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Organize Your Prompt

Organize Your Prompt

Writing prompts are the instructions given to write a formal essay. They provide information like the topic, format, and required citation style, such as MLA or APA. Reading the prompt in full and unpacking what it is asking is the key to writing a strong, relevant essay.

After reading the writing prompt, writers should begin to outline their thoughts. They can use the prompt to organize their essay.

Prompt Structure

A writing prompt tells writers what they should write about and in what format. The structure of writing prompts varies, but in general, they typically follow the following structure:

Introduction of the Topic

A writing prompt usually opens with a discussion of the topic. Sometimes the prompt writer uses a quote or a statistic to pique the essay writer's interest in the topic. The prompt may also describe some context for the topic. For instance, a prompt might start by saying:

A white lie is a small, harmless lie like "That shirt looks great on you!" People tell white lies to protect the feelings of those around them or to avoid a fight.

Note how the prompt has yet to ask the writer what exactly to write about them. Instead, these first two lines ensure that the essay writer knows the definition of the term white lie, which will be the topic of the writing task.

Organize your prompt. A white shirt. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - A prompt jogs your memory.

Pre-Writing Instructions

Next, the prompt writer might encourage the essay writer to reflect on the topic they just introduced. For instance, they might state:

Consider the benefits of white lies as well as the risks.

This line has yet to tell the essay writer what exactly to write about. However, it tells the reader to start reflecting on the topic and how they feel about both sides of it.

Description of the Task

Finally, the writer of the prompt will tell the essay writer what exactly to write about regarding the aforementioned topic. For example, the author of the above prompt might end by saying:

Write a five-paragraph essay on the value of white lies in contemporary society. Use MLA format for in-text and end citations.

Here, the prompt writer explains what the essay writer should write their essay on. The essay writer can use their notes from the pre-writing task about the pros and cons of white lies and come up with a defensible claim regarding the debate.

Addressing a Prompt

For writers to ensure they address all aspects of a prompt, they need to read the entire prompt a few times. This helps them avoid overlooking important details, such as the required word count or citation style.

Writers should also do pre-writing activities, even if the prompt does not specify any. Pre-writing is the stage before writing, and includes the following actions:

  • Dissecting the prompt

  • Brainstorming the writing topic

  • Outlining the order of topics in an essay.

Dissecting the Prompt

After reading the entire prompt, the first step writers should take is breaking the prompt into small pieces to confirm what it asks them to do.

Organise Your Prompt, Brainstorm, StudySmarter Fig. 2 - After reading it, writers should dissect a prompt to identify all requirements.

Writers should look for the following elements of the prompt:

Writing Task

Writes should first determine what exactly the prompt is asking them to do. To go about this, writers should look for keywords that describe actions, like the following:

  • Analyze

  • Argue

  • Challenge

  • Compare and contrast

  • Defend

  • Describe

  • Evaluate

  • Explain

Writers should check if the prompt allows them to choose their own point of view or not. For instance, some prompts ask writers to support a certain position or to explain a source. Other prompts, like the above sample prompt about white lies, allow writers to take their own position on the topic.

The task the prompt writer is asking the essay writer to undertake will determine the latter's writing strategy. For instance, if a prompt asks a writer to "explain" a concept, the writer will take an expository approach rather than an argumentative one. In contrast, if a prompt asks a writer to "defend" a point of view, the writer will have to craft an argument in support of that perspective.

Formatting Requirements

Writers should look closely to see if the prompt specifies what formatting guidelines to follow. For instance, if it's not a timed writing task, the prompt might indicate the word count, paragraph count, page limits, and due date. It might also specify how much evidence to use, such as "at least four external sources," and how to cite those sources.

If the prompt does not specify formatting guidelines, this does not mean that writers do not have to cite their sources. Instead, writers should check with an instructor or follow a citation guide that they are familiar with.

Brainstorming

Once a writer has determined what a prompt is asking for, they can begin to brainstorm how they will address the prompt. There are many techniques writers can use in brainstorming, such as listing the pros and cons of a topic, asking questions, and listing related ideas.

For instance, a writer responding to the prompt about white lies might ask themselves the following questions:

  • Why do people tell white lies?

  • What are some examples of white lies I have told or seen other people tell?

  • What are the negative consequences of telling white lies?

  • What are the positive consequences of telling white lies?

  • Do the negative consequences outweigh the positive consequences or vice versa?

Organise Your Prompt, Brainstorm, StudySmarter Fig. 3 - Asking questions to reflect on the topic is an effective brainstorming strategy.

Crafting a Thesis Statement

Once writers have determined what they think about the topic, they should craft a thesis statement on the topic. A thesis statement is a defensible claim about a topic that can be supported with evidence.

To start the thesis, the writer should make a clear, straightforward claim about the topic. For instance, a writer might address the prompt about white lies by saying:

White lies are valuable in society.

A strong thesis statement stands alone as a summary of the argument. It is an effective thesis if a reader understands all of the argument's basic components. To write such a thesis, readers should establish a line of reasoning for their claim by introducing an overview of their reasons. For example, the above writer can add to their claim in the following manner:

White lies are valuable in society because they minimize trivial conflict, protect people's feelings, and improve people's moods.

