Pre-writing strategies use writing to generate and clarify ideas. While many writers have traditionally created outlines before beginning writing, there are other possible prewriting activities. Five useful strategies are brainstorming, clustering, free writing, looping, and asking the six journalists' questions
Brainstorming, also called listing, is a process of generating a lot of information within a short time by building on the association of previous terms you have mentioned.
- Jot down all the possible terms that emerge from the general topic you are thinking about. This procedure works especially well if you work in a team. All team members can generate ideas, with one member acting as scribe. Don't worry about editing or throwing out what might not be a good idea. Simply write down a lot of possibilities.
- Group the items that you have listed according to arrangements that make sense to you.
- Give each group a label. Now you have a topic with possible points of development.
- Write a sentence about the label you have given the group of ideas. Now you have a topic sentence or possibly a thesis statement.
Clustering is also called mind mapping or idea mapping. It is a strategy that allows you to explore the relationships between ideas.
- Put the subject in the center of a page. Circle or underline it.
- As you think of other ideas, link the new ideas to the central circle with lines.
- As you think of ideas that relate to the new ideas, add to those in the same way.
The result will look like a web on your page. Locate clusters of interest to you, and use the terms you attached to the key ideas as departure points for your paper.
Clustering is especially useful in determining the relationship between ideas. You will be able to distinguish how the ideas fit together, especially where there is an abundance of ideas. Clustering your ideas lets you see them visually in a different way, so that you can more readily understand possible directions your paper may take.
Free-writing is a process of generating a lot of information by writing non-stop. It allows you to focus on a specific topic, but forces you to write so quickly that you are unable to edit any of your ideas.
- Free-write on the assignment or general topic for several 5-10 minutes non-stop. Force yourself to continue writing even if nothing specific comes to mind. This free-writing will include many ideas; at this point, generating ideas is what is important, not the grammar or the spelling.
- After you've finished free-writing, look back over what you have written and highlight the most prominent and interesting ideas; then you can begin all over again, with a tighter focus. You will narrow your topic and, in the process, you will generate several relevant points about the topic.
Looping is a free-writing technique that allows you to increasingly focus your ideas in trying to discover a writing topic. You loop one 5-10 minute free-writing after another, so you have a sequence of free-writings, each more specific than the other. The same rules that apply to free-writing apply to looping: write quickly, do not edit, and do not stop.
Free-write on an assignment for 5-10 minutes. Then, read through your free-writing, looking for interesting topics, ideas, phrases, or sentences. Circle those you find interesting. A variation on looping is to have a classmate circle ideas in your free-writing that interests him or her.
Then free-write again for 5-10 minutes on one of the circled topics. You should end up with a more specific free-writing about a particular topic.
Loop your free-writing again, circling another interesting topic, idea, phrase, or sentence. When you have finished four or five rounds of looping, you will begin to have specific information that indicates what you are thinking about a particular topic. You may even have the basis for a tentative thesis or an improved idea for an approach to your assignment when you have finished.
The Journalists' Questions
Journalists traditionally ask six questions when they are writing assignments, 5 W's and 1 H: Who?, What?, Where?, When?, Why?, How? You can use these questions to explore the topic you are writing about for an assignment. A key to using the journalists' questions is to make them flexible enough to account for the specific details of your topic. For instance, if your topic is the rise and fall of the Puget Sound tides and its effect on salmon spawning, you may have very little to say about Who? if your focus doesn't account for human involvement. On the other hand, some topics may be heavy on the Who?, especially if human involvement is a crucial part of the topic. Possible generic questions you can ask using the six journalists' questions follow:
Who are the participants? Who is affected? Who are the primary actors? Who are the secondary actors?
What is the topic? What is the significance of the topic? What is the basic problem? What are the issues?
Where does the activity take place? Where does the problem or issue have its source? At what place is the cause or effect of the problem most visible?
When is the issue most apparent? (past? present? future?) When did the issue or problem develop? What historical forces helped shape the problem or issue and at what point in time will the problem or issue culminate in a crisis? When is action needed to address the issue or problem?
Why did the issue or problem arise? Why is it (your topic) an issue or problem at all? Why did the issue or problem develop in the way that it did?
How is the issue or problem significant? How can it be addressed? How does it affect the participants? How can the issue or problem be resolved?
The journalists' questions are a powerful way to develop a great deal of information about a topic very quickly. Learning to ask the appropriate questions about a topic takes practice, however. At times during writing an assignment, you may wish to go back and ask the journalists' questions again to clarify important points that may be getting lost in your planning and drafting.
WHAT IS CLUSTER ANALYSIS?
Cluster analysis, as a method of rhetorical criticism, is a process critics can use to evaluate the perspectives and worldviews of a person communicating something. The term “cluster” is used because we can learn a lot about what someone is thinking (even subconsciously) by “clustering” key words and symbols they use in a communication with other words and symbols that are used in proximity or relation to the key words. The method is attributed to late rhetorician Kenneth Burke, who sought to understand how people think and what motivated them to action. Burke used the concept of terministic screens to describe the terms, vocabulary, symbols, and other communication devices that people use to describe a concept; thus, as we evaluate the word choice, symbolism, colors, and other communicative devices in any given artifact (“artifacts” are any communication piece, from a speech to a novel to a song, but cluster analyses are usually better for larger documents–not great for billboards, etc.), we can peer through a filtered screen of sorts to understand a person’s worldview, or where they may be coming from when communicating.
Effective cluster analyses follow three steps:
- Identifying key terms
- Charting clusters around those key terms
- Explaining the artifact
Review the graphic here for guidance in doing a cluster analysis or read the larger text below. To see how to actually write the full rhetorical analysis/report, see the rhetorical criticisms overview page.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY KEY TERMS
Study your artifact(s) for key terms. To do this, you are looking for either frequency or intensity of certain words or phrases. (Typically, It’s good to keep your key terms to five or six.) Find the words that are repeated the most (frequency) and then find the words that have the greatest impact (intensity). Highlight those terms.
STEP 2: CHART CLUSTERS
While looking at your key terms, you can see words and phrases that “cluster” around each term, meaning they are either in close proximity to the key term or they are an effect of the key term. Highlight the clusters around each term and then chart them out.
What is you are discovering in this process is relationships. If a key word is “goal” for example, you start noticing how the rhetor sees goals—how they impact people, what causes them, their greater effects, and so forth.
STEP 3: EXPLAIN THE ARTIFACT
With several key terms listed and their relevant clusters charted, you can paint a picture about the artifact itself and the rhetor’s worldview about certain topics. Based on your analysis, you are in a position to find patterns and links between terms and ideas. associating ideas within the rhetor’s mind. You may also consider looking at how opposing terms are used and identify any conflicts or disturbances in the text.