Without a Prompt

Writing Tutorial

Without a Prompt


Writing can feel overwhelming for some students – even college students will have trouble writing essays or reports because there are so many ways to express an idea. Often, students’ biggest struggle is writing without a prompt.

Sample Problem

In class, the teacher announces to the class that they are assigning an essay based on the book you just finished reading. Instead of giving the class a prompt, the teacher decides to let students choose what to write about, with the only expectation being that you include outside sources in addition to the novel. Before you start writing, what steps should you take?


First, review any notes you took while reading or while discussing the novel in class. This ultimately just gives you a refresher on the story, but it may be helpful while planning out your essay. Be sure to pay attention to notes on theme or setting, as these tend to be some of the most popular choices for topics.
Second, start looking for a topic. Like I mentioned above, theme and setting are usually the most popular choices for essay topics, but other topics may include characters, symbols, what the author meant, etc. It’s important to look for a topic that you are excited about or interested in – if you aren’t interested in what you’re writing about, you’re going to have a hard time writing.
Third, take your topic and turn it into a question. For example:
– How does the setting affect the theme?
– Was the author influenced by their historical setting?
From here you should start planning out your essay by using an outline.

If you’re really struggling with developing your own essay topic, try looking for your book on Shmoop or Sparknotes for ideas. Both sites usually provide some study questions for students to use – keep in mind that these questions should be used to guide you, and not as your essay topic.

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