out with reading and researching, compiling those notes that you're talking about in the chat. Next comes pre-writing which is what we're going to be focusing on tonight or today, depending on where you're calling in from. And then writing, sharing, getting feedback, reading out loud, reading to yourself, revising, reflecting, and then it comes back to maybe you need to do some more research and reading. And maybe you need to take that research and summarize or get into some pre-writing before you add it into your drafts. So, writing is a continuous process and I think that's important to note, even though we're talking about it on a timeline tonight or today, that it is just kind of this continuous process. So, any of these techniques that we talk about could be used at various stages of writing.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Prewriting:

Any writing or notetaking you do prior to drafting

  • Researching, brainstorming, organizing, planning
  • Individualized: people learn and think differently, and different papers require various prewriting strategies

Audio: So, a couple of you wrote in some of your own definitions of pre-writing. This is my own definition of pre-writing and something we accept at the Writing Center, is, any writing or note-taking you do prior to drafting. So, if we're really talking about pre-writing in that timeline period, I would define it as anything that comes before you start to write. But, again, lots of these techniques are techniques you can use as you're drafting after you already have a draft and you're just revising. So, to keep that in mind. So, pre-writing involves researching, involves brainstorming, organizing, and planning. And it's also very individualized. So, again, you want to make sure that you are trying different techniques, because you never know which kind of pre-writing style is going to work the best for you. And they also work differently for different assignments. If you’re prepping for a discussion post, you're probably going to use a different technique than prepping for a Capstone or for a larger paper.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Stages of Prewriting

            Researching → Generating → Planning

Audio: So, the three kinds of stages of pre-writing that we're going to be talking about in this webinar, there might be some others that you can come up with. But for this particular webinar, we're going to be focusing on researching, generating, and then planning as the stages for pre-writing. And then of course, a reminder that, again, we have this arrow, it kind of seems like a timeline. But these are things that happen throughout the writing process. So, it's not necessarily just kind of one-time research, one-time generating situation. So, for our first step, we're going to talk a little bit about researching.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Researching = Critical Reading

Read actively rather than passively.

  • Ask questions and write them down
  • Paraphrase as you go
  • Follow leads you find in sources and make connections
  • Consider how the source contributes to your research
  • Make notes, create a set of symbols for yourself

See the ASC’s critical reading page for more info.

Audio: So, researching is really about critical reading. And what that means is when you're reading critically, you should be reading actively rather than passively. Maybe that sounds a little bit confusing, but if you think about when you’re reading for enjoyment and you're reading some novel or non-fiction that you're not being tested on, you're not expected to write about later, you might just sit back and let your mind wander and have kind of follow along with the story. But just let it sweep you away so that you're just kind of getting into the story, letting the story take you. That would be a passive form of reading. When you're researching, however, you need to engage with the writing. It you to not only absorb the information a little bit better, but it also helps you start this whole process of pre-writing. So, some ways you can read actively are to ask questions of the text that you're reading. And I really recommend writing them down as you read, because I know for me personally, I have to do a lot of reading as I'm preparing to write my dissertation and I don't want to get to my computer after I've done all this reading and have no kind of concept of the thoughts I was having or the connections I was making while I was reading. So, I really recommend writing down those questions, but also being sure you are asking questions of the text and the authors, thinking about what is their process? How could their process have been completed differently? Is this question answering, fully encompassing your own question or maybe there's something you feel the authors and researchers have left out? So, these are some great questions to write down as you're reading.

Paraphrase as you go. At the Writing Center, we're big fans of paraphrasing as opposed to using direct quotations. And again, part of that has to do with comprehension. If you can put something in your own words, you probably have a really good understanding of what you're talking about. Whereas, if you're just copying something straight from somebody else, it can be a little bit more difficult to fully integrate that into your writing. And sometimes it's easier to just forget what you have written down. So, paraphrasing can also help you. It can also help you think about those questions. If you're paraphrasing and you come up with a new way of suggesting the argument, maybe that would also lead you to something that you’d also be interested in following up and developing further. And speaking of that, you also want to follow leads you that find in your sources and further make those connections. So, when you're reading peer-reviewed articles, they're going to cite other sources and other researchers. And if as you're reading, somebody mentions another article or another researcher, and you think, this sounds a lot like what I'm talking about. Or maybe you just really want to double check what this other researcher is saying, you can use those citation and those references to find other sources and make your own connections. So perhaps you'll find that a researcher is in conversation with another source, and you feel that maybe you agree more with the other source, or you feel you want to know more about that other side of the conversation. These can be really great leads into more of those questions and more of that paraphrasing and thinking about your own project.

