Careful writing generally involves a three-part process that consists first of prewriting, then the actual writing of a draft, and finally, rewriting. Most people focus too much on the writing stage, at the expense of the prewriting and rewriting stages.
Prewriting is important because it helps ensure that you consider a full spectrum of ideas before you start your first draft. It can consist of various activities, including:
Research and note-taking
In order to know what you want to say, you must first be familiar with your subject. If your writing project requires research, read about your topic online, in other documents your organization has published previously, in magazines, or anywhere else you can find relevant, reliable information. You may want to interview colleagues or, in some cases, clients to help you gather necessary information. You will probably want to take notes throughout the research process.
Take out a piece of paper (or open a new file on your computer) and list any and all thoughts you have on your topic. Phrases and sentence fragments are fine, even preferable; at this stage you should not concern yourself with grammar. Also, do not worry about whether your ideas are good or bad. Turn off that critical voice in your head, and simply write down everything that occurs to you, from details to general ideas to possible counterarguments.
Freewriting exercises are particularly helpful for people who suffer from writer’s block. As with brainstorming, take out a blank piece of paper —or, if you are electronically inclined, open a new file — and just start writing about your topic. The only rule of freewriting is: do not stop writing! Unlike brainstorming, freewriting involves writing in more or less standard sentences and, if you like, paragraphs. If you run out of ideas, simply write something like I can’t think of anything I need some coffee my left foot hurts and so on until something occurs to you. Do not worry about grammar, spelling, or the quality of your ideas.
In prewriting, you unlock your creativity. Maybe some of the things you write down won’t be relevant. That’s fine. But at least you will have some words to work with — a crucial first step!
Once you have completed any necessary research, brainstormed, and/or tried a freewriting exercise, examine what you have so far and start to consider what you might include in your document and how it could be arranged. Some people like to create an outline, which is an extremely valuable thing to do before writing a draft.
Suppose you’re not quite ready to outline, though. In that case, you can instead read through the research you’ve collected, or perhaps look at a list of ideas you created through brainstorming. If you take that list and start crossing off irrelevant ideas, marking ideas that you would like to use, drawing arrows to connect related points, and so on, you may begin to get a sense of possible structure for your memo, report, or whatever document you happen to be writing.