The Prewriting Stage of the Writing Process

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The writing process consists of different stages: prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. Prewriting is the most important of these steps. Prewriting is the "generating ideas" part of the writing process when the student works to determine the topic and the position or point-of-view for a target audience. Pre-writing should be offered with the time necessary for a student to create a plan or develop an outline to organize materials for the final product.

Why Prewrite?

The pre-writing stage could also be dubbed the "talking stage" of writing. Researchers have determined that talking plays an important role in literacy. Andrew Wilkinson (1965) coined the phrase oracy, defining it as "the ability to express oneself coherently and to communicate freely with others by word of mouth." Wilkinson explained how oracy leads to increased skill in reading and writing. In other words, talking about a topic will improve the writing. This connection between talk and writing is best expressed by the author James Britton (1970) who stated: "talk is the sea upon which all else floats.”

Prewriting Methods

There are a number of ways that students can tackle the prewriting stage of the writing process. Following are a few of the most common methods and strategies that students can use. 

  • Brainstorming - Brainstorming is the process of coming up with as many ideas as possible about a topic without being worried about the feasibility or whether an idea is realistic or not. A list format is often the easiest to organize. This can be done individually and then shared with the class or done as a group. Access to this list during the writing process can help students make connections they may want to use later in their writing.
  • Freewriting - The free write strategy is when your students write whatever comes into their mind about the topic at hand for a specific amount of time, like 10 or 15 minutes. In a free write, students should not worry about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Instead, they should try and come up with as many ideas as they possibly can to help them when they get to the writing process. 
  • Mind Maps - Concept maps or mind-mapping are great strategies to use during the pre-writing stage. Both are visual ways to outline information. There are many varieties of mind maps that can be quite useful as students work in the prewriting stage. Webbing is a great tool that has students write a word in the middle of a sheet of paper. Related words or phrases are then connected by lines to this original word in the center. They build on the idea so that, in the end, the student has a wealth of ideas that are connected to this central idea. For example, if the topic for a paper were the role of the US President , the student would write this in the center of the paper. Then as they thought of each role that the president fulfills, they could write this down in a circle connected by a line to this original idea. From these terms, the student could then add supporting details. In the end, they would have a nice roadmap for an essay on this topic. 
  • Drawing/Doodling - Some students respond well to the idea of being able to combine words with drawings as they think about what they want to write in the prewriting stage. This can open up creative lines of thought. 
  • Asking Questions - Students often come up with more creative ideas through the use of questioning. For example, if the student has to write about Heathcliff's role in Wuthering Heights , they might begin by asking themselves some questions about him and the causes of his hatred. They might ask how a 'normal' person might react to better understand the depths of Heathcliff's malevolence. The point is that these questions can help the student uncover a deeper understanding of the topic before they begin writing the essay.
  • Outlining - Students can employ traditional outlines to help them organize their thoughts in a logical manner. The student would start with the overall topic and then list out their ideas with supporting details. It is helpful to point out to students that the more detailed their outline is from the beginning, the easier it will be for them write their paper. 

Teachers should recognize that prewriting that begins in a "sea of talk" will engage students. Many students will find that combining a couple of these strategies may work well to provide them with a great basis for their final product. They may find that if they ask questions as they brainstorm, free write, mind-map, or doodle, they will organize their ideas for the topic. In short, the time put in up front in the pre-writing stage will make the writing stage much easier.

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Table of Contents

Ai, ethics & human agency, collaboration, information literacy, writing process, prewriting – laying the foundation for successful writing.

Prewriting refers to all of the work you do before beginning to write. This article explores the dispositions and prewriting strategies writers employ to write more efficiently and with greater clarity and impact. Case studies, interviews, and observations of writers at work have found that prewriting involves balancing both intuitive, creative activities with critical, analytical strategies. For instance, during prewriting you are wise to listen your 'felt sense' - your embodied awareness of what you want to say. And, during prewriting, you are also wise to engage in more straightforward, cognitive processes such as engaging in outlining, drafting a document planner, or engaging in rhetorical analysis.

when writing academic essays the pre drafting stage is used to

What is Prewriting?

Prewriting refers to

  • a ll of the work a writer engages in BEFORE BEGINNING TO WRITE
  • the first stage of the writing process
  • a liminal space — the space between thinking about working on a project and actually beginning to write.

Writers have many ways of engaging in prewriting , based on their individual preferences and the discourse conventions of their audience . Interviews and case studies of writers @ work have found that during prewriting writers engage in a variety of dispositions and strategies :

Dispositions

  • During prewriting, writers embrace intellectual openness . They interview stakeholders, consider counterarguments , and review the peer-reviewed literature on the topic
  • During prewriting, writers adopt a growth mindset . They privilege the believing game over the doubting game .
  • Some writers believe the subconscious is a source of ideas, creativity and inspiration. Some believe dreams are a window into the subconscious.
  • “When writers are given a topic , the topic itself evokes a felt sense in them. This topic calls forth images, words, ideas, and vague fuzzy feelings that are anchored in the writer’s body. What is elicited, then, is not solely the product of a mind but of a mind alive in a living, sensing body…..When writers pause, when they go back and repeat key words, what they seem to be doing is waiting, paying attention to what is still vague and unclear. They are looking to their felt experience, and waiting for an image, a word, a phrase to emerge that captures the sense they embody….Usually, when they make the decision to write, it is after they have a dawning awareness that something has clicked, that they have enough of a sense that if they begin with a few words heading in a certain direction, words will continue to come which will allow them to flesh out the sense they have” (Perl 1980, p. 365).
  • Writers like to talk over an exigency , a problem , a call to write with trusted friends, peers, and mentors. In college, students like to brainstorm with one another to better understand a writing assignment or the needs of the audience, such as a manager or a client, before deciding to take it on as a writing project
  • In interviews and memoirs, writers and artists report insatiable inquiry. They engage in informal research . They engage in strategic research in order to learn what is known about the topic creative play.
  • Writers may engage in meditation to help slow down. They may need to turn off their phones and computers to reach the state of calmness and focus necessary to begin thinking about a writing project.
  • Writers like to procrastinate. Sometimes writers need to set a call to write aside. They need to let an idea simmer on the back burner. They may sleep on it.
  • Some creative people track and interpret their dreams. They say this helps them interpret their dreams for insights, reoccurring narratives, and solutions to problems they face during waking hours.
  • Writers may engage in extensive strategic searching in order to identify the status “ conversation ” on a particular topic . Writers may freewrite to see where their thoughts lead them.

The terms planning , prewriting , and invention are sometimes used interchangeably, yet they each carry distinct meanings:

  • Prewriting is a subset of planning, focusing more on the initial stages of idea generation, brainstorming, and exploration of thoughts before formal writing begins
  • Planning typically refers to the overall process of organizing ideas and structuring a writing piece, encompassing the selection of topics, determination of purpose, and arrangement of content 
  • Invention is often associated specifically with the creative aspect of prewriting , where writers devise innovative ideas, concepts, and arguments. 

Related Concepts: Document Planner ; Intellectual Openness ; Mindset ; Resilience ; Rhetorical Analysis ; Self-Regulation & Metacognition

Why Does Prewriting Matter?

  • Prewriting helps clarify and refine the central theme or argument of the piece.
  • During prewriting, writers have the freedom to explore different angles and perspectives . This creative exploration can lead to more original and engaging content.
  • By outlining the main ideas during prewriting, writers can determine what additional research or information is needed, making their research efforts more focused and efficient.
  • Engaging in prewriting activities like brainstorming or free writing can help overcome writer’s block by getting ideas flowing and reducing the pressure of creating perfect content from the start .
  • Prewriting helps in structuring thoughts and ideas, leading to a more organized and coherent draft. This organization is crucial for the logical flow of the final piece.
  • During prewriting, writers can consider their audience’s needs and expectations , tailoring the content to be more relevant and engaging for the intended readers.
  • Prewriting sets a solid foundation for the first draft, ensuring that the writing process starts with a clear direction and purpose.
  • With a clear outline or plan from the prewriting stage, the actual writing process becomes more efficient, as the writer has a clear roadmap to follow.
  • Prewriting gives writers a chance to reflect on their topic, assess their knowledge and opinions , and evaluate the potential impact of their writing.

Is Prewriting Always Necessary?

No. Writers differ in how frequently or deeply they engage in prewriting. Some people prefer to jump immediately into composing . They don’t pause to reflect on the rhetorical situation . They don’t want to conduct a literature review. Instead, they want to immediately dive in and spark the creative process by freewriting , visual brainstorming , and other creative heuristics .

In contrast, other writers prefer to engage significant prewriting: they question

  • What’s known about a topic ? what’s novel? what knowledge claims are currently being disputed?
  • What does peer-reviewed literature say about the topic?
  • Do I need to engage in empirical research? What methods are expected by the discourse community?
  • What informal, background research needs to be done in order to prepare to write?
  • What’s the best way to organize the document? What common organizational patterns should I use to help the readers interpret the message?

What Is the Difference Between Planning, Prewriting & Invention?

The terms planning , prewriting , and invention may be used used interchangeably because they are such intertwined processes, yet they each carry distinct meanings:

  • Planning typically refers to the overall process of organizing ideas and structuring a writing piece , encompassing the selection of topics , determination of purpose , and arrangement of content.  It typically encompasses tools such as Team Charters and usage of project management software . While prewriting and invention may involve more creative and exploratory activities, planning is focused on setting a clear direction and framework for the writing.
  • Prewriting is a subset of planning , focusing more on the initial stages of idea generation, brainstorming, and exploration of thoughts before formal writing begins. Prewriting is more expansive and free-form than planning, allowing for a broader exploration of thoughts and concepts. In comparison to invention, prewriting is less about generating new ideas and more about exploring and organizing existing ideas in preparation for writing.
  • Invention in writing refers to the process of generating new ideas, concepts, or perspectives. Invention is distinct from planning and prewriting in that it is focused primarily on creating something new, rather than organizing or setting objectives for existing ideas.