Consider how the source contributes to your research. This is something I comment on a lot in paper reviews. Is that when you're reading and you're taking notes, you don't want to just summarize what somebody else is saying. But you also want to think about how you're going to apply it. Again, that's really helpful for when you sit down front of your computer and if you have your notes right in front of you about how it contributes, you'll have a much better sense of how you were planning to use that source. And then I also recommend making lots of notes and creating a set of symbols for yourself. And I'm going to talk about that later on, but these symbols can be really anything as long as you are able to recognize them. And also, I think it helps for when you're trying to read, sometimes you can get really into the reading, but having a quick set of like shorthand notes will help you still take those notes, make your connections without really breaking that stride if you're just in a reading flow. If you want some more information, the academic success center has a great webpage with lots more information about critical reading and some different strategies that you can try out as you're in your research stage.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Poll Question:

            How do you currently take notes when you research?

Audio: So, I have another chat question. How do you currently take notes when you research? And I've got a poll here, but I encourage you to write in with some different techniques you use that we probably haven't thought of in our poll.

[Pause, as students type]

So, it looks like a lot of you write comments in the margins, write down important information in notebook and highlights. And I think that's really great. I've read a lot of research actually about the connection of handwriting your notes. And, so, it seems like a lot of you are already doing that and that's great! And, of course, taking notes on a computer is excellent as well if that's what works best for you. Looks like nobody has responded about a computer or phone app, but I know that there are several that can help with organizing your notes and your references.

[Pause, as students type]

And then more people are talking about printing off information and writing. That's how I have to read too, I can't read on a computer screen. For some reason, I just don't feel like I absorb it as well. And this is interesting. The taking of photo of it in your mind and remembering it that way. I wish I had that kind of a memory, but I have to take lots of notes, because I sadly do not have that kind of memory. So, thank you so much, again, for sharing. I'm going to keep moving on with our webinar.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Critical Reading Requires Note Taking

Audio: So, something to take into consideration is that critical reading really requires note-taking. So, I thought maybe one or two of you was honest and said, I don't usually take notes. But I think that this is an important concept to consider is are you critically reading if you're not taking notes? Are you digesting the information asking those questions and interrogating the author's, if you're all doing it mentally in your head? So, there's lots of different methods for taking notes and we're going to talk about a couple that I use. So, there is, you know, note-taking with pen and paper. You can make notes on a Word document or through those note-taking apps and programs. You can write on note cards. And then you can also use annotated bibliography which you might be familiar with from some of your Walden courses. If you're interested in the electronic resources, that I mentioned, we have one of our writing instructors wrote a blog post called “Demystifying Prewriting: Yeah There's an App for That”, and he's very tech savvy and he knows what he's talking about. So, you can check out that blog post for different resources you can use online.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Note Taking: by hand


// synthesis

  • Potential points

~ theory to explain fiction

X in contrast

Audio: So, this is what I was trying to describe with the symbols in note-taking by hand. You'll get so see some of my own notes and symbols. But I kind of have these little notations that I understand, probably nobody else would be able to tell looking at that. But that's not important, because I'm the one who needs to remember what’s going on and what I was thinking while I was reading. So, while I'm reading, I'll take these little shorthand notes. And you can see that I have different symbols for how I want to connect my sources or how I'm thinking about things. So that double slash I use to consider a synthesis of, this is something I'm using to connect these two different pieces. So, I have a text by an author named Veblen and I have a text by an Author named Menand. And I’m trying to put them in discussion together, they seem to have a consensus that I'm trying to flush out a little bit. Looking at the priority of their argument and the justification for their arguments. I'm seeing those as places I can connect these two authors. That little squiggle. So, my dissertation is a literature dissertation. And, so, I have to use theory to connect fictional text to my own argument that I'm making. And, so, my little squiggle there is my notation to myself that I'm finding theory from Menand that's going to help me explain Raider-Day’s novel a little bit more. And then I use an X, when I am looking at contrast or when I feel like my sources are arguing with each other. So up above, I have Veblen and Menand being synthesized or coming together through consensus priority justification, but I see them arguing in terms of funding. So, my dissertation is looking at university studies and university funding, and, so, I'm looking at the ways these two authors look at funding and I am seeing them as different. So, I put that X. Again, it doesn't matter what symbol you choose to use as long as they make sense to you. So, these are some things I like to do just to make my note-taking faster and easier, and then I can go back later and I can type up some more thorough notes, but this is just for while I'm actually reading, I just want to get my ideas out on to paper so I don't forget later on.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Note Taking: Note Cards

