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The Roadrunner's Guide to English: Planning to Read or Write

How do I get started reading or writing?

How do I get started?

The first step in writing is actually not writing at all. Before you can write well, you have to have something to say. So, the first step is to generate ideas that you will incorporate into your writing.

There are several strategies that students and professors alike use to help them come up with good ideas. These strategies work well for writing you do as an out-of-class assignment or for in-class writing; you’ll simply spend more time if you’re writing out of class. These strategies are brainstorming, freewriting, and clustering (also known as mapping).

For more detailed information on planning your writing, visit the Wikibooks - Rhetoric and Composition chapter, "Planning and Prewriting."

Author: Jenny Crisp


Before you start to read, preview the material. Note the section headings and any bold or italicized words. Next, jot down some questions you might have about the reading assignment. If you are reading about the American Revolutionary War, you might have the question, “What caused the way?” Now you are ready to read! Just be sure to be an active reader, someone who is truly paying attention to the ideas, not just someone who is looking at the words but not really understanding them. To make sure that you are an active reader, picture what is being said. If the material is about a battle, picture the battle and the fighting that occurs; don’t just “think” the words. That way, you should find the answers to the questions you came up with before reading and remember what you have read. After you have read and answered the questions you prepared, go back over the questions and recite the answers. Finally, review the material. You want to make sure that you not only read the material, but that you also understood it!


The SQ3R method is a reading strategy that teaches the reader to: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review.

To learn about this method, you may visit the websites below.


Brainstorming is the planning method most often used for in-class, timed writing, but many students also like it for out-of-class writing as well. When you brainstorm, you look at your topic and start writing down ideas about that topic as soon as they occur to you. You don’t worry about whether the ideas are good or bad; the point is just to generate ideas to choose from. If you’re writing out of class with no time limit, you might brainstorm for five or ten minutes. For timed writing, most students will spend as few as two and no more than five minutes.

Author: Jenny Crisp


Clustering is particularly useful for writers who like having a visual representation of their ideas. In this method, students write their topic in the center of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Then they put related, supporting ideas in a “cluster” around that central topic, drawing circles around the ideas and connecting them to the main idea or even each other with lines to show how they are related.

A simple cluster map of the essay about apples might look something like this:

Map with running an apple farm center, subtopics Climate (at 12:00), Taxes (5:00), and Marketing (7:00)

Author: Jenny Crisp


Freewriting is sometimes called the “wet ink” method of planning a piece of writing. In this method, you pick a period of time, often five to ten minutes, and you write complete sentences about your topic without pausing – without letting the ink get dry on the page. You don’t go back and make changes or corrections, you don’t worry about the quality of your ideas, and if you run out of ideas, you write “I can’t think what to write” until something comes to you. Again, the point is to generate ideas, although sometimes student writers find they can take whole sentences from their freewriting and put them directly into their papers.

Author: Jenny Crisp