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing

Diction

Flow - How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Simplicity

The Elements of Style - The DNA of Powerful Writing

Unity

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8.3 Drafting

Learning objectives.

  • Identify drafting strategies that improve writing.
  • Use drafting strategies to prepare the first draft of an essay.

Drafting is the stage of the writing process in which you develop a complete first version of a piece of writing.

Even professional writers admit that an empty page scares them because they feel they need to come up with something fresh and original every time they open a blank document on their computers. Because you have completed the first two steps in the writing process, you have already recovered from empty page syndrome. You have hours of prewriting and planning already done. You know what will go on that blank page: what you wrote in your outline.

Getting Started: Strategies For Drafting

Your objective for this portion of Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” is to draft the body paragraphs of a standard five-paragraph essay. A five-paragraph essay contains an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you are more comfortable starting on paper than on the computer, you can start on paper and then type it before you revise. You can also use a voice recorder to get yourself started, dictating a paragraph or two to get you thinking. In this lesson, Mariah does all her work on the computer, but you may use pen and paper or the computer to write a rough draft.

Making the Writing Process Work for You

What makes the writing process so beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternatives to standard practices while motivating you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in the writing process:

  • Begin writing with the part you know the most about. You can start with the third paragraph in your outline if ideas come easily to mind. You can start with the second paragraph or the first paragraph, too. Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader’s interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than the length of an entire double-spaced page.
  • Write one paragraph at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.
  • Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multipage report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest. But do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write.
  • Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.
  • Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.

Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is the most important key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, for example, you will present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can.

Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know very little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to be told in order to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas so they are totally clear and your communication is effective?

You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card that you clip to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself—perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know—so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to also state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or to inform them of, or to persuade them about.

Writing at Work

Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like “organic romaine” and “free-range chicken” are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers’ tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.

Using the topic for the essay that you outlined in Section 8.2 “Outlining” , describe your purpose and your audience as specifically as you can. Use your own sheet of paper to record your responses. Then keep these responses near you during future stages of the writing process.

My purpose: ____________________________________________

____________________________________________

My audience: ____________________________________________

Setting Goals for Your First Draft

A draft is a complete version of a piece of writing, but it is not the final version. The step in the writing process after drafting, as you may remember, is revising. During revising, you will have the opportunity to make changes to your first draft before you put the finishing touches on it during the editing and proofreading stage. A first draft gives you a working version that you can later improve.

Workplace writing in certain environments is done by teams of writers who collaborate on the planning, writing, and revising of documents, such as long reports, technical manuals, and the results of scientific research. Collaborators do not need to be in the same room, the same building, or even the same city. Many collaborations are conducted over the Internet.

In a perfect collaboration, each contributor has the right to add, edit, and delete text. Strong communication skills, in addition to strong writing skills, are important in this kind of writing situation because disagreements over style, content, process, emphasis, and other issues may arise.

The collaborative software, or document management systems, that groups use to work on common projects is sometimes called groupware or workgroup support systems.

The reviewing tool on some word-processing programs also gives you access to a collaborative tool that many smaller workgroups use when they exchange documents. You can also use it to leave comments to yourself.

If you invest some time now to investigate how the reviewing tool in your word processor works, you will be able to use it with confidence during the revision stage of the writing process. Then, when you start to revise, set your reviewing tool to track any changes you make, so you will be able to tinker with text and commit only those final changes you want to keep.

Discovering the Basic Elements of a First Draft

If you have been using the information in this chapter step by step to help you develop an assignment, you already have both a formal topic outline and a formal sentence outline to direct your writing. Knowing what a first draft looks like will help you make the creative leap from the outline to the first draft. A first draft should include the following elements:

  • An introduction that piques the audience’s interest, tells what the essay is about, and motivates readers to keep reading.
  • A thesis statement that presents the main point, or controlling idea, of the entire piece of writing.
  • A topic sentence in each paragraph that states the main idea of the paragraph and implies how that main idea connects to the thesis statement.
  • Supporting sentences in each paragraph that develop or explain the topic sentence. These can be specific facts, examples, anecdotes, or other details that elaborate on the topic sentence.
  • A conclusion that reinforces the thesis statement and leaves the audience with a feeling of completion.

These elements follow the standard five-paragraph essay format, which you probably first encountered in high school. This basic format is valid for most essays you will write in college, even much longer ones. For now, however, Mariah focuses on writing the three body paragraphs from her outline. Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” covers writing introductions and conclusions, and you will read Mariah’s introduction and conclusion in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” .

The Role of Topic Sentences

Topic sentences make the structure of a text and the writer’s basic arguments easy to locate and comprehend. In college writing, using a topic sentence in each paragraph of the essay is the standard rule. However, the topic sentence does not always have to be the first sentence in your paragraph even if it the first item in your formal outline.

When you begin to draft your paragraphs, you should follow your outline fairly closely. After all, you spent valuable time developing those ideas. However, as you begin to express your ideas in complete sentences, it might strike you that the topic sentence might work better at the end of the paragraph or in the middle. Try it. Writing a draft, by its nature, is a good time for experimentation.

The topic sentence can be the first, middle, or final sentence in a paragraph. The assignment’s audience and purpose will often determine where a topic sentence belongs. When the purpose of the assignment is to persuade, for example, the topic sentence should be the first sentence in a paragraph. In a persuasive essay, the writer’s point of view should be clearly expressed at the beginning of each paragraph.

Choosing where to position the topic sentence depends not only on your audience and purpose but also on the essay’s arrangement, or order. When you organize information according to order of importance, the topic sentence may be the final sentence in a paragraph. All the supporting sentences build up to the topic sentence. Chronological order may also position the topic sentence as the final sentence because the controlling idea of the paragraph may make the most sense at the end of a sequence.

When you organize information according to spatial order, a topic sentence may appear as the middle sentence in a paragraph. An essay arranged by spatial order often contains paragraphs that begin with descriptions. A reader may first need a visual in his or her mind before understanding the development of the paragraph. When the topic sentence is in the middle, it unites the details that come before it with the ones that come after it.

As you read critically throughout the writing process, keep topic sentences in mind. You may discover topic sentences that are not always located at the beginning of a paragraph. For example, fiction writers customarily use topic ideas, either expressed or implied, to move readers through their texts. In nonfiction writing, such as popular magazines, topic sentences are often used when the author thinks it is appropriate (based on the audience and the purpose, of course). A single topic sentence might even control the development of a number of paragraphs. For more information on topic sentences, please see Chapter 6 “Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content” .

Developing topic sentences and thinking about their placement in a paragraph will prepare you to write the rest of the paragraph.

The paragraph is the main structural component of an essay as well as other forms of writing. Each paragraph of an essay adds another related main idea to support the writer’s thesis, or controlling idea. Each related main idea is supported and developed with facts, examples, and other details that explain it. By exploring and refining one main idea at a time, writers build a strong case for their thesis.

Paragraph Length

How long should a paragraph be?

One answer to this important question may be “long enough”—long enough for you to address your points and explain your main idea. To grab attention or to present succinct supporting ideas, a paragraph can be fairly short and consist of two to three sentences. A paragraph in a complex essay about some abstract point in philosophy or archaeology can be three-quarters of a page or more in length. As long as the writer maintains close focus on the topic and does not ramble, a long paragraph is acceptable in college-level writing. In general, try to keep the paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than one full page of double-spaced text.

Journalistic style often calls for brief two- or three-sentence paragraphs because of how people read the news, both online and in print. Blogs and other online information sources often adopt this paragraphing style, too. Readers often skim the first paragraphs of a great many articles before settling on the handful of stories they want to read in detail.

You may find that a particular paragraph you write may be longer than one that will hold your audience’s interest. In such cases, you should divide the paragraph into two or more shorter paragraphs, adding a topic statement or some kind of transitional word or phrase at the start of the new paragraph. Transition words or phrases show the connection between the two ideas.

In all cases, however, be guided by what you instructor wants and expects to find in your draft. Many instructors will expect you to develop a mature college-level style as you progress through the semester’s assignments.

To build your sense of appropriate paragraph length, use the Internet to find examples of the following items. Copy them into a file, identify your sources, and present them to your instructor with your annotations, or notes.

  • A news article written in short paragraphs. Take notes on, or annotate, your selection with your observations about the effect of combining paragraphs that develop the same topic idea. Explain how effective those paragraphs would be.
  • A long paragraph from a scholarly work that you identify through an academic search engine. Annotate it with your observations about the author’s paragraphing style.

Starting Your First Draft

Now we are finally ready to look over Mariah’s shoulder as she begins to write her essay about digital technology and the confusing choices that consumers face. As she does, you should have in front of you your outline, with its thesis statement and topic sentences, and the notes you wrote earlier in this lesson on your purpose and audience. Reviewing these will put both you and Mariah in the proper mind-set to start.

The following is Mariah’s thesis statement.

Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology ,but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing

Here are the notes that Mariah wrote to herself to characterize her purpose and audience.

Mariah's notes to herself

Mariah chose to begin by writing a quick introduction based on her thesis statement. She knew that she would want to improve her introduction significantly when she revised. Right now, she just wanted to give herself a starting point. You will read her introduction again in Section 8.4 “Revising and Editing” when she revises it.

Remember Mariah’s other options. She could have started directly with any of the body paragraphs.

You will learn more about writing attention-getting introductions and effective conclusions in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” .

