Online Academic Resources - Writing

Getting Started
Approaches to Starting Your Writing

Many writers say that starting a writing assignment or project is the most difficult part. The thinking goes something like this: “I don’t yet know what I’m going to write so I can’t start writing.” Days or even weeks can pass and you may still not be any closer to knowing what you will write. This waiting-to-know is the basis for much unnecessary procrastination. In fact, you do not need to know what or how you will write before you can begin to write. The very act of writing will generate the ideas and structure for you. You do not have to—and indeed you should not— “pre-think” your entire paper before you write. Your best thinking will come as you write. Writing is thinking, and it will lead you to completion. So just begin.

The following are approaches to help you begin writing. They are called prewriting or invention strategies—ways to help you begin to think by writing, by generating ideas through writing.

Developing Ideas through Prewriting Strategies
(adapted from Prewriting

Discovering and developing a topic for writing can be challenging. Many writers make use of one or more of the following creative strategies—a set of heuristics, or methods of discovery—to help them generate ideas. Do not, however, confuse this prewriting with writing a first draft. At this stage you are simply exploring ideas, looking for topics, discovering needed details, identifying subjects that need further research. You are beginning to write.


Start writing freely, quickly, about your assignment. Do not worry about spelling, grammar, or quality of ideas. Don’t seek to get it right at this point; just get it down. What do you know? What don’t you know? Write non-stop about whatever occurs to you. Let the ideas flow; fill up a page, a screen. And then review what you have produced. You may discover a single word or phrase in a jumble of ideas that focuses your thinking about a subject. Freewriting can be a powerful means of discovery by stimulating and directing your thinking. The freewriting is not a rough draft of a paper, but the thinking that comes from it may help form the basis for the rough draft.

Listing Ideas About A Topic

List as many ideas as you can. At this point don't attempt to organize or edit ideas -- list as many as possible. Later you can eliminate minor or repetitive ideas and make connections between related items.

Asking Questions

Journalists develop stories by asking the basic Five W's -- who? what? where? when? why? You can explore and deepen your understanding by asking questions about a subject: What are the effects of low-voter turnout? Why is there low-voter turnout? Who is not voting? Why are cell phones so popular? Who benefits from cyberspace? What causes low-voter turnout? When will race relations change? Where is the best place to open a new hospital?

Clustering Ideas

If you are more visually oriented, you can develop writing ideas by drawing, sketching out ideas in a tree-like fashion or by using circles or squares. Use underlining to emphasize ideas and draw arrows to show connections. Clustering is useful to organize comparisons and classifications. You can use clustering—or drawing—to arrange ideas and rank points by importance. Cross-out unrelated or minor ideas and reshape your diagram into an outline to guide your first draft.

Talking To Others…Students, Friends, Family Members, a Writing Tutor

Sometimes you can feel overwhelmed by a writing assignment. The simple act of talking with another person about your project may help you move from not beginning to beginning.

Experiment with a Variety of Techniques

As you write—and continue to write from course to course—try different methods of beginning writing, of discovering and developing ideas, until you create dependable, productive habits of beginning your writing.