[An illustration of note cards with hand written notes]

Audio: Another option you can do is, you can use note cards. I like doing this for shorter papers. But this is definitely something that can be very helpful. So, what I recommend doing is having the APA citation clear somewhere on the note card. Either at the top or bottom, so you can remember really easily where these quotations are coming from and having these separate quotations on these note cards allows me to move them around physically. So how do I want to organize this argument? Do I feel like one of these quotations transition better into another? I can move them around and try out some different forms of the same kind of argument if I have my idea in place. So that's another technique you can use and there's lots of other ways of using note cards as well, but this is just one that is useful for me or has been useful for me in the past.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Note Taking: Annotated Bibliography

[An illustration of an annotated bibliography with the:

 reference, summary and analysis and application pointed out]

Annotated Bibliographies

Audio: And then you can also use an annotated bibliography. Annotated bibliographies are great for when you have a lot of sources and you want to make sure you understand what you are kind of thinking through while you were reading them, how you're feeling like they're going to apply to your project overall. So here we have couple of different sections of the annotated bibliography. First, we have the reference and it's correctly formatted for APA, so when I write my paper, if I use information from that source, all I have to do is copy and paste that reference into my work cited, my reference's list. There's a very short summary, and I do think it's important to look at how short that summary is. Lots of times, I'll see annotated bibliographies that are all just summary. And the way I describe it to my own students is that their summary should be something kind of quick-and-dirty that just helps you remember this is what this book is about, this is what this article is talking about. Maybe one or two sentences to say the main argument. How the authors came to that argument but just very brief. You're not trying to get the whole document into your paper here. And then these last two sections are really, really important, but I also often see students forgetting to add these parts. And that's the analysis and application. So, you want to analyze the text. And that's where you're interrogating and where you’re asking those questions. You're looking for a bias from the author. You're looking for things that maybe they didn't take into consideration. Angles they didn't look at, where you might do something differently. Those kinds of things. And then the application is, how you see this work applying to your own studies, your own project, thinking about how it fits into the conversation that you want to have. And I think Again, that's very, very important because oftentimes as we're reading, we can see those connections that maybe are less clear when you're sitting in front of that blank Word document. At least for me, that's how it goes. We also have some great resources on annotated bibliography on our website. You can check those out at that link.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Questions about researching, critical reading, or note taking?

Audio: So, here, I want to take a quick pause and ask if there were any questions about researching, critical reading, or note-taking that those stages of pre-writing? Beth, did we have any question about that?

Beth: Yeah, there's one question, Kacy, that I wondered if you can talk about a little bit, do you anticipate students using one of these strategies or different kinds depending on what they're working on? How do students think about or navigate that? I know I'm not giving you a specific scenario and it's a very general and vague question. But just generally, do you have any tips for students in thinking about choosing different techniques or approaches?

Kacy: That's a great question actually. I think depending on the project you might use more than one of these techniques for the same project for longer projects, for example. I know with my dissertation, I'm using several different pre-writing techniques and outlining techniques. And I don't know if this is the answer that people would want to hear. But I do think that it's best to try out several different versions, different techniques to see what works best for you. Maybe if as you're listening, you hear one and it sounds really weird or something that you wouldn't normally do, you might try it for a shorter assignment. Maybe a discussion post or one of those lower stake assignments just to see how that works for you. I really recommend trying lots of different styles of pre-writing as you never know what's going to be the thing that, you know, sparks that great idea or that great organization plan.

Beth: That's fantastic. Thank you. That's all that we have for now.

Kacy: Awesome, thanks, Beth. All right.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Stages of Prewriting

            Researching → Generating → Planning

Audio: So, now we're going to move on to generating the second step of pre-writing.


Visual: Slide changes to following:

Critical Reading          Generating Ideas

Audio: So, again, it's important to think about this as a circle. So you're reading critically and you're generating ideas, and then those ideas might lead you to think, oh, I should also look up this other element or I should do more research into this other argument so they can kind of feedback and forth into each other in this kind of loop.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating

  • You need to develop ideas for your writing.
  • How?
    • Freewriting
    • Notes
    • Visualizing/mapping
    • Asking Questions
    • Making assertions
  • From
    • Research
    • Work
    • Family, friends, community
    • Personal experience
    • World events

Audio: So, how do you generate some different ideas? You need to develop ideas for your writing. Obviously, that's generating step. But how do you do that? You can do that through free writing, through note-taking, visualizing, mapping, asking questions and making assertions. And these are lots of thing you guys already commented that you're doing already, which is awesome. And, so, again, maybe if you're not usually a free writer, you might try freewriting and see if that helps you generate some different ideas. If you're not usually using a mapping tool, you could see if that works out. And where do those ideas come from? Well, maybe the most obvious source is from your research. So, as you're reading and thinking about those questionings that you have, but they can also come from a lot of other places. I know a lot of Walden students have other jobs besides being a student. And, so, maybe at work, you realize that there's a certain need or certain situation that is really interesting to you or seems really important to you. And that can be something where you start generating those ideas. From family, friends, and community, I've read some really interesting reflections and posts from students who are talking about how a certain family member really inspired them to take this course or to take this or to take on this program. And it might be from personal experience. Again, from work, from life, and then also from world events. So, all these different places can give you some good ideas of where, sorry, can help you generate some of those strong ideas. So, it's not just from research, but it can be from your own experiences, from the people that you know, from the things you're seeing around you.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Freewriting

  • Write your way in
    • What: Write without censoring for a specific period of time
    • Purpose: Generate ideas, give yourself free reign, overcome writer’s block
    • When: Every day, to keep the project fresh, but especially during prewriting and if you get stuck

Audio: So, for this first technique that I think couple of you mentioned already, but freewriting is a way to write yourself into your argument. So, this is a really great technique for, let's say, you have a topic or you have a prompt, and you're just not quite sure how you want to go about tackling that prompt or that question or that topic. Basically, what you do when you're free writing is that you write without censoring yourself for a certain period of time. And this is much harder than it’s sounds if any of you have tried it. To try to just let yourself write without working about how the sentences are sounding or if you're spelling things correctly, if it makes any sense to anybody else. It's actually very tricky, but it's also a great way of allowing, I kind of think of it as a "thoughts dump." You're dumping all your thoughts on to the page without worrying if they're smart or if they're correct. And you never know what's going to come out of that if you let yourself have that freedom whatever to write whatever comes to mind. It's a great way to overcome writers block. I had a writing teacher who used to give us these freewriting assignments, and would basically say, if you can't think of anything to write, write I can't think of anything to write and complain about having to do the freewriting assignment until you start getting into some other idea. And, so, basically, forcing yourself to write something helps you get past that block. And when do we recommend freewriting? You can freewrite everyday if you want. It helps keep your projects fresh. It helps you kind of come up with new ideas. It is really interesting to see where your brain goes when you let it just kind of free flow all of your ideas out. But, again, it's especially helpful during pre-writing or if you get stuck. If you have no idea what I want to say about this topic or about this prompt, allowing yourself that uncensored freedom is a great way to write your way into your argument to see where your thoughts are leading you.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Visualizing/Mapping

  • What: Draw out ideas and make connections between ideas
  • Purpose: Spatially generate ideas and find connections via association
  • When: Prewriting, outlining, and anytime you’re stuck