With her thesis statement and her purpose and audience notes in front of her, Mariah then looked at her sentence outline. She chose to use that outline because it includes the topic sentences. The following is the portion of her outline for the first body paragraph. The roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and arabic numerals label subpoints.

The roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and arabic numerals label subpoints.

Mariah then began to expand the ideas in her outline into a paragraph. Notice how the outline helped her guarantee that all her sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

Outlines help guarantee that all sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

If you write your first draft on the computer, consider creating a new file folder for each course with a set of subfolders inside the course folders for each assignment you are given. Label the folders clearly with the course names, and label each assignment folder and word processing document with a title that you will easily recognize. The assignment name is a good choice for the document. Then use that subfolder to store all the drafts you create. When you start each new draft, do not just write over the last one. Instead, save the draft with a new tag after the title—draft 1, draft 2, and so on—so that you will have a complete history of drafts in case your instructor wishes you to submit them.

In your documents, observe any formatting requirements—for margins, headers, placement of page numbers, and other layout matters—that your instructor requires.

Study how Mariah made the transition from her sentence outline to her first draft. First, copy her outline onto your own sheet of paper. Leave a few spaces between each part of the outline. Then copy sentences from Mariah’s paragraph to align each sentence with its corresponding entry in her outline.

Continuing the First Draft

Mariah continued writing her essay, moving to the second and third body paragraphs. She had supporting details but no numbered subpoints in her outline, so she had to consult her prewriting notes for specific information to include.

If you decide to take a break between finishing your first body paragraph and starting the next one, do not start writing immediately when you return to your work. Put yourself back in context and in the mood by rereading what you have already written. This is what Mariah did. If she had stopped writing in the middle of writing the paragraph, she could have jotted down some quick notes to herself about what she would write next.

Preceding each body paragraph that Mariah wrote is the appropriate section of her sentence outline. Notice how she expanded roman numeral III from her outline into a first draft of the second body paragraph. As you read, ask yourself how closely she stayed on purpose and how well she paid attention to the needs of her audience.

Outline excerpt

Mariah then began her third and final body paragraph using roman numeral IV from her outline.

Outline excerpt

Reread body paragraphs two and three of the essay that Mariah is writing. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

  • In body paragraph two, Mariah decided to develop her paragraph as a nonfiction narrative. Do you agree with her decision? Explain. How else could she have chosen to develop the paragraph? Why is that better?
  • Compare the writing styles of paragraphs two and three. What evidence do you have that Mariah was getting tired or running out of steam? What advice would you give her? Why?
  • Choose one of these two body paragraphs. Write a version of your own that you think better fits Mariah’s audience and purpose.

Writing a Title

A writer’s best choice for a title is one that alludes to the main point of the entire essay. Like the headline in a newspaper or the big, bold title in a magazine, an essay’s title gives the audience a first peek at the content. If readers like the title, they are likely to keep reading.

Following her outline carefully, Mariah crafted each paragraph of her essay. Moving step by step in the writing process, Mariah finished the draft and even included a brief concluding paragraph (you will read her conclusion in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” ). She then decided, as the final touch for her writing session, to add an engaging title.

Thesis Statement: Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing. Working Title: Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?

Writing Your Own First Draft

Now you may begin your own first draft, if you have not already done so. Follow the suggestions and the guidelines presented in this section.

Key Takeaways

  • Make the writing process work for you. Use any and all of the strategies that help you move forward in the writing process.
  • Always be aware of your purpose for writing and the needs of your audience. Cater to those needs in every sensible way.
  • Remember to include all the key structural parts of an essay: a thesis statement that is part of your introductory paragraph, three or more body paragraphs as described in your outline, and a concluding paragraph. Then add an engaging title to draw in readers.
  • Write paragraphs of an appropriate length for your writing assignment. Paragraphs in college-level writing can be a page long, as long as they cover the main topics in your outline.
  • Use your topic outline or your sentence outline to guide the development of your paragraphs and the elaboration of your ideas. Each main idea, indicated by a roman numeral in your outline, becomes the topic of a new paragraph. Develop it with the supporting details and the subpoints of those details that you included in your outline.
  • Generally speaking, write your introduction and conclusion last, after you have fleshed out the body paragraphs.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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A Guide to English: The Writing Process

  • An Introduction to Rhetoric
  • Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing
  • The Writing Process
  • Formatting and Citations
  • The Reference Collection
  • Searching for Books
  • Searching for Articles
  • Bibliographic Trace
  • Citation Management
  • Scholarly Associations
  • The English Language
  • Literary Form
  • Peoples and Identities
  • Periods and Movements in American Literature
  • Periods and Movements in Commonwealth Literatures
  • Thematic Genres and "Genre Fiction"
  • Award Winners (indexed)
  • Criticism & Theory
  • Creative Writing
  • Multimodal Composition
  • Text Analysis / Distant Reading
  • Digital Stewardship
  • Data Visualization
  • GIS and Geospatial Data
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Programming
  • Digital Scholarly Editing

In this Section

  • Academic Writing: How It's Different
  • Critical Thinking, Reading, and Composing

On this Page

General guides to the writing process, editing/proofreading.

Below are some guidebooks aimed at students which give in depth advice on how to go through the multiple steps of the writing process . When we give ourselves time and treat writing as a multi-step process, rather than a task we have to get right in one go (the weekend before the paper is due, right?), we can allow our thoughts and research to more fully develop in the prewriting stage, we feel less inhibited in our initial drafting of the paper, and we recognize that revision has the power to reshape and refine our writing into a rhetorically superior text. Once the content is ready we engage in proofreading to ensure the text is free of errors and ready to appear before the world at the final stage of publishing .

Check out the boxes below for more discussion of each stage the writing process.

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Pre-writing

Consider the assignment requirements.

Before doing anything else, look carefully at the instructions or requirements for the assignment you have to complete. Remember: You can produce an amazing piece of writing and still lose points if you do not follow the instructions or are missing required elements.

A rubric is a table that tells you what point values your professor is likely to assign if you perform at a particular level for each criterion . A criterion is an aspect of your paper your professor is indicating you are going to be graded on, with a description typically offered for what a perfect or high score would look like in terms of what your paper achieves.

If you bear in mind the assignment requirements and/or the rubric criteria through each stage of the writing process, you will make it more likely that your final paper will meet all the requirements and achieve a higher score.

Consider the Rhetorical Situation

Fulfilling your professor's expectations is not always so easy as checking a box, however. In college writing we are expected to engage with the genre norms of the scholarly discipline that we are taking a class in. The norms of writing an English paper will differ from the norms of writing a Political Science paper, and will be still more different from the norms of writing a paper for a Biology class.

That is why in order to position ourselves for the most success for the writing task in front of us, it is important to consider the rhetorical situation . The rhetorical situation consists of three main factors:

  • The message you want to deliver
  • The audience you want to deliver the message to
  • Your credibility as a person delivering that message

There is also a fourth factor which shapes the other three, that being the overall context of the situation. At the prewriting stage, you won't necessarily have each of these factors sorted out: that's the whole point of prewriting. Pre-writing is a process of discovery, but while you are exploring it helps to have a general sense of what it is you are looking for (or else you might miss it!)

While pre-writing, think about:

  • What is the topic I want to deliver a message about? Is my topic too broad or too narrow (which is in great part determined by ...)
  • Who is my audience? Have they heard this message before? Will it catch their attention? Will my topic strike them as too broad, or will it seem too obscure/narrow? Does my message engage with/address their prior knowledge and understanding about the topic? Does it approach the topic from a "fresh" perspective that the audience could get excited about?
  • How can I establish my own credibility to write about this topic? What can I do to demonstrate that I should be listened to when writing about this topic? (For example, how does the narrowness or broadness of my topic affect my credibility? How can I engage with and respond to other sources of information who  do already have credibility with my audience?)

Developing a Search Strategy: Brainstorming, Concept Mapping, and KWHL

In the prewriting stage, we are trying to unearth both our own preexisting knowledge as well as knowledge we develop through our research. There are various techniques for getting our own knowledge out of our heads and into a form where we can readily go back to it, ranging from pure brainstorming by free-writing thoughts related to the topic, creating a concept or mind map which connects related concepts and allows you to consider what the relations are between the concepts, or using a graphic organizer like a KWHL chart, where you write what you Know (K), Want to Know (W), How You Will Find Out (H), and afterwards, What You Learned (L).

  • Bubble.us - (semi)free mindmapping tool
  • A Blank KWHL Chart - useful as a graphic organizer and for setting research objectives

Bear in mind however, that prewriting is a recursive process, meaning it is repetitive: unearthing your existing knowledge about concepts related to a topic will lead you to other sources in order to learn more about those concepts, which can in turn lead you to add more concepts to explore and understand in order to gain a fuller understanding of the topic. When prewriting, paradoxically, we expand before we contract: that is, first we want to expand our understanding, so that we can have sufficient context for the next stage of prewriting, where we narrow our topic in preparation for more focused research and writing.

Narrowing Your Topic

Because academic writing is a conversation, we try to both respond to what other scholars have said and contribute our own original ideas in return. One great strategy to ensure you are well-positioned to both respond and be original is to  narrow your topic . When a topic is too large or too general, it becomes much harder to deal with all aspects of it in any reasonable depth. (Think about it: if a topic is broad enough that other people have written 200+ page books about it, it is probably too broad for your paper.)

One way to narrow a topic is to add qualifiers. Instead of covering all of [my topic], how about [my topic] + [a particular time period] OR [a particular situation] OR [a particular group of people]?

Each qualifier narrows the topic even further, and each time you narrow the topic, in all likelihood you also narrow the number of other scholars who have commented on specifically that topic + your chosen qualifiers at the length and depth that you can bring to it. (Fewer preexisting points of view means there is more space for *your point of view.*)

Gathering Sources

Consult the Academic Research tab of this guide to learn about using databases to search for articles, using the Gustavus Library catalog to search for books, and about how to use bibliographic trace techniques to understand the web of scholarly discussion and the keystone texts related to your topic.

