Loyola University Chicago

Writing Center

2: Prewriting

Reading Critically and Annotating Texts

Idea-Generation Strategies

Writers use many strategies for idea generation or prewriting. Among the most useful are the following:

Reading Critically and Annotating Texts

Since much of the writing you will do at Loyola will be text-based much like the "Cinderella" example, you might want to begin by rereading and annotating the texts you'll be using in your paper. An example follows.

Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper
France (Charles Perrault)

Once there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty [Note: could these two descriptors be instructions to the reader on what kind of woman not to be?] woman that was ever seen. She had, by a former husband, two daughters of her own, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things. He had likewise, by another wife, a young daughter, but of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper [Note: goodness and sweetness of temper are first mentioned/therefore most valued??], which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world.

No sooner were the ceremonies of the wedding over did the stepmother began to show herself in her true colors. She could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl [Note: external beauty mentioned early, but internal beauty mentioned first. Significant?], and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious. She employed her in the meanest work of the house. She scoured the dishes, tables, etc., and cleaned madam's chamber, and those of the misses, her daughters [Note: she is dutiful. Another valued quality in women?]. She slept in a sorry garret, on a wretched straw bed, while her sisters slept in fine rooms, with floors all inlaid, on beds of the very newest fashion, and where they had looking glasses so large that they could see themselves at their full length from head to foot [Note: sisters are vain. Another comment on what not to be?]. The poor girl bore it all patiently [Note: another virtue.], and dared not tell her father, who would have scolded her; for his wife governed him entirely. When she had done her work, she used to go to the chimney corner, and sit down there in the cinders and ashes, which caused her to be called Cinderwench. Only the younger sister, who was not so rude and uncivil as the older one, called her Cinderella. However, Cinderella, notwithstanding her coarse apparel, was a hundred times more beautiful [Note: external beauty emphasized again.] than her sisters, although they were always dressed very richly.


Brainstorming is a good way to determine what you know about your subject. When you brainstorm, you try to come up with as many ideas as possible in a short period of time without trying to impose order on them. When you complete your list, you can highlight ideas that seem significant and delete those which seem peripheral. Your initial list, like the student example that follows, may reveal how you wish to approach the subject and lead you to a tentative thesis statement.

This student seems interested in two aspects of the Walt Disney film variant of Cinderella: 1) The way that Cinderella and her stepsisters' appearances reflect the values and beliefs of post W.W. II America, and 2) the function of the animal storyline in reinforcing the primary storyline.

  • Disney's Cinderella came out in 1950.
  • Does it reflect what was going on then? Post WWII America?
  • Does it reflect the idea of beauty in that decade?
  • Cinderella is blond, blue eyed, tiny waist and small feet.
  • Stepsisters are brunette and red-headed and have big feet and big noses.
  • Cinderella's voice is melodious/stepsisters can't carry a tune.
  • Stepsisters are out of tune with each other and the whole world.
  • What about the animal storyline? Is it for entertainment? Or to stretch the film into a full length feature? Is something else going on?
  • Good and evil is played out in animal storyline. Bruno is the underdog literally (like Cinderella?). Lucifer represents evil (looks like a cobra or a skunk).
  • Birds make the dress for the ball—hard-working and cooperative. Does this reflect a cultural value or belief?


Clustering is a prewriting technique that allows you to explore the relationships among ideas. Generally you start by writing your topic in the center of the page and drawing a circle around it. You can surround the circled idea with related ideas. Those ideas lead to other clusters.


Freewriting is timed, nonstop writing that allows observations and ideas to emerge without the interference of thinking about grammar, punctuation or style. Focused freewriting allows you to explore ideas on a specific topic often allowing connections to emerge between different aspects of the subject.

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