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Higher Education Insight: Best Practices for Prewriting at the Graduate Level

Warm up your writing skills with note-taking, brainstorming, and other essential tools.

Pitchers take to the bullpen to warm up before stepping on to the mound. Singers perform vocal exercises before walking on stage. At the gym, everyday athletes precede workouts by stretching and limbering up. When it comes to writing the academic papers that are an integral part of your college education, warming up is also beneficial, and your university should provide tips and resources.

Prewriting, which includes brainstorming, note-taking, organization, and other foundation-laying exercises, is taught in Walden University’s Graduate Writing course for students in master’s degree programs. “Writing a Paper: Prewriting,” required reading in the online course’s second week, gives students practical ideas for tackling assignments with confidence and ease. Follow along with Walden Graduate Writing students to learn more about prewriting:1

Higher Education Insight: Best Practices for Prewriting at the Graduate Level

Prewriting Basics

Writing is a process, not an event. Taking the time to prepare for your writing will help make the writing process smooth and efficient. Follow these steps to ensure that your page does not stay blank for long. All prewriting resources should be used simultaneously—you will often find yourself switching back and forth between brainstorming, critical reading, organizing, and fighting off writer’s block as you begin a new assignment.

Take Careful Notes

While reading, make sure that you are taking notes on relevant information. Take a look at Walden’s Academic Skills Center's resources on taking notes for some tips on effective approaches. Group your notes by topics or main ideas so you can see the connections in the material you have read. Visit Walden’s Writing Center and try some of the brainstorming activities for help generating and connecting ideas.

Be sure to provide a citation (author, year, and page number) for every note that you take. This way, you will not have to interrupt your writing process later to find citation information. Knowing how to read effectively will be one of your strongest assets in the prewriting process. Review the resources on critical reading found at Walden’s Academic Skills Center for more tips on getting the most from your research and reading.

Choose a Topic

Review the notes you have made to identify trends and areas of interest. Ask yourself where you have taken the most notes, where the most information is focused, and where any gaps in the literature might be. Do not discount your own interests—it is easiest to write a paper on a topic that intrigues you!

Use brainstorming activities to help narrow down your paper topic, or consult your instructor for extra help. Once you have chosen a topic, you may need to go back to the note-taking stage and find more information to flesh out the body of your paper. Do not forget that most scholarly papers should advance a clear claim, articulated in the paper’s thesis statement.

Develop Your Analysis

Good scholarly writers ask questions as they research, and the answers to those questions often become the organizing arguments in their papers. As you continue to read and take notes, think about the major claims that exist already about your topic. Ask yourself if you agree or disagree—or think the major claims should have a different direction entirely! Walden’s resources on critical thinking can help you develop the main points of your paper before you begin writing. Remember that you will likely also be continuing the brainstorming process as you develop your analysis.

How Can I Learn More About Graduate Writing?

If you plan to earn a degree online, look for an accredited university that offers strong student support services. Walden’s Writing Center provides resources to support students’ scholarly writing needs—from effective prewriting tips to dissertation editing. Walden’s Academic Skills Center is another valued resource for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree students in all fields of study. You can drop in for an online tutoring session in statistics, request a peer mentor, learn more about social change, or complete a self-paced module on time management/maximization.

An online university is an excellent postsecondary education choice for working professionals like you who find themselves balancing career and family. With adult learners in mind, Walden University has developed flexible learning platforms with multiple start dates; dozens of degree programs, many of which can be customized to your interests and talents; and relevant curriculum taught by respected faculty members. Prewrite your success by choosing a graduate school degree program that aligns with your career and life goals. Start warming up for that next big career step today.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online master’s degree programs along with a variety of graduate certificates. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

1Walden curriculum source:

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,