Writers might be tempted to start a thesis statement by saying, "I think that" or "I believe" However, the use of first-person pronouns is not necessary for a thesis statement. Readers know that the thesis reflects the author's feelings because the author is the one writing it. In addition, those phrases are modifiers that qualify and can weaken your argument.

Collecting Evidence

Once writers have fine-tuned their thesis statements, they should start collecting evidence for their claim. A writer might know the reasons they are taking a perspective, but they need to find credible pieces of evidence to support that point of view.

Credible evidence is evidence from a trustworthy source that has usually been vetted by experts. For instance, articles from academic journals and newspapers are generally credible sources. Writers should search in such places to find evidence for each supporting point. The prompt might specify how much evidence to use, but if it does not, it is typically beneficial to have at least two pieces of evidence per supporting point.

Sometimes prompts provide pieces of evidence to writers and instruct them to use those sources in crafting a thesis. In those cases, writers should use read those sources to inform their perspective on the topic. They then should cite short, direct quotes or pieces of information from the sources to support the position they choose.

Outlining

Once writers have their thesis statement and their supporting evidence, they can start to craft an outline of their essay. In writing, an outline is a structured list of ideas that are like blueprints for an essay.

If writers have substantial time to write an essay, like several weeks, they may benefit from a detailed outline. If they have limited time to craft an essay, like in an exam setting, they should still jot down a brief outline, so they stay on track while writing.

Writers usually use headings and subheadings in an outline to organize the order of their main ideas and then the order of their supporting ideas. For instance, an outline for a five-paragraph essay may follow this basic structure:

Introduction

  • Hook

  • Introduction of topic

  • Thesis statement

Topic of Body Paragraph 1

  • Topic sentence

  • Supporting evidence 1

  • Analysis

  • Supporting evidence 2

  • Analysis

Topic of Body Paragraph 2

Topic of Body Paragraph 3

Conclusion

Writers do not always have to add too much detail to an outline, especially in a timed context, but outlining is an important step in the writing process because it organizes the writer's ideas logically and clearly. This allows them to swiftly write the essay without going on a tangent or losing their place. The outline also ensures the reader will easily follow the development of their ideas.

Organize Your Prompt - Key Takeaways

  • A writing prompt typically consists of the introduction of a topic, pre-writing instructions, and the specification of the writing task.
  • Writers should read a prompt closely and break it into pieces to clarify the task and the formatting requirements.
  • Writers should weigh the pros and cons of a topic and choose a stance.
  • After crafting a thesis, writers should find several pieces of credible evidence to support their claim.
  • Finally, writers should outline the order of their argument before writing their paper.

Frequently Asked Questions about Organize Your Prompt

An example of a prompt in writing is “Write a five-paragraph essay in which you the value of white lies in society.” 

To respond to a prompt means to craft a piece of writing that addresses the question in the prompt. 

To address a prompt, writers should first break it down into pieces to make sure they understand what it is asking. Then they should brainstorm their thoughts on the topic. After that, they should outline the order of topics they will discuss in their essay. Then they can start writing. 

To organize a response to a writing prompt, writers should identify the writing task and formatting requirements. Then they should brainstorm their thesis statement, collect evidence, and outline their essay. 

Most prompts introduce the topic, encourage a pre-writing activity, and then state the writing task. 

Final Organize Your Prompt Quiz

Question

What is a writing prompt?


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Answer

A writing prompt is an instructional text that tells writers what to write about. 

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Question

What are the three main parts of a writing prompt?


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Answer

The introduction of the topic, the pre-writing activity, and the writing task. 

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Question

What should a reader do first when addressing a writing prompt?


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Answer

Read the prompt in full 


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Question

Which of the following provides blueprints for an essay?


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Answer

An outline 


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Question

What is the first part of a prompt?


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Answer

The introduction of a topic 


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Question

What is a thesis statement?


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Answer

A defensible claim about a topic 


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Question

Where does the thesis statement go?


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Answer

At the end of the introduction 


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Question

What step comes before brainstorming?


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Answer

Dissecting the prompt 


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Question

True or False. Prompts do not include formatting information about the essay. 


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Answer

False. Prompts can include formatting information. 


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Question

True or False. The topic is the same thing as the writing task. 


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Answer

False. The topic is the subject that the writer writes about, such as white lies. The writing task is what writers have to write about on that topic, such as evaluating the values of white lies in society. 


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Question

What are two common citation styles?

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Answer

MLA

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Question

A writing prompt does not touch upon format.

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Answer

False

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Question

A writing prompt:

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Answer

Provides a topic

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Question

By its nature, a writing prompt contains no context.

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Answer

False

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Question

This is where the prompt writers asks the reader to reflect on the topic.

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Answer

Pre-writing instructions

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Question

A reader should not take sides on a prompt.

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Answer

False

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Question

A writing prompt seeks highly specific replies.

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Answer

False   

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Question

A prompt describes your thesis.

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Answer

False

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Question

You should:

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Answer

Dissect the prompt

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Question

A prompt may ask you to:

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Answer

Describe

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