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Writing Center's Guide to Academic Writing for Health Sciences

A LibGuide created for KUMC students and faculty that explores academic writing best practices and tips

What is Prewriting?

Prewriting is a general term for a range of activities that help you get started writing.

It is a strategy to develop ideas, to explore and organize your thoughts prior to drafting. It also helps you to determine purpose and audience. Prewriting works with prompts and specific directions from your professors; it also works when you’re starting an article for publication from scratch. With prewriting, you never have to face a blank page or screen.

Read on for a list of some prewriting activities. 

Learn more about Prewriting

And don't forget...

There are always other possibilities, including talking with classmates, friends, and professors. Brainstorming out loud, to yourself or to another, helps you think about ways to start your paper.

And of course the Writing Center at KUMC is a great resource. The writing specialist welcomes students and residents who come without a draft in hand. Asking questions is a big part of his work to help you discover yours! 


This is freedom at its best in writing. For ten minutes or so, you write down anything and everything that pops into you head, without attention to grammar, spelling, or correctness of any kind. You write fast and fill up a page or two. If nothing comes to mind, you write, “Nothing comes to mind.” Something always comes to mind. If one thing after another appears, you write it down and go with the flow.


With looping, you do a freewrite; then, after you’ve looked back over what you’ve written, you pick an idea (it can be anything) and begin freewriting on that idea. After a second freewrite, repeat the process until you have three or four “loops.” Looping clarifies thought in a sustained way, even if you end up (as often happens) throwing out more than you retain. This is a good thing. When you draft, even when you revise, without having first done any freewriting or brainstorming, you often do not throw out as much as you should!


This activity also goes by different names: mind mapping, idea mapping, tree mapping, and so forth. You start with a circle that contains a main idea. Next, you draw lines to other circles containing sub-ideas or issues relating to the main idea. As you work off the core, you try to group ideas or cluster them so that an organization begins to emerge. 


We make lists every day—grocery lists, to-do lists, and so on. So why not generate ideas for a paper by making a list? Like freewriting or clustering, listing helps you create/see ideas and details. You don’t worry about organization; you just jot down what comes to mind about a subject until you run out of ideas. The easiest way to list is to make columns or separate words (thoughts) with slashes or dashes. Numbering works too.


Use outlines when you feel there is a real correspondence between idea and language. The greatest benefit is that they can save time by creating a system you can adjust. Here’s a short list of some types:

  • Topic outline (most common)
  • Sentence outline (complete sentences create the framework)
  • Reverse outline (created after writing a first draft)
  • Decimal outline (1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.2.1, etc.)
  • Rough outline (bullets or numbers)


This is a system that lets you look at (and arrange) a subject from multiple perspectives. In essence, you look at a thing three ways: 1) as a thing itself, 2) as a thing that changes over time, and 3) as part of a greater context. 




·  What does the term nuclear family mean?

·  Who formulated it?

·  What are its features?

· How long has the nuclear family characterized family structure in the United States?

· When did it begin to change?

· What factors caused it to change?

· How might these factors affect the nuclear family in the future?

· How are changes in the structure of the American family related to other changes such as employment, religion, education, and marriage?

· What are the consequences of changes in the nuclear family for American life in general?

· What are the consequences for politics, education, social services?