As you gather sources and consult them, use critical reading techniques to preserve your thoughts and responses as these will help you come up with the thesis statement you will attempt to prove (and supporting arguments with which to prove it) when you next go to outline your paper.

Creating an Outline

Below you will find a sample outline for a paper taken from the class NDL 112 : Themes in Science Fiction Literature , showing one possible way to organize arguments within a paper. The instructions required students to use at least two primary texts (the short stories and novels that the class read) to prove an argument about how the treatment of a theme in science fiction literature differed across time periods, and why that matters. The outline strategically assigns specific paragraphs for each required element, making it more likely that the first draft at least addresses all required elements on the rubric.

The organization you choose for a given essay might be informed by a variety of factors, including chronology, the need to address a preliminary idea before applying it to a subsidiary idea, or aiming for an elliptical effect by first addressing and then returning to an idea once the elucidation of other ideas can shed a different light.

Regardless of what organization you choose, it is vital to have a clear thesis statement that asserts an original idea that you wish to prove. Without a clear, assertive, and original thesis, the remainder of the paper is undermined because readers cannot understand what it is you are marshaling all this additional information/verbiage to prove. Get the thesis right, however, and you have the makings of a strong essay.

Preview the supporting arguments you will make in your body paragraphs right after your thesis.

A good technique for writing a body paragraph is to begin each paragraph with an assertion (or topic sentence ) that in some way supports your thesis (which you will have previewed in the introduction), then use the remainder of the paragraph to explain and support that assertion, or engage in conversation with others who offer information that relates to or helps you back that assertion up. It is often an effective technique to close a supporting paragraph with a sentence that reconnects to or recontextualizes the supporting argument (which you have just proven) within the main thesis of the paper; alternately, the concluding sentence of a supporting paragraph could be used to transition to the next paragraph, which builds off the supporting arguments that you have just proved.

Introduction: Probably best to lead with the trope and theme you will be addressing. Maybe start with some colorful historical background about this idea: why is it interesting, what is its significance, what could we learn if we were to trace it over time? By the end of your introduction, you should have some kind of clear THESIS STATEMENT about how your theme has changed and what that says about the history and culture of SF in the times you are comparing.

1st body paragraph: Perhaps theorizing the theme? Defining the theme and previewing how the trope changes and influences it. (A good place to bring in SECONDARY SOURCES and engage in conversation with them.)

2nd body paragraph - SUMMARY of FIRST PRIMARY TEXT - maybe touch on its historical and social context, relationships with movements in the history of SF (this could be its own paragraph and a good place to bring in SECONDARY SOURCES)

3rd body paragraph - ANALYSIS of FIRST PRIMARY TEXT and the THEME you are tracing

4th body paragraph - SUMMARY of SECOND PRIMARY TEXT - maybe touch on its historical and social context, relationships with movements in the history of SF (this could be its own paragraph and a good place to bring in SECONDARY SOURCES)

5th body paragraph -  ANALYSIS of SECOND PRIMARY TEXT and the THEME you are tracing

6th body paragraph -  COMPARISON of FIRST PRIMARY TEXT to SECOND PRIMARY TEXT in terms of how they use the TROPE(S).

7th body paragraph - COMPARISON of FIRST PRIMARY TEXT to SECOND PRIMARY TEXT in terms of how their usage of the TROPE(S) convey similar or different themes.

8th body paragraph - Discussion of how the differences in these themes reflect social or cultural changes and/or different historical movements in the history of SF. (Another great place to bring in SECONDARY TEXTS.)

Conclusion   - Tying everything together, explaining what the significance is, especially cool if you can bring it back to how you started.

During the Drafting stage, you use your outline and the ideas you developed during Prewriting and focus on getting the ideas on paper. A draft is not meant to be perfect, nor should you spend much energy at this stage on your grammar or style. Instead think of your first draft as though you are producing clay (or play-doh, if you prefer) which you will substantially reshape during the Revision stage, and then make perfectly presentable (in terms of grammar and style) only when you reach the Proofreading stage. In drafting, by contrast, we are doing something more elemental: we are fulsomely developing our ideas into a text, because only once we have that draft of text in front of us can we do more precise actions to it.

The Revision stage is the stage where our writing goes from the first words and sentences that came out of our heads when working from our outline to the best words and sentences that we can come up with to express what we were trying to say. Experienced writers understand that revision is the stage where the author has the most agency to take an okay-sounding text and turn it into a rhetorical tour de force .

Authors accomplish this by analyzing the text they produced at multiple levels, typically starting from the largest (the paragraph-level) and moving to smaller levels (the sentences, the phrase, individual words) as they go, asking themselves questions like, "Is this the best way to structure this (paragraph, sentence, phrase)? Is there a way that would be more persuasive to my audience?" By proceeding from largest to smallest, they ensure that at all levels of its structure, the text is as good as it can be.

Here are two books that provide additional guidance about the revision process:

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❝ "The history of learning is a history of revision — of mastering knowledge in order to improve it." –Matthew Parfitt, Writing in Response

During the Proofreading stage, we let go of our concerns over content and focus strictly on ensuring our grammar and word usage is correct. This is the most narrow and nitpicky stage of the writing process, which is why it makes sense to leave it until after we have dealt with larger questions of form and content during the previous stages of our writing.

Useful resources for Proofreading include the relevant style guide for your course (e.g. the MLA Handbook, the APA Handbook, etc.) and their citation guidelines to ensure you are properly formatting your text and citations. (See the Formatting and Citations page of this section.)

In order to ensure your individual words are accurately expressing what you mean to say, it is helpful to consult usage guides like the ones found in the Modern Grammar & Usage box on the English Language section of this guide.

Here are couple more books with useful information about the proofreading process:

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You may not realize it yet, but there are numerous venues and formats available for publishing your writing. Publishing allows other people to read your work and enables you to get recognized. There are different processes for getting published in a popular or a scholarly venue, and there are also more modalities for publishing your work than just as a research paper.

For publishing in a popular venue, consult the Getting Published box on the Creative Writing page of this guide.

For a list of just some of the literary journals you could submit to, consult the Literary Reviews available in print and online box on the Searching for Articles page, go to the website of a journal that seems appropriate for your topic and study their Submission Requirements .

Here are some books that present more information about publishing in a scholarly journal, as well as other possible publishing formats:

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Writing a Paper: Prewriting

Prewriting basics.

Writing is a process, not an event. Taking the time to prepare for your writing will help make the writing process smooth and efficient. Follow these steps to ensure that your page does not stay blank for long. All of prewriting resources should be used simultaneously—you will often find yourself switching back and forth between brainstorming, critical reading, organizing, and fighting off writer’s block as you begin a new assignment.

Take Careful Notes

While reading, make sure that you are taking notes on relevant information.

Group your notes by topics or main ideas so you can see the connections among the material you have read. Try some of the Writing Center's brainstorming activities  for help generating and connecting ideas.

Be sure to provide a citation (author, year, and page number) for every note that you take. This way, you will not have to  interrupt your writing process later to find citation information.

Knowing how to read effectively will be one of your strongest assets in the prewriting process. Review the Academic Skills Center's resources on  critical reading  for more tips on getting the most from your research and reading.

Choose a Topic

Review the notes you have made to identify trends and areas of interest. Ask yourself where you have taken the most notes, where the most information is focused, and where any gaps in the literature might be. Do not discount your own interests—it is easiest to write a paper on a topic that intrigues you! 

Use our brainstorming resources to help narrow down your paper topic, or consult your instructor for extra help. Once you have chosen a topic, you may need to go back to the note-taking stage and find more information to flesh out the body of your paper. Do not forget that most scholarly papers should advance a clear claim, articulated in the paper's thesis statement .

Develop Your Analysis

Good scholarly writers ask questions as they research, and the answers to those questions often become the organizing arguments in their papers. As you continue to read and take notes, think about the major claims that exist already about your topic. Ask yourself if you agree or disagree—or think the major claims should have a different direction entirely! Our resources on critical thinking can help you develop the main points of your paper before you begin writing. Remember that you will likely also be continuing the brainstorming process as you develop your analysis.

Prewriting Video Playlist

Note that these videos were created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.

  • Prewriting Demonstrations: Outlining (video transcript)
  • Prewriting Demonstrations: Mindmapping (video transcript)
  • Prewriting Demonstrations: Freewriting (video transcript)

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Prewriting Strategies

Five useful strategies.

Pre-writing strategies use writing to generate and clarify ideas. While many writers have traditionally created outlines before beginning writing, there are several other effective prewriting activities. We often call these prewriting strategies “brainstorming techniques.” Five useful strategies are listing, clustering, freewriting, looping, and asking the six journalists' questions. These strategies help you with both your invention and organization of ideas, and they can aid you in developing topics for your writing.

Listing is a process of producing a lot of information within a short time by generating some broad ideas and then building on those associations for more detail with a bullet point list. Listing is particularly useful if your starting topic is very broad, and you need to narrow it down.

  • Jot down all the possible terms that emerge from the general topic you are working on. This procedure works especially well if you work in a team. All team members can generate ideas, with one member acting as scribe. Do not worry about editing or throwing out what might not be a good idea. Simply write down as many possibilities as you can.
  • Group the items that you have listed according to arrangements that make sense to you. Are things thematically related?
  • Give each group a label. Now you have a narrower topic with possible points of development.
  • Write a sentence about the label you have given the group of ideas. Now you have a topic sentence or possibly a  thesis statement .

