Let’s be honest: most college students don’t prewrite. Maybe they talk about their ideas with a close friend. Maybe they mull things over as they sip some coffee. Maybe they jot down a quick skeleton with their main points, but they rarely do the full-brown detailed A-B-C outline or draw a gigantic idea web or use the traditional methods of prewriting. There’s a population of college students who don’t even prewrite, because when you procrastinate, there’s no time for that.

However, time spent prewriting before your first draft can save you double that amount of time. It may even eliminate entire drafts in the revising process.  Yet, students want to jump face-first onto the page, spit out their thoughts, and fill up the white space as they type. Maybe now that we have moved out of an age of handwritten notes and into an age of digital files, we need pre-writing tools that reflect that. After all, our word processors allow us to add and delete text with no consequences, but notebook paper rips and stains; it’s just not as forgiving.

Personally, I’ve found that digital graphic organizers are great way to prewrite. It’s a fun, colorful way to ease into your formal black-and-white paper.  The great thing about using online organizers is that you can easily manipulate the elements, tweak the colors and fonts, change the content, or copy them for future use.  Some websites have even made genre specific essay templates, which can help you approach a specific type of paper.

Why should you use a graphic organizer?

  •     It will help eliminate ideas that are irrelevant
  •    It will help you explore how you feel about your topic before researching it
  •   It can help you move from “topic” to “thesis” as you compile your research
  •   It will help you order those ideas and group together closely related ideas.
  •   It will show you where you need to transition between those ideas
  •   If you include your points of support, you can easily see if one of your ideas needs more  evidence
  •   It will show you if you should move points of support to other areas
  • A really good graphic organizer can work like an outline, so you can focus on language in the revision phase rather than organizing.  In this way, it can ensure each of your sentences will be serving a specific purpose.

Here’s some Free Online Graphic Organizers through Google Docs:

Here’s some more genre specific organizers through Canva:

Canva is my personal favorite when it comes to making graphic organizers. Because it’s a graphic design site, the options are endless. Just be careful you don’t spend too much time on the design and not enough time on writing. Here’s some genre specific pre-made templates:



General Prewriting Idea Webs


To modify any of these Canva templates, click “Edit Design.” Make a Canva account if you don’t already have one, and then go to File—Make a Copy. From there you can save your work as an open project or you could download it to a PDF under “Share.”