Getting StartedSometimes a writer will send you little more than a topic and ask you how to get started.
"My assignment is to write a one-page summary of the book, but I have no idea how to do that."
"My teacher wants us to turn in "evidence brainstorming page with our first draft, but I don't know what that means"
"I am supposed to write an essay that tells something about myself. I am drawing a blank, and can't think of anything interesting to say. Help!"
Remember that you can't do everything in an e-mail message, and consider using one of the following strategies:
Here's one way to respond in such a situation:
Hi (student's name)-
Wow, it sounds like you are having a hard time getting started. That happens a lot, especially for a topic like this.
When this happens, you need to use a few prewriting techniques, like freewriting, clustering, listing, or brainstorming.
has excellent links to help you use some of those techniques.
Click on a few techniques, and choose one that looks interesting to you, then try it.
Please write back after you have done one of these exercises, and we can go from there.
Back to De Anza Online Writing Tutor Boilerplate Language
- ask questions about the assignment itself -- This may be especially useful if you want to help a writer come up with a more manageable topic. For example, ask the writer who will be reading the assignment, what the reader expects to see, how the assignment should be formatted, whether research is required.
- describe your favorite prewriting strategy -- If a student can't even come up with a topic, or doesn't know what to do with a topic, you might tell that student about what you'd do if you were in her/his shoes. What do you do when you're stumped about a topic? Remember that these questions may often be handled best through a give-and-take. In other words, a request can't be addressed in one e-mail message. In those cases, remember to try to offer a suggestion to the student while encouraging them to write again.