Listing example. Bullet point list of topic ideas: online education, gentrification, data privacy, vice taxes, and vaping.

Clustering, also called mind mapping or idea mapping, is a strategy that allows you to explore the relationships between ideas.

  • Put the subject in the center of a page. Circle or underline it.
  • As you think of other ideas, write them on the page surrounding the central idea. Link the new ideas to the central circle with lines.
  • As you think of ideas that relate to the new ideas, add to those in the same way.

The result will look like a web on your page. Locate clusters of interest to you, and use the terms you attached to the key ideas as departure points for your paper.

Clustering is especially useful in determining the relationship between ideas. You will be able to distinguish how the ideas fit together, especially where there is an abundance of ideas. Clustering your ideas lets you see them visually in a different way, so that you can more readily understand possible directions your paper may take.

Clustering example of a middle circle with several connected dialog boxes on the sides  June 22, 2022 at 12:59 AM

Freewriting

Freewriting is a process of generating a lot of information by writing non-stop in full sentences for a predetermined amount of time. It allows you to focus on a specific topic but forces you to write so quickly that you are unable to edit any of your ideas.

  • Freewrite on the assignment or general topic for five to ten minutes non-stop. Force yourself to continue writing even if nothing specific comes to mind (so you could end up writing “I don’t know what to write about” over and over until an idea pops into your head. This is okay; the important thing is that you do not stop writing). This freewriting will include many ideas; at this point, generating ideas is what is important, not the grammar or the spelling.
  • After you have finished freewriting, look back over what you have written and highlight the most prominent and interesting ideas; then you can begin all over again, with a tighter focus (see looping). You will narrow your topic and, in the process, you will generate several relevant points about the topic.

Freewriting example. Lined paper with text reading: The first thing that came to mind when we got this assignment was to write about basketball. I've always loved both playing and watching the sport. I don't know what aspect of it to focus on though. I don't know what to write here. I'm looking around the room now. Oh, the student next to me is wearing a Bulls t-shirt. That's my favorite team! Maybe I could write about the history of the Bulls for my essay.

Looping is a freewriting technique that allows you to focus your ideas continually while trying to discover a writing topic. After you freewrite for the first time, identify a key thought or idea in your writing, and begin to freewrite again, with that idea as your starting point. You will loop one 5-10 minute freewriting after another, so you have a sequence of freewritings, each more specific than the last. The same rules that apply to freewriting apply to looping: write quickly, do not edit, and do not stop.

Loop your freewriting as many times as necessary, circling another interesting topic, idea, phrase, or sentence each time. When you have finished four or five rounds of looping, you will begin to have specific information that indicates what you are thinking about a particular topic. You may even have the basis for a tentative thesis or an improved idea for an approach to your assignment when you have finished.

Looping example. On a first piece of lined paper, it has text reading: "The first thing that came to mind when we got this assignment was to write about basketball. I've always loved both playing and watching the sport. I don't know what aspect of it to focus on though. I don't know what to write here. I'm looking around the room now. Oh, the student next to me is wearing a Bulls t-shirt. That's my favorite team! Maybe I could write about the history of the Bulls for my essay." Bulls is circled. There is an arrow pointing towards a second piece of lined paper, which has text reading: "What I know about the history of the Bulls is..."

The Journalists' Questions

Journalists traditionally ask six questions when they are writing assignments that are broken down into five W's and one H:  Who? ,  What? ,  Where? ,  When? ,  Why? , and  How?  You can use these questions to explore the topic you are writing about for an assignment. A key to using the journalists' questions is to make them flexible enough to account for the specific details of your topic. For instance, if your topic is the rise and fall of the Puget Sound tides and its effect on salmon spawning, you may have very little to say about  Who  if your focus does not account for human involvement. On the other hand, some topics may be heavy on the  Who , especially if human involvement is a crucial part of the topic.

The journalists' questions are a powerful way to develop a great deal of information about a topic very quickly. Learning to ask the appropriate questions about a topic takes practice, however. At times during writing an assignment, you may wish to go back and ask the journalists' questions again to clarify important points that may be getting lost in your planning and drafting.

Possible generic questions you can ask using the six journalists' questions follow:

  • Who? Who are the participants? Who is affected? Who are the primary actors? Who are the secondary actors?
  • What? What is the topic? What is the significance of the topic? What is the basic problem? What are the issues related to that problem?
  • Where? Where does the activity take place? Where does the problem or issue have its source? At what place is the cause or effect of the problem most visible?
  • When? When is the issue most apparent? (in the past? present? future?) When did the issue or problem develop? What historical forces helped shape the problem or issue and at what point in time will the problem or issue culminate in a crisis? When is action needed to address the issue or problem?
  • Why? Why did the issue or problem arise? Why is it (your topic) an issue or problem at all? Why did the issue or problem develop in the way that it did?
  • How? How is the issue or problem significant? How can it be addressed? How does it affect the participants? How can the issue or problem be resolved?

The Journalists' Questions example: Has a black chalkboard with a question mark and the words who, what, when, where, why, and how written on it.

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14 The Writing Process: Prewriting and Drafting

Learning Objectives

  • Conquer the blank page
  • Use prewriting strategies to choose a topic and narrow the focus.

Prewriting is the stage of the writing process during which you transfer your abstract thoughts into more concrete ideas in ink on paper (or in type on a computer screen). Although prewriting techniques can be helpful in all stages of the writing process, the following strategies are best used when initially deciding on a topic:

  • Using experience and observations

Freewriting

At this stage in the writing process, it is OK if you choose a general topic. Later you will learn more prewriting strategies that will narrow the focus of the topic.

Choosing a Topic

In addition to understanding that writing is a process, writers also understand that choosing a good general topic for an assignment is an essential step. Sometimes your instructor will give you an idea to begin an assignment, and other times your instructor will ask you to come up with a topic on your own. A good topic not only covers what an assignment will be about but also fits the assignment’s purpose and its audience.

In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Tuyet as she prepares a piece of writing. You will also be planning one of your own. The first important step is for you to tell yourself why you are writing (to inform, to explain, or some other purpose) and for whom you are writing. Write your purpose and your audience on your own sheet of paper, and keep the paper close by as you read and complete exercises in this chapter.

My purpose:

My audience:

Using Experience and Observations

When selecting a topic, you may also want to consider something that interests you or something based on your own life and personal experiences. Even everyday observations can lead to interesting topics. After writers think about their experiences and observations, they often take notes on paper to better develop their thoughts. These notes help writers discover what they have to say about their topic.

Have you seen an attention-grabbing story on your local news channel? Many current issues appear on television, in magazines, and on the Internet. These can all provide inspiration for your writing.

The Importance of Reading as Related to Writing

Reading plays a vital role in all the stages of the writing process, but it first figures in the development of ideas and topics. Different kinds of documents can help you choose a topic and also develop that topic. For example, a magazine advertising the latest research on the threat of global warming may catch your eye in the supermarket. This cover may interest you, and you may consider global warming as a topic. Or maybe a novel’s courtroom drama sparks your curiosity of a particular lawsuit or legal controversy.

After you choose a topic, critical reading is essential to the development of a topic. While reading almost any document, you evaluate the author’s point of view by thinking about his main idea and his support. When you judge the author’s argument, you discover more about not only the author’s opinion but also your own. If this step already seems daunting, remember that even the best writers need to use prewriting strategies to generate ideas.

The steps in the writing process may seem time consuming at first, but following these steps will save you time in the future. The more you plan in the beginning by reading and using prewriting strategies, the less time you may spend writing and editing later because your ideas will develop more swiftly.

Prewriting strategies depend on your critical reading skills. Reading prewriting exercises (and outlines and drafts later in the writing process) will further develop your topic and ideas. As you continue to follow the writing process, you will see how Tuyet uses critical reading skills to assess her own prewriting exercises.

Freewriting is an exercise in which you write freely about any topic for a set amount of time (usually three to five minutes). During the time limit, you may jot down any thoughts that come to your mind. Try not to worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Instead, write as quickly as you can without stopping. If you get stuck, just copy the same word or phrase over and over until you come up with a new thought.

Writing often comes easier when you have a personal connection with the topic you have chosen. Remember, to generate ideas in your freewriting, you may also think about readings that you have enjoyed or that have challenged your thinking. Doing this may lead your thoughts in interesting directions.

Quickly recording your thoughts on paper will help you discover what you have to say about a topic. When writing quickly, try not to doubt or question your ideas. Allow yourself to write freely and unselfconsciously. Once you start writing with few limitations, you may find you have more to say than you first realized. Your flow of thoughts can lead you to discover even more ideas about the topic. Freewriting may even lead you to discover another topic that excites you even more.

Look at Tuyet’s example. The instructor allowed the members of the class to choose their own topics, and Tuyet thought about her experiences as a communications major. She used this freewriting exercise to help her generate more concrete ideas from her own experience.

when writing academic essays the pre drafting stage is used to

Some prewriting strategies can be used together. For example, you could use experience and observations to come up with a topic related to your course studies. Then you could use freewriting to describe your topic in more detail and figure out what you have to say about it.

Free write about one event you have recently experienced. With this event in mind, write without stopping for five minutes. After you finish, read over what you wrote. Does anything stand out to you as a good general topic to write about?

More Prewriting Techniques

The prewriting techniques of freewriting and asking questions helped Tuyet think more about her topic, but the following prewriting strategies can help her (and you) narrow the focus of the topic:

  • Narrowing the focus

Brainstorming

  • Idea mapping

Narrowing the Focus

Narrowing the focus means breaking up the topic into subtopics, or more specific points. Generating lots of subtopics will help you eventually select the ones that fit the assignment and appeal to you and your audience.