Audio: And another way is with visualizing or mapping out your arguments. I have never actually used this technique for writing a paper, but I've used it for other projects. And I definitely want to try using it for a paper, because I think what I really like about the visualization or the idea map is that kind of like the way we've been talking writing as this circular process, it doesn't have a clear beginning, it doesn't have a clear ending. This visual map allows you to get all your ideas out without that traditional outline form of this idea comes first and then this idea, and then I have to transition to this idea. It just allows us to see all of the different pieces that you want to incorporate into your project in one space. And, so, it allows you to make different connections. Maybe you'll see, you know, I thought that this one paragraph was supposed to lead into this other argument, but, actually, I think the argument fits better as more of a conclusion piece or what have you. Because you've given yourself that freedom to look at your ideas without necessarily putting them in a timeline or in an order. So, it allows you to just draw out those ideas, to make connections between them that maybe you wouldn't have seen if they were further apart on an outline or on a page? It’s great for spatial learners, visual learners to kind of get all their thoughts out. And this is another technique that's really great for pre-writing before you start outlining, because, again, I think it helps you to look at the bigger picture rather than trying to figure out how everything fits in right away. And, again, any time you're stuck. So, you might be in the middle of writing a paper, and you realize, oh, I still have all these different things I need to talk about, but I don't quite know where to put them. An idea map is a great way to allow yourself to get those thoughts out without worrying about an order or how they are supposed to appear in your paper.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Notes

  • What: Comments, information, ideas, and questions you recorded while reading
  • Purpose: Identify patterns, interesting ideas, connections to your research, and topics you can explore further
  • When: Prewriting, as you research and outline, and anytime you’re stuck

Audio: And then you can also take notes, of course. So, this is something I definitely recommend doing while you're reading. I know for myself, personally, I used to just read and underline things as I was reading and then I would try to go back and take notes after I finished the article or I finished the book. And I have learned, so learn from my mistakes. I have learned that it's very difficult to go back to those, if I've just underlined something and understand why I underlined that, I feel like when I'm reading, I make all these connections, and then I come back to them later on, and it's like, well, why did I underline that specific quotation? Or how is this fitting into another text that I read maybe last week or maybe last month? It's very tricky at least for me to put myself back in that mindset. So, taking notes while you're researching I think is really helpful in generating ideas. It will help you identify patterns. Lots of times you're working with different sources and different researchers so it can help you connect those different conversations that are happening and connect your own research. And it can also give you ideas for topics you want to explore further. And this might sound a little bit familiar, but this is very helpful to do. As you're pre-writing as you research and outline, and then any time you're stuck, going back to your notes when you've taken those good notes, those clear notes that help you remember what you were thinking while you were reading, it's a great way to get unstuck as you're sitting there trying to figure out what to write next. And then asking questions.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Asking Questions

  • What: Focus on the questions that you have, making a list of main and sub questions
  • Purpose: Find topics that interest you and identify questions you can or need to answer for your paper
  • When: Prewriting, researching, and outlining

Audio: So, you want to focus on the questions you have. Making a list of those specific questions. Maybe you've already come up with before you even started reading. But then you can also add to that list with the questions that you come up with as you're reading. And maybe those will lead to some sub-questions that will lead you to other research and other sources that you can look into. The purpose of asking questions is to find topics that interest you and to identify questions you might need to answer for your paper. So, thinking about if I want to make this specific argument, what do I need to explain first? What terms do I need to define? What leads into my own argument? Or what discussions are happening around it? And, again, this is very useful for pre-writing, while you're researching, and while you're outlining. And asking questions is also a great way to get unstuck, thinking about something that maybe a different angle to a question or thinking about a different way that you might approach a problem than one of your authors has done. This can really help you if you're feeling like you're quite not sure where to go next with an idea.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Make Assertions          

  • What: Establish what ideas you know by making a series of statements
  • Purpose: Identify your interests; identify what you already know and what you need to figure out
  • When: Prewriting & outlining

Audio: And then you need to make assertions. This is another thing that I think can be tricky and can be confusing is it seems like you're just being asked to regurgitate a lot of information. All of these really smart scholars have said, have made arguments, have made these points that sound really good and so you want to summarize them. But you are also a scholar, and you’re going to become an expert in your field so you need to make those assertions. Establish your own ideas and your own arguments from those sources than the outside scholars. And you want to make specific statements. The purpose is to identify your interests and identify what you already know and what you need to figure out. Again, this fits into that circle of writing and researching, and synthesizing and going back and looking at what you have. So, you do this while you're pre-writing, while you're outlining but also while your writing your paper, you want to make sure that you are entering that conversation, that you have a voice and a place in that discussion. There are going to be obviously some assignments where the focus really is on summary. But even then, I think you want to consider what kind of questions you still have for the author. What didn't they answer? What didn't they account for? And, so, in that sense, you're still going to be kind of inserting your own voice and your own thoughts into your writing.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Generating Ideas: Learning Styles

Audio: And, of course, there are different learning styles. So, these are some different techniques you can also use as you're generating ideas. Auditory learners might want to talk to someone about your ideas. You might want to record yourself so that you can listen to yourself at a different time. Maybe instead of freewriting for 5 minutes, have you yourself just talk at this recorder for 5 minutes and see what kinds of ideas come to you as you're talking into your phone or whatever device would you would use to record yourself. If you're a kinesthetic learner, you might consider taking a walk to think about your ideas. Just getting outside is very helpful. Sitting outside and not being at the computer anymore. A friend of mine actually would record herself talking and then would go for a run and listen to herself. So, kind of combining those two of auditory and kinesthetic. And then all learners just need to take a brain break. It's really, really important. Don't just try to power through if you feel like you need a break. Take a break. Because in the long run, your writing is going to be better and your thoughts are going to be better, we all need that pause to remember we're not just walking brains. And, so, another really interesting form of thinking is doodling. And one of our writers wrote this post. Can you doodle your way to better writing and she talks about her own experiences in class and thinking through things? And this is just kind of a fun interesting way of how you might generate ideas, how different learning styles are going to absorb different information. So, I highly recommend this blog post.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Chat box: What other ways of generating ideas do you currently practice and suggest?

Audio: So, I'm interested to read some more about what are some other ways you have of generating ideas. Do you have any other techniques than the ones we've discussed? Or have you tried out some of these techniques yourself?

[Pause, as students type]

I already mentioned I really want to try idea mapping. So, if anybody has some good experiences or thoughts on that, I'd love to read about that as well. Oh, long drives and thinking is a great way of coming up with your ideas and helping to put them together.

[Pause, as students type]

Well, it sounds like a lot of you are really good at taking that break. And I think that's so important that you not try to force yourself to write something or to come up with something. Sometimes, you know, going to bed and coming back to it the next day, taking a walk with your dog, just getting away from the writing is going to help you to be that much stronger of a writer. I love TED talks. So, I definitely can understand watching TED talks to help come up with more ideas. And then I do think it's so important, again, leave the computer, let your mind wander a little bit, because those ideas will come to you and a lot of you are talking about how you kind of can't escape them. Maybe they come to you even as you're dreaming or when you’re taking a long drive. All right. So, I'm going to keep moving on.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Stages of Prewriting

            Researching → Generating → Planning

Audio: And now we're going to talk about planning.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Planning: Purpose, Thesis, Scope

  • Determine your purpose
  • Thesis statement
  • Find your audience
  • Who do you want to reach?
  • Establish your scope
  • How in-depth do I need to be?
  • Don’t forget your paper’s requirements!

Audio: So, these are the three kinds of major things that I think about in terms of planning. You want to determine your purpose. Oftentimes, this will appear in a form of what's called a thesis statement. This is another comment I make a lot on papers is can you clearly define your argument in just one sentence or maybe two sentences? But just really clearly stating for your reader this is what I'm writing about. This is why I'm writing. This is why you should read my paper. And then speaking of that reader, you really want to consider your audience. So, you might think, am I writing to people who are experts in my field? And, therefore, I don't need to necessarily explain as many of the terms or as many of the situations as I'm describing, because my reader will already know what I'm talking about. They’ll have read the text I'm referring to. They’ll be familiar with the researchers that I mention. If on the other hand you're writing to more general audience, you might need to take some steps back and explain who it is that you're in conversation with. Why they're important. What it is they contributed specifically before you get into really diving deep into your own discussion. And then you want to establish your scope. So how in-depth do you need to be for the specific assignment that you're working on? For a discussion post, you're obviously going to have a much smaller scope than if you’re writing your Capstone. So, considering how detailed and how really, how really nitty gritty you want to get into your paper, I guess, is a good way of thinking about it. And you can think about that in terms of page requirements or also making sure you're really answering the prompt. I think that's really important. If you've been asked a very, very specific question, you want to make sure that you're answering that specific question. If it's a little bit more broad, then maybe your scope gets a little bigger. So that kind of goes without saying, that you don't want to forget your paper's requirement. If you're being asked for a 5-page paper, you probably don't want to turn in a 1-page paper and vice versa. If you're being asked for a paragraph discussion post, you don't want to turn in 10 pages. So, these are all things to think about, especially, considering your audience, considering your purpose. You're looking at what this project is specifically requiring of you.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Planning: Give yourself time

