Prewriting Versus Writing: Is There a Boundary?

Here is an excellent question from Jimmy about the writing process buried in some comments, and I am just reproducing my answer here (slightly edited) so people don’t overlook it.

Just curious…when you write, do you make a clear distinction between pre-writing and writing? Do you say, “ok, i’m done with prewriting..let’s start writing.”

I have two answers to this question.

One is to answer as myself, speaking only for Jeff Bardzell as an individual who writes. Yes, I do generally separate prewriting from drafting. My general process typically includes these steps, in this order:

  1. Ideation (tables which I use to work through ideas systematically; thoughtful comments, insights, and distinctions that have occurred to me; documents with nothing but good quotes from my readings; summaries/highlights of my own data; etc.)
  2. The assembly of a fairly detailed outline (a 10-page CHI paper is written from a 6-7-page single-spaced outline)
  3. Sitting down and composing the prose (usually done very quickly; I can draft a fairly stable (i.e., needs only minor revisions afterwards) full paper (8-10 pages, 10 pt font, single-spaced) in about a day, which is only possible because of 1 and 2 above)
  4. Editing/revising and bibliography-doing.

This is a process that I have developed over the years and practiced quite a bit. It is also similar to how I prep for class and formal presentations, so the point is I get a lot of practice in with it.

Having said all of this, and this is the second half of my answer, I do not necessarily believe this process is generalizable to everyone. That is, I don’t see this as a methodology that can be replicated by others in all situations, but rather as a personal process I eventually developed for me.

So I think there are elements that probably are generalizable–one of them is the general utility of getting your data, readings, and preliminary thoughts all in front of you at once–but how exactly one implements that step (e.g., exactly how much data, readings, and thoughts you put in front of yourself) is probably a very personal decision.

One of my goals in this class is simply to call your conscious attention to the sheer complexity of writing an academic paper, so you understand why the last-minute crush is so hard to do. Like design, writing is an iterative process, and as such it needs to be managed, which means being cognizant of all the individual little steps and also having systems to manage all the many resources that go into an academic paper (quotes, concepts, data, references, etc.).

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About jeffreybardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell is an Associate Professor of HCI/Design in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University - Bloomington. His research foci include critical design, interaction criticism, research through design, and digital creativity, which he approaches from a perspective that reflects his background in the humanities.
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One Response to Prewriting Versus Writing: Is There a Boundary?

  1. jimmypierce says:

    sweet. thanks for the detailed outline of your process. i think there are some really useful new ideas in here that ill try out, especially this stuff about “systems to manage all the many resources that go into an academic paper (quotes, concepts, data, references, etc.).”

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