After rereading her syllabus, Tuyet realized her general topic, mass media, is too broad for her class’s short paper requirement. Three pages are not enough to cover all the concerns in mass media today. Tuyet also realized that although her readers are other communications majors who are interested in the topic, they may want to read a paper about a particular issue in mass media.

Brainstorming is similar to list making. You can make a list on your own or in a group with your classmates. Start with a blank sheet of paper (or a blank computer document) and write your general topic across the top. Underneath your topic, make a list of more specific ideas. Think of your general topic as a broad category and the list items as things that fit in that category. Often you will find that one item can lead to the next, creating a flow of ideas that can help you narrow your focus to a more specific paper topic. Here is Tuyet’s brainstorming list:

From this list, Tuyet could narrow her focus to a particular technology under the broad category of mass media.

Idea Mapping

Idea mapping allows you to visualize your ideas on paper using circles, lines, and arrows. This technique is also known as clustering because ideas are broken down and clustered, or grouped together. Many writers like this method because the shapes show how the ideas relate or connect, and writers can find a focused topic from the connections mapped. Using idea mapping, you might discover interesting connections between topics that you had not thought of before.

To create an idea map, start with your general topic in a circle in the center of a blank sheet of paper. Then write specific ideas around it and use lines or arrows to connect them together. Add and cluster as many ideas as you can think of.

In addition to brainstorming, Tuyet tried idea mapping. Review the following idea map that Tuyet created:

Mind mapping of the different types of mass media

Notice Tuyet’s largest circle contains her general topic, mass media. Then, the general topic branches into two subtopics written in two smaller circles: television and radio. The subtopic television branches into even more specific topics: cable and DVDs. From there, Tuyet drew more circles and wrote more specific ideas: high definition and digital recording from cable and Blu-ray from DVDs. The radio topic led Tuyet to draw connections between music, downloads versus CDs, and, finally, piracy.

From this idea map, Tuyet saw she could consider narrowing the focus of her mass media topic to the more specific topic of music piracy.

Topic Checklist – Developing a Good Topic

The following checklist can help you decide if your narrowed topic is a good topic for your assignment.

  • Am I interested in this topic?
  • Would my audience be interested?
  • Do I have prior knowledge or experience with this topic? If so, would I be comfortable exploring this topic and sharing my experiences?
  • Do I want to learn more about this topic?
  • Is this topic specific?
  • Does it fit the length of the assignment?

With your narrowed focus in mind, answer the bulleted questions in the checklist for developing a good topic. If you can answer “yes” to all the questions, write your topic on the line. If you answer “no” to any of the questions, think about another topic or adjust the one you have and try the prewriting strategies again.

My narrowed topic:

Key Takeaways

  • All writers rely on steps and strategies to begin the writing process.
  • The steps in the writing process are prewriting, outlining, writing a rough draft, revising, and editing.
  • Prewriting is the transfer of ideas from abstract thoughts into words, phrases, and sentences on paper.
  • A good topic interests the writer, appeals to the audience, and fits the purpose of the assignment.
  • Writers often choose a general topic first and then narrow the focus to a more specific topic.

College ESL Writers: Mohawk College Edition Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Hall and Elizabeth Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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GKT103: General Knowledge for Teachers – Essays

when writing academic essays the pre drafting stage is used to

Pre-Writing

Sitting down for an exam and reading an essay prompt can be intimidating. One way to ease your nerves and help you focus on the task is to pre-write. Pre-writing is a way to think through the essay question, gather your thoughts, and keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed. This resource explains pre-writing and shows strategies you can practice now and use on exam day to help ensure that you start your essay writing off on the right foot!

Planning the Structure of an Essay

Planning based on audience and purpose.

Identifying the target audience and purpose of an essay is a critical part of planning the structure and techniques that are best to use. It's important to consider the following:

  • Is the the purpose of the essay to educate, announce, entertain, or persuade?
  • Who might be interested in the topic of the essay?
  • Who would be impacted by the essay or the information within it?
  • What does the reader know about this topic?
  • What does the reader need to know in order to understand the essay's points?
  • What kind of hook is necessary to engage the readers and their interest?
  • What level of language is required? Words that are too subject-specific may make the writing difficult to grasp for readers unfamiliar with the topic.
  • What is an appropriate tone for the topic? A humorous tone that is suitable for an autobiographical, narrative essay may not work for a more serious, persuasive essay.

Hint: Answers to these questions help the writer to make clear decisions about diction (i.e., the choice of words and phrases), form and organization, and the content of the essay.

Use Audience and Purpose to Plan Language

In many classrooms, students may encounter the concept of language in terms of correct versus incorrect. However, this text approaches language from the perspective of appropriateness. Writers should consider that there are different types of communities, each of which may have different perspectives about what is "appropriate language" and each of which may follow different rules, as John Swales discussed in "The Concept of Discourse Community". Essentially, Swales defines discourse communities as "groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals".

Writers (and readers) may be more familiar with a home community that uses a different language than the language valued by the academic community. For example, many people in Hawai‘i speak Hawai‘i Creole English (HCE colloquially regarded as "Pidgin"), which is different from academic English. This does not mean that one language is better than another or that one community is homogeneous in terms of language use; most people "code-switch" from one "code" (i.e., language or way of speaking) to another. It helps writers to be aware and to use an intersectional lens to understand that while a community may value certain language practices, there are several types of language practices within our community.

What language practices does the academic discourse community value? The goal of first-year-writing courses is to prepare students to write according to the conventions of academia and Standard American English (SAE). Understanding and adhering to the rules of a different discourse community does not mean that students need to replace or drop their own discourse. They may add to their language repertoire as education continues to transform their experiences with language, both spoken and written. In addition to the linguistic abilities they already possess, they should enhance their academic writing skills for personal growth in order to meet the demands of the working world and to enrich the various communities they belong to.

Use Techniques to Plan Structure

Before writing a first draft, writers find it helpful to begin organizing their ideas into chunks so that they (and readers) can efficiently follow the points as organized in an essay.

First, it's important to decide whether to organize an essay (or even just a paragraph) according to one of the following:

  • Chronological order (organized by time)
  • Spatial order (organized by physical space from one end to the other)
  • Prioritized order (organized by order of importance)

There are many ways to plan an essay's overall structure, including mapping and outlining.

Mapping (which sometimes includes using a graphic organizer) involves organizing the relationships between the topic and other ideas. The following is example (from ReadWriteThink.org, 2013) of a graphic organizer that could be used to write a basic, persuasive essay:

when writing academic essays the pre drafting stage is used to

Outlining is also an excellent way to plan how to organize an essay. Formal outlines use levels of notes, with Roman numerals for the top level, followed by capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lowercase letters. Here's an example:

  • Hook/Lead/Opener: According to the Leilani was shocked when a letter from Chicago said her "Aloha Poke" restaurant was infringing on a non-Hawaiian Midwest restaurant that had trademarked the words "aloha" (the Hawaiian word for love, compassion, mercy, and other things besides serving as a greeting) and "poke" (a Hawaiian dish of raw fish and seasonings).
  • Background information about trademarks, the idea of language as property, the idea of cultural identity, and the question about who owns language and whether it can be owned.
  • Thesis Statement (with the main point and previewing key or supporting points that become the topic sentences of the body paragraphs): While some business people use language and trademarks to turn a profit, the nation should consider that language cannot be owned by any one group or individual and that former (or current) imperialist and colonialist nations must consider the impact of their actions on culture and people groups, and legislators should bar the trademarking of non-English words for the good of internal peace of the country.
  • Legislators should bar the trademarking of non-English words for the good and internal peace of the country.
  • Conclusion (Revisit the Hook/Lead/Opener, Restate the Thesis, End with a Twist - a strong more globalized statement about why this topic was important to write about)

Note about outlines: Informal outlines can be created using lists with or without bullets. What is important is that main and subpoint ideas are linked and identified.

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4.2: What is Prewriting?

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Prewriting describes all of the thinking and planning that precedes the actual writing of a paper.

Much careful thought needs to be given to the assignment in general at the beginning of prewriting before focusing on your topic.

  • First, understand the writing assignment and its limits. Consider the assignment’s length. Always know the expected length of a writing assignment. A two-page paper has a much narrower topic thana ten-page paper would have. If there is no page limit, consider the nature of the assignment to suggest its length . A summary of a chapter will be much shorter than the original chapter. An analysis of a poem may likely be longer than the poem itself.
  • Expressive writing conveys personal feelings or impressions to the audience.
  • Informative writing enlightens the audience about something.
  • Persuasive writing attempts to convince the audience to think or act in a certain way.

Other more specific purposes can include entertaining, analyzing, hypothesizing, assessing, summarizing, questioning, reporting, recommending, suggesting, evaluating, describing, recounting, requesting, and instructing.

  • Next, determine the assignment’s audience . You must determine to whom you are writing. An audience can be an individual or a group. An audience can be general or specialized. Once you define your audience, you must determine how much the audience already knows about the subject to know how much or little background information should be included. You should also determine how best to approach your audience in terms of language, rhetorical strategies, purposes for reading, and background knowledge.
  • Then devise the assignment’s occasion . The occasion for which you are writing will determine the formality and scope of a writing project. An in-class writing assignment will differ from an out-of-class formal assignment. A memo for fellow office workers will differ from a report written for the company’s president. A letter to an aunt will differ from a letter written to a bank to request a personal loan.
  • Finally, assess your own previous knowledge of the subject . Before writing, you need to determine what you already know about a subject, what you need to find out about the subject, and what you think about the subject. Personal essays draw upon your own experiences and observations; research essays require you to gain new knowledge through research.

