Prewriting organizers don’t work unless you use them

Organizing your thoughts before you write is one of the best ways to improve your writing.

This is a graphic representation of a third grade student's handwritten mind web.But that organizer, no matter how detailed, can’t help you if you don’t look at it.

All the time I see students who create great organizers and then set the organizers aside when they write their first drafts.

Consulting your organizer offers advantages:

  • Your essay or narrative becomes organized as your write.  You don’t have to go back later to move big chunks of text around.
  • You save time.  Revising can take as much time as writing a first draft.  You can shorten the time you revise by sticking to your plan.
  • Instead of focusing on organization as you write your first draft, you can focus on style, that is, sentence structure, vocabulary, and figures of speech.  You have already thought through the details to include, so now you can focus on the best way to present them.

If you are right-handed and hand writing your essay, I recommend that you place your organizer to the left of your notebook paper.  If you are left-handed, place the organizer to the right.  That way the organizer is easy to see, and because it’s easy to see, you will use it.  If you are composing on a keyboard, place your handwritten organizer on the side where the mouse isn’t.  If you created your organizer on the computer, use a split screen so the organizer is always visible.

As you complete each detail, cross it out on your organizer.  Make sure you can still read it though, in case you need to refer to it again.  Crossing out shows that you are making progress.

Do you need to use everything on your organizer?  That depends.  If you have included a dozen or more details for each body paragraph of an essay, you can skip some of the less important details.  But if your organizer is skimpy, you need every detail and then some.

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