  • Plan time throughout the week to work on your project daily
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes a day
  • During that time, research, take notes, outline, freewrite, draft, revise à Embrace the full writing process
  • Avoid “binge writing”
  • Use the Assignment Planner handout in the Files pod!
  • Writing Against the Clock: 5 Tips for Writing When You Have No Time

Audio: And then beyond simply planning for your paper and for what you're going to write, you want to actually plan your time out. You want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time so you don't have that panic last-minute, I have to get this done right now situation. I've been there. It's definitely not fun. At least from my experience. So, plan time throughout the week, throughout your day in general to work on your project. If you have a discussion post, maybe aim to have it finished a few days beforehand. And that will give you some time to look at it and make sure you're being clear and you're answering that prompt. It allows us to take that break that several of you were mentioning that sometimes you need when you're writing. For longer projects, I like to aim for at least 30 minutes a day. This helps you remember where you were the previous time you were writing. If you take a month or even a week or few days off between writing, it can sometimes be hard to get back into that mindset. You have to take time to go back and read what it was that you wrote. Whereas, if you're coming back to it the next day, it's probably very fresh. You remember, okay, I was talking about this yesterday and I needed to move on to this other topic or this other argument. So, you kind of just keep that momentum going. And I also, speaking from experience, I feel like every day I'm away from a long writing project, it makes it that much more difficult to get back into it to force myself to sit down and write. But if I know I'm going just write for 30 minutes every day, it somehow takes a little bit of that pressure off, I think. And then during that time, you want to allow yourself to do all of those pre-writing techniques to do all of that synthesizing and taking notes, and allowing yourself to really participate in the full writing process. So those 30 minutes that you're writing a day might not be just straight writing the paper, you know, adding pages to whatever document you're working on, but you might be doing some of that freewriting, that idea mapping, figuring out how to write yourself into your argument. And then really, really, you want to avoid binge writing. I know we've talked about this already, but that taking a break is so important. Allowing yourself to think of something else. I do think it makes for stronger papers. It makes for happier writers. And that's really important too. So, try to allow yourself enough time that you don't get forced into a binge writing situation. In the files pod, you'll notice we actually have an assignment planner document. It says that it's for undergraduates, but I think any student can use it. It's really useful tool for thinking about the different steps that you need to take as you're writing. So that's a great resource. And then we also have a blog post called “Writing Against the clock: 5 Tips for Writing When You Have No Time”. And this can also help you maybe get away from that binge writing idea, help you not panic as you are starting a project. If you feel like you're running out of time. Again, we have that assignment planner document in the files pod. I highly recommend it. No matter what stage you're at in your education.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Planning: Outlining

  • Be open to change:
  • Hierarchical
  • Determine how you’ll organize ideas
  • Ensure ideas relate to your thesis
  • Spatial
  • Find places more evidence might be needed
  • Check your scope
  • Consider your audience

Audio: So, there are different forms of outlining, I’m going to go through this kind of fast, I want to make sure we have some time for questions. But you can think about it. This is that hierarchical planning that I was talking about. Where you know specifically what point comes after which. How you want to organize your paper in that way. And you can also do this spatial planning which might allow you to try out some different orders of your argumentation or look at the bigger picture. Both are great ways of getting your ideas out and outlining. So, it's really important as you are doing your pre-writing and as you’re drafting to be open to change. Lots of times the ideas the ideas that we have when we start taking notes and when we start outlining are not the ideas that we end up with in the long-term. So being flexible and being willing to allow your arguments to change and to develop is really, really important.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Planning: Seek Feedback & Consider Goals

  • Instructor feedback
  • Writing Center feedback
  • Your own goals
  • Paper Reviews

Audio: And, so, you also want to seek feedback. There's instructor feedback of course. You can also get feedback from the Writing Center. And then also think about your own goals and what kinds of writing techniques or skills you want to work on specifically. And if you're interested in Writing Center feedback in particular, and you haven't used our paper review service before, you can check out this link in the corner here for some information about our paper reviews. I highly recommend it. You'll work with writing instructors like myself. And there are lots of us who are really happy and willing to read through your paper, give you that outside set of eyes.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Stages of Prewriting

            Researching → Generating → Planning

                        Flexible                       Reflective

  • Check out the “Prewriting Cheat Sheet” in the Files pod!

