Writing Strategies

Writing is a process that calls upon the use of particular strategies at each phase. Introducing and discussing a broad array of such strategies helps students build a repertoire of tools to choose from as they approach each writing activity.

The writing process can be summarized as follows:

Prewriting: using techniques to gather ideas; clarifying the purpose and audience

Drafting: putting ideas down on paper; exploring new ideas during writing

Revising: creating a structure that highlights most important points; considering clarity and organization of ideas; considering feedback from readers of first draft

Editing: correcting errors in sentence structure, usage, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

Pre-writing strategies

The purpose of pre-writing is to engage students in the writing process and help them discover what is important or true for them about the subject. Strategies include:

  • brainstorming
  • focused free writing (i.e., nonstop writing on an intended subject to get out ideas and feelings)
  • mapping and webbing (i.e., drawing thought webs or graphic representations of the topic)
  • using reporters’ questions (i.e., Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?)
  • reading other writers for inspiration and modeling of style and organization
  • using catalysts (pictures, texts, quotes, etc.) to stimulate thoughts and ideas.

Drafting strategies

  • Identifying the most important ideas generated by pre-writing activities and elaborating on them
  • Identifying an audience and purpose for writing and using it to guide the creation of a draft
  • Conferencing with peers to refine and clarify your ideas
  • Considering various ways of organizing ideas, depending on purpose and form, such as:
    • a chronological or step-by-step arrangement of ideas by time or sequence
    • order of importance
    • comparison and contrast
    • cause-effect
    • problem-solution
    • pros and cons

Revising strategies

Drafts reflect the struggle to get words down on paper and, as such, they are usually rough and incomplete. Revising brings a work to completion. It is a complex process of deciding what should be changed, deleted, added, or retained.

Useful strategies for revising ideas and form include:

  • Reading text aloud and seeing how it sounds to you.
  • Getting feedback from peers (about what stood out for them, etc.) to assess how effectively you’ve communicated your message. Does it make sense?
  • Asking yourself a set of questions that draw your attention to various aspects of the writing: Is my purpose clear? Is my message clear? Have I addressed the needs of my audience? Is my tone appropriate to my audience and purpose? Have I included the right level of detail? Etc.
  • Making an outline of your paper. Is there a logical organization to what you’ve written? Is there a beginning, middle, and end?

Editing strategies

Editing involves reading for conventions rather than content. The conventions of writing are the generally accepted mechanics of language. They include:

  • form (e.g., paragraph, essay)
  • sentence structure (syntax)
  • word choice
  • usage
  • spelling
  • punctuation and capitalization
  • appearance (e.g., spacing, indentation, handwriting).

Here are some examples of strategies to address these mechanics:

Spelling: The most effective way of learning to spell is proofreading one’s own writing. You can become a more effective speller by:

  • analyzing your own spelling problems and describing the spelling rules that give you trouble
  • pronouncing words carefully (e.g., accept/except)
  • using mnemonic devices (e.g., "stationery" where the "e" stands for envelope)
Punctuation and Capitalization: Punctuation and capitalization are not just sets of rules. They help the reader understand a text by helping them know how to read and interpret each sentence. Strategies for improving punctuation and capitalization include:
  • reading your writing aloud, to see where you would naturally pause
  • discussing various ways of punctuating a text, and how they affect the meaning
  • remembering the purposes of punctuation – to mark pauses (commas, semicolons, etc.), to set text apart (dashes, parentheses), to note quotations, etc.
  • correcting an unpunctuated and uncapitalized copy of a composition.

Much information on this page was drawn from:

Saskatchewan Education. (1998). English Language Arts 20: A Curriculum Guide for the Secondary Level. Regina , SK : Saskatchewan Education.

More strategies can be found at: