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Pre-Writing Strategies Tutorial » "Conscious" Pre-Writing Strategies

"Conscious" Pre-Writing Strategies

The following four techniques—journalists' questions, Aristotle's topics, tagmemics, and synectics—can be copied into your word processor to use as a writing template. But you don't have to use the computer for these strategies; they can be done on paper as well.

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See Examples of "Conscious" Pre-Writing Strategies

Journalists' Questions

The traditional "journalists' questions"— who, what, when, where, why, and how? —are helpful in establishing the situation for the reader. Answering these questions will help the writer to supply the details a reader may find necessary to understand the topic. The questions can also be used by the writer to get a different slant on the topic.

  1. Type your topic.

  2. Who is X?

  3. What is X?

  4. When is X? / when was X? / when will X be?

  5. Where is X?

  6. Why is X ?

  7. How is X?

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Aristotle's Topics

Each "topic" suggests a logical way to organize an argument:

  • Definition asks you to describe the nature of your topic.

  • Comparison and Contrast asks you to reveal more about your topic by making comparisons to other things.

  • Cause and Effect asks you to consider how your topic came to be, and what consequences it had or might have.

  • Support from Evidence encourages you to use expert opinions and factual data to support your argument.

Clearly you don't end up with a paper that covers all of these argumentative approaches; based on your pre-writing discoveries you pick one (or two) of these approaches and come up with a more focused topic (and ultimately a thesis—see Moving from a Topic to a Thesis).

  1. Type your topic.


    • What is the nature of X?

    • To what general category does X belong?

    • What is X's function?


    • What can you compare X to?

    • What can you contrast X to?

  4. CAUSE and EFFECT:

    • What are some of the possible causes or antecedents of X?

    • What will be the effects or consequences of X?


    • What expert opinions do you have on X?

    • What relevant research exists on X?

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This approach helps you to consider your topic from different perspectives "[corresponding] to type, development and context. The first defines your subject as a particle, or self-contained entity; the second describes it as a wave, or entity subject to change over time; the third depicts it as a field, or entity that is part of a larger context or environment" (Smith and Kennedy 31).

  1. Type your topic

  2. PARTICLE (a self-contained X)

    • What is X?

    • How would you define X?

    • How would you describe X?

    • What are X's characteristics?

  3. WAVE (an X that changes over time)

    • What is the history of X?

    • What was X like in the past?

    • In what ways is X different now from the past?

    • Are changes in X happening quickly or slowly?

    • What are the effects of X's changes on X?

  4. FIELD (An X that is Part of a Larger Context)

    • How is X similar to Y?

    • How is X different than Y?

    • How does X fit into/be a part of/be important to Y?

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The synectics strategy asks you to think of analogies to your topic. As Flower (85) writes, "One of the best ways to understand a new problem is to see an analogy between it and things you already know.... Using synectics, an individual tries to generate four kinds of analogies to the problem at hand: personal analogies, direct analogies, symbolic analogies, and fantasy analogies. By its very nature, the approach leads you to come up with offbeat, impossible ideas in the hope of finding one startling new insight."

  1. Type your topic.

  2. Personal Analogy (imagine you are the topic or the solution to a problem)

  3. Direct Analogy (compare it to something concrete)

  4. Symbolic Analogy (compare it to an abstract principle)

  5. Fantasy Analogy (take your best shot)

Example See Examples of "Conscious" Pre-Writing Strategies

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