Audio: So just in review. We have these three steps. You want to make sure you're being flexible and reflective as you're doing your pre-writing. And, again, these steps, even though we kind of have this arrow as if it's going in one direction, it is going to kind of go back on itself and allow yourself that flexibility to research, generate, plan, and then kind of continue on in a loop. And then long along with that assignment planner document, we also have a pre-writing cheat sheet that is very helpful, and you can find that in the files pod.


Visual: Slide changes to following: Chat box:

What prewriting techniques and activities do you plan to try after today’s webinar?

Audio: So, I'm interested to see what kinds of pre-writing techniques and activities you want to try after today's webinar. And I hope you guys will try some techniques. And if you want to share which ones you plan to try. And also, do note, you can continue to ask questions and we have that writing support email if we run out of time. If we can put it in the chat box? Awesome. Thanks, Beth!

[Pause, as students type]

Awesome. So, it looks like a lot of you have some new techniques or maybe some old techniques that you're going to tackle. And, so, I know we're running short on time. But I just wanted to check. Beth, is there a quick question maybe I can try to answer before the hour's up?


Visual: Slide changes to following: Questions

Now: Let us know! ·Anytime:

Immediately following the Webinar today, continue the conversation on Twitter:

#WaldenU or #WaldenUWC

And follow us @WUWritingCenter

Learn more about the writing process:

Check out the recorded webinars “Life Cycle of a Paper” and “Revising: Reflecting on and Perfecting Your Writing”


Listen to podcast Wrestling with Writer’s Block

Audio: Beth: Yeah, thanks so much Kacy. I wonder if you can emphasize again this idea of different strategies for different kinds of assignments? In particular, I got a couple of questions about students at different stages. And I assume what you're talking about here, too, right? Pre-writing is going to look different for discussion post versus a 10-page paper, versus a dissertation that is 100 plus pages, right?


Kacy: Definitely. Yeah, and I think maybe one way to look at it is if you're looking at that writing as a cycle, as a continuous loop thing, probably for a dissertation or a Capstone, a larger project, you're going to go around the loop couple more times, if that makes sense. So, you're going to do those pre-writing activities. You're going to need to research and synthesize your ideas and outline, whereas, with a discussion post, you know, that one time of getting your ideas out and thinking about how you want to organize your paper. One time might be enough. Whereas, with a longer document particularly Capstones and dissertations, I know for myself personally, I'm always in that researching stage and in that note-taking stage even as I'm drafting. So, I think that might be one way of thinking about it. And I do think that all of the techniques can be used for any different assignment. It really is just kind of, some of you were mentioning in the chat box that a specific style seemed attractive to you or seemed interesting to you and I think that’s really key. What is standing out to you that sounds like it’s going to work? Or what do you think might push you outside of your comfort zone a little bit and help you move your ideas to that next level? So, I hope that answers that.

Beth: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Because we all learn and think differently and process information differently. And, so, I think it makes sense, too, that we might all be attracted to different strategies on the outset and different strategies might work well for me compared to someone else too. So, I think that's helpful to think about.

Kacy: Definitely. And, so, I know we're right at time here. So, I want to point out that email address. We're always happy to take questions. We love questions. So please use that email address.

Beth: Thank you so much, Kacy. Do you have any final words for everyone tonight?

Kacy: I hope you guys will try out some of these techniques. I know, like I said, I'm excited to try the mapping, the idea mapping out myself.

Beth: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. This was such a fantastic presentation. Thank you so much, Kacy, and thank you everyone for coming and for your questions and your comments and participation. We're going to go ahead and wrap-up for the evening. We just hope to see you again at another webinar coming up in the New Year. This is the last webinar for 2017. So, we'll see you again in 2018 and have a wonderful evening.