Topic Choice

The next step in prewriting, and often the hardest, is choosing a topic for an essay if one has not been assigned. Choosing a viable general topic for an assignment is an essential step. Sometimes your instructor will give you an idea to begin an assignment, and other times your instructor will ask you to come up with a topic on your own. A captivating topic covers what an assignment will be about and fits the assignment’s purpose and its audience. There are various methods you may use to discover an appropriate topic for your writing.

Using Experience and Observations

When selecting a topic, you may also want to consider something that interests you or something based on your own life and personal experiences. Even everyday observations can lead to interesting topics. After writers think about their experiences and observations, they often take notes on paper to better develop their thoughts. These notes help writers discover what they have to say about their topic.

( http://infoguides.virginiawestern.edu/az.php ) Issues and Controversies is a first-rate source.

Reading plays a vital role in all the stages of the writing process, but it first figures in the development of ideas and topics. Different kinds of documents can help you choose a topic and develop that topic. For example, a magazine advertising the latest research on the threat of global warming may catch your eye in the supermarket. This cover may interest you, and you may consider global warming as a topic, or maybe a novel’s courtroom drama sparks your curiosity of a particular lawsuit or legal controversy. After you choose a topic, critical reading is essential to the development of a topic. While reading almost any document, you evaluate the author’s point of view by thinking about his main idea and his support. When you judge the author’s argument, you discover more about the author’s opinion as well as your own. If these steps already seem daunting, remember that even the best writers need to use prewriting strategies to generate ideas.

The steps in the writing process may seem time consuming at first, but following these steps will save you time in the future. The more you plan in the beginning by reading and using prewriting strategies, the less time you may spend writing and editing later because your ideas will develop more swiftly. Prewriting strategies depend on your critical reading skills. Reading prewriting exercises (and outlines and drafts later in the writing process) will further develop your topic and ideas. As you continue to follow the writing process, you will see how to use critical reading skills to assess your own prewriting exercises.

Freewriting

Freewriting (also called brainstorming) is an exercise in which you write freely (jot, list, write paragraphs, dialog, take off on tangents: whatever “free” means to you) about a topic for a set amount of time (usually three to five minutes or until you run out of ideas or energy). Jot down any thoughts that come to your mind. Try not to worry about what you are saying, how it sounds, whether it is good or true, grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Instead, write as quickly as you can without stopping. If you are stuck, just copy the same word or phrase repeatedly until you come up with a new thought or write about why you cannot continue. Just keep writing; that is the power of this technique!

Writing often comes easier when you have a personal connection with the topic. Remember, to generate ideas in your freewriting, think about readings that you have enjoyed or that have challenged your thinking. Then write about it. Doing this may lead your thoughts in interesting directions. Quickly recording your thoughts on paper will help you discover what you have to say about a topic. When writing quickly, try not to doubt or question your ideas, but if you do, write those, too. Allow yourself to write freely and unselfconsciously. Once you start writing with few limitations, you may find you have more to say than you first realized. Your flow of thoughts can lead you to discover more ideas about the topic as well as different perspectives on it. Freewriting may even lead you to discover another topic that excites you even more than your original idea. Freewriting can also be used to narrow a topic and/or to develop supporting ideas once a broad topic has been chosen.

Journaling is another useful strategy for generating topic and content ideas. Journaling can be useful in exploring different topic ideas and serve as possible topic ideas for future papers.

Some prewriting strategies can be used together. For example, you could use experience and observations to come up with a topic related to your course studies. Then you could use freewriting to describe your topic in more detail and figure out what you have to say about it.

Focusing Topic

Once a general topic has been assigned to or chosen by you, then you must decide on the scope of the topic. Broad topics always need to be narrowed down to topics that are more specific. Then you need to determine what you are going to say about a subject. Two ways to help narrow a general subject down to a narrower topic are probing and focused freewriting .

  • Probing is asking a series of questions about the topic. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? As you choose your topic, answering these questions can help you revisit the ideas you already have and generate new ways to think about your topic. You may also discover aspects of the topic that are unfamiliar to you and that you would like to learn more about. All these idea-gathering techniques will help you plan for future work on your assignment.

For example, if you were writing about tattoos, then you might ask yourself the following questions: Who do you know that has tattoos or who are some celebrities with memorable tattoos? What kinds of tattoos do people usually get–what symbols and what words? Where do people place tattoos on their bodies or where do people go to get tattoos–tattoo parlors? When do people get tattoos–is it after some memorable event or life stage? Why do people get tattoos? Finally, how do people get tattoos–what is the actual process?

  • Focused Freewriting is freewriting again and again with each freewriting cycle becoming more focused (also called looping ), and it can yield a great deal of useful material. Try this by taking the most compelling idea from one freewriting and starting the next with it.

Developing a Topic

The following checklist can help you decide if your narrowed topic is a possible topic for your assignment:

  • Why am I interested in this topic?
  • Would my audience be interested and why?
  • Do I have prior knowledge or experience with this topic? If so, would I be comfortable exploring this topic and sharing my experiences?
  • Why do I want to learn more about this topic?
  • Is this topic specific? What specifics or details about this topic stand out to me?
  • Does it fit the purpose of the assignment, and will it meet the required length of the assignment?

The Writing Process

In academic writing, there are many different phases of the writing process: Prewriting, Drafting, Feedback, Revising, Editing, and Proofreading. Many students worry about making their academic essays perfect the first time they are working on their papers, and this can often cause issues like writer's block. By following these stages, students can have a better outcome through the writing process.

Prewriting is the method of moving ideas from your brain to your paper. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get those creative juices going. That's where prewriting is beneficial.

There are many different techniques for prewriting. What might work for one individual may not work for another. The importance of this stage is finding something that works for you. Some common prewriting techniques include:

  • Freewriting
  • Clustering or Webbing
  • Venn Diagram

First Draft

The first draft is the stage where writers work to assemble the pieces of their prewriting into some semblance of an order. Remember, first drafts are supposed to be terrible. If a writer focuses too much on perfecting the first draft, they can often become stuck. Here are some strategies for overcoming writing anxiety when working on a first draft:

  • Let yourself off the hook: first drafts are supposed to be poorly written.
  • Use talk-to-text technology on MS Word or Google Translate. Sometimes "talking it through" can help get the information out of your head and onto the page.
  • If you're having difficulty writing the beginning of the draft, skip it and come back to it later. Start in the middle and then add the introduction and conclusion later.
  • Handwrite your draft. The act of writing a draft by hand may encourage creativity.

Feedback is essential for great essays. It allows writers to see their draft through another person's perspective. Because writers spend a lot of time on their drafts, they might overlook where a sentence isn't clear, or where an argument may need to be strengthened.

  • Receiving feedback from multiple sources might help you decide what changes you'd like to make to your draft.
  • Not all feedback is equal. It's up to the writer what to do with the feedback that is given to them.

Next Drafts

Drafting is the process between the beginning of a written document and the final draft. Some essays may have two drafts, others may have fifty. Each draft should narrow the focus of the topic.

  • Make big changes first, like organizing information, and adding or deleting large amounts of detail.
  • Focus on transitions. How are the topics in each paragraph related to each other?
  • Focus on word choice. Are you using the best possible words to describe your situation? Phrases like very cold can be replaced with frigid or freezing .
  • Each draft is a messy process with lots of scribbles, marked out words and sentences, and added information.
  • Each draft is also better than the previous draft. Don't be afraid to improve your writing!

With each draft, we encourage you to make use of our Submit A Paper option or come by the Writing Center for a face-to-face writing coaching session because it never hurts to have another person read your draft to help find issues.

Editing and Proofreading

Editing and Proofreading is part of the last stages of the writing process.

Editing is the process of correcting wordiness and focuses on word choice.

Proofreading focuses on correctness. It's also known as GUMP (Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, and Punctuation). This stage is where writers check for run-on sentences, spelling, and making sure commas are in the correct places.

Final Draft

This is the completed, polished, best version of your essay.

If you look back at your prewriting and first draft, you should see a significant difference between what you started with and your final draft.

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WRITING PROCESS: PRE-WRITING

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Pre-writing

PRE-WRITING TECHNIQUE - CLUSTERING

INTRO TO PREWRITING

Prewriting is the process by which writers find and build on their ideas, and plan and structure how to present them to readers. It may include research, taking notes, talking to others, brainstorming, outlining and gathering information.

Understand your Writing Purpose  -  When you sit down to write something, you need to understand—in a very specific way—what your purpose is. Deciding on your purpose helps you figure out what to say and how to say it. What exactly are you hoping to accomplish with this piece of writing? Is it to convince someone of something? Inform or Entertain? 

Understand your Reader   - Every time you write (unless it’s in a journal) you’re writing for an audience, which means you are directing your writing to specific readers. 

To do this, you want to consider: 

  • What information to give your readers?
  • What is the reader’s  attitude ? Friendly? Defensive? This can help you anticipate any potential questions they may have. Think about how to best serve the reader’s needs.

Brainstorming   is the process of coming up with possible content and putting it down in one place for use when you actually start to write. One way to do this is to try to come up with as many ideas as possible without editing or censoring yourself. Timed freewriting is a good way to do this. Once you’ve brainstormed, try going back and seeing if any ideas overlap and can be combined.

PRE-WRITING TECHNIQUE - ASKING QUESTIONS

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Stages of the Writing Process

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Writing can’t be done without going through certain stages. All writers go through their own unique writing processes before they make their final drafts. Usually, writers start with choosing topics and brainstorming, and then they may outline their papers, and compose sentences and paragraphs to make a rough draft. After they make a rough draft, writers may begin revising their work by adding more sentences, or removing sentences. Writers may then edit their rough draft by changing words and sentences that are grammatically incorrect or inappropriate for a topic.

Brainstorming

Before you start writing, you will think about what to write, or how to write. This is called, brainstorming . When you brainstorm for ideas, you will try to come up with as many ideas as you can. Don't worry about whether or not they are good or bad ideas. You can brainstorm by creating a list of ideas that you came up with, or drawing a map and diagram, or just writing down whatever you can think of without thinking about grammar. Think of this like the erratic thunder and lightning that comes from a thunderstorm.

Next, you may want to outline your paper based on the ideas you came up with while you were brainstorming. This means that you will think about the structure of your paper so that you can best deliver your ideas, and meet the requirements of writing assignments. You will usually outline your paper by beginning with its three major parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. The specific structure of each essay may vary from assignment to assignment. Many writers call this a skeleton unto which you develop or “flesh out” the paper. Once you have the skeleton in place, you can start thinking about how to add additional detail to it.

Rough Draft

Your professors or instructors will often require you to submit a rough draft of your paper. This usually means that your work is still in progress. In the rough draft, readers want to see if you have a clear direction in your paper. When you are required to submit a rough draft, it doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be complete. That means, you shouldn't be missing any of the major parts of the paper. For more information on drafting and revising your work, watch our Drafting and Revising video.

Revise and Edit your writing

What is the difference between revise and edit ?

Revision lets you look at your paper in terms of your topic, your ideas, and your audience. You may add more paragraphs or remove paragraphs to better fit into a given genre or topic. In a word, revising means that you organize your writing better in a way that your audience can understand your writing better. You may want to read our resource on basic rhetorical elements to help guide your revision.

Editing typically means that you go over your writing to make sure that you do not have any grammatical errors or strange phrases that make it difficult for your readers to understand what you are trying to say. In other words, editing means that you take care of minor errors in your writing. This is a lot like polishing your writing.

Polish your writing

We often hear professors or instructors say that you need to “ polish your writing .” What do you mean by polish ?

The word polish originally meant to make something smooth and shiny, as in “she polished her leather shoes.” In writing, polish can mean to improve or perfect, or refine a piece of writing by getting rid of minor errors. In other words, when your professors or instructors say, “polish your writing,” it means that you should go over your writing and make sure you do not have any errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and to make sure that you do not have any sentences that do not make sense.

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The Writing Process- Drafting and Editing

Writing is a process that involves several distinct steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. It is important for a writer to work through each of the steps in order to ensure that he has produced a polished, complete piece.  The writing process is not always linear.  A writer may move back and forth between steps as needed.  For example, while you are revising, you might have to return to the prewriting step to develop and expand your ideas.

Last month we learned about prewriting .  Prewriting is anything you do before you write a draft of your document. It includes thinking, taking notes, talking to others, brainstorming, outlining, and gathering information.  Although prewriting is the first activity you engage in, generating ideas is an activity that occurs throughout the writing process.  During prewriting a writer will choose a manageable topic, identify a purpose and audience, draft a sentence that expresses the main idea of piece, gather information about the topic, and begin to organize the information.  Examples of prewriting include brainstorming, freewriting, and questioning.  Many people find it helpful to use a shape planner or graphic organizer to organize their thoughts during the prewriting process.

The second step of the writing process involves drafting.  During drafting, the writer puts his ideas into complete thoughts, such as sentences and paragraphs.  The writer organizes his ideas in a way that allows the reader to understand his message.  He does this by focusing on which ideas or topics to include in the piece of writing.  During drafting, the writer will compose an introduction to the piece and develop a conclusion for the material.  At the end of this step of the writing process, the author will have completed a “rough draft.”

Drafting—The Process

The process of drafting a piece of writing begins with an analysis of the prewriting.  The author must use his prewriting notes to determine a focus for the piece.  This may involve narrowing the focus of the topic and perhaps identifying a purpose for the piece.

For example, an author may decide to write an essay about dogs.  He could have developed his prewriting notes with information about three topics relating to dogs:  Show dogs, working dogs, and dog racing.  These are all topics that could stand alone in an essay.  During drafting, the author should choose just one of these topics for his piece of writing.

Once he has chosen a topic, he should identify a purpose for the essay.  For instance, if the writing was meant to be informational, he might choose to write about working dogs, his purpose being to impart information.  On the other hand, if he chose to write a persuasive essay, perhaps he would choose to write about dog racing, arguing for or against this controversial topic.  After determining a purpose for a piece of writing, it is easy to begin drafting.  Any information that is unrelated to the topic and its purpose should be eliminated from the prewriting.

The author begins writing by composing an introduction to the piece.  The purpose of the introduction is not only to state the topic of the piece, but it should also draw the reader in to the piece of writing.  For young children, the introduction may be one sentence stating the topic.  More sophisticated writers will create an introductory paragraph that identifies the topic, sets the purpose for the writing, and suggests how the topic will be developed throughout the piece.  The introduction to a piece of writing should be interesting.  The tone of the introduction will vary according to the topic.  If an author is writing a personal narrative, he might decide to begin with a creative quote about his experience.  When writing an informational essay, the tone of the introduction must follow suit.  It should be focused and informative.

A solid, interesting introduction sets the stage for the rest of the rough draft.  An author should begin drafting the piece by organizing his notes in a sequence that will make sense to the reader.  The focus should be on logical connections between topics.  A young writer will compose the body of a piece of writing by including detail sentences related to the topic sentence.  An older author should organize his writing in to paragraphs.  Each paragraph should include its own topic sentence.  Smooth transitions between paragraphs are important in creating a cohesive piece of writing, no matter the subject.  A writer should refer back to his prewriting to keep him on track and ensure that the piece of writing maintains its focus.

A writer should complete a rough draft by composing a conclusion.  The purpose of a conclusion is to wrap up the piece of writing by connecting all of the related thoughts and ideas.  The best conclusions are creative, engaging, and leave few questions unanswered in the mind of the reader.  Younger students can conclude a piece of writing with a simple sentence.  Advanced writers should include a conclusion paragraph.

Upon completion of a rough draft, the writer should take on the first edit of his work.  Editing is an on-going process, not a one time event.  When an author edits his work, he is checking the piece for errors.  These are typically errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and formatting (indenting of paragraphs, etc.).  A writer should be encouraged to edit as much of his own paper as possible.  Early writers should, with some prompting, be able to check a paper for correct capitalization and punctuation.  As a child ages, he will be able to correct other errors on his own.  Some students find it beneficial to read their work out loud while editing.  This makes it easier to find mistakes.  Editing should not be a negative process.  This is a time to work on creating a polished piece of writing that will make the author proud.  The author should be reminded that he will need to edit his work at least two more times.  He will edit before composing a final copy and then use the same process to check over his final product.

The Importance of Modeling

Writing can be a difficult process for children.  Many students are hesitant writers.  Because of this, it is important for the home teacher to demonstrate appropriate writing strategies.  When dealing with a child who does not enjoy writing, it is very important to model each step of the writing process.

The home teacher should plan to model a composition which parallels the one being written by the student.  For example, if the child is writing on the topic “My Favorite Vacation,” the home teacher might choose to write his own composition at the same time as the child is writing, focused on a similar topic.  This topic might be “My Favorite Weekend” or “My Favorite Holiday.”

The home teacher should plan to work through each step of the writing process with his student.  The teacher should show the child, with his own topic, how to complete a prewriting exercise.  He should then assist the student with this activity, moving through the process step by step, focused on the topic chosen by the student.  A child does not instinctively understand how to take prewriting notes and convert them in to a piece of writing.  The home teacher should model the procedure for this with his own topic.  He should take the time to explain to the student how he chose to focus his composition, why he has chosen to include certain ideas instead of others, and how he plans to organize the piece of writing.  The teacher should then encourage the student to verbalize his thought process and work together to assist the child with the assigned composition.

Writing is a flexible process.  A confident author recognizes that there is always room for improvement and celebrates each step toward a finished piece of writing that he is proud of.

Next month, we will continue our series on writing by focusing on revision.

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4 Chapter 4: Drafting a Paper

For many years now, most instruction on student writing tends to focus on process instead of product. Students frequently struggle to get their thoughts together, and as assignment that simply involves an essay with a single deadline can often set a student up for failure. Sometimes, a college paper will have a set of checkpoints built in (a proposal due by a certain day, followed by a draft due by another day, and so on). At other times, students have to provide this structure themselves.

Drafting consists of putting together ideas in a format that a reader will be able to understand. Ideally, a draft will allow a reader to follow the thought process of the writer while still satisfying the reader’s curiosity or interest in particular topics (or subtopics) of a given subject.

Overview:  A lot of teachers remember writing essays using a combination of notecards, annotated bibliographies, and outlines. Others might have experienced peer workshops and drafting. Many teachers, however, have not had the need to sit down and think about why these steps are necessary. Some teachers might not even have accepted that the steps are necessary.

On a functional level, focusing on the process of writing (instead of just the final essay) gives students a chance to organize and to develop their ideas. It also allows teachers a chance to determine when or where a student has encountered difficulties.

Application:  Most writing has steps, and even if those steps vary from class to class or from assignment to assignment, time needs to be built into both teacher and student schedules to finish each of these steps. Additionally, it tends to be more rewarding for students and teachers alike if at least a single checkpoint is built into the writing process (e.g. a proposal that is due, a bibliography that is turned in, or a draft that is contemplated by classmates).

A student in a class without these built-in checkpoints needs to work hard to develop them, and students in such classes really need to create their own chances to talk with faculty about their progress. On the other hand, faculty who lack the time or the ability to build in these checkpoints need to be understanding of the difficulties students will face with completion and with the development of their ideas.

What to Avoid:  Don’t think of an essay as something that happens in a single sitting or at a single moment in time.

LENGTH versus DEPTH

Students, teachers, tutors, and online study guides all get it wrong. When we talk about essays, we really shouldn’t talk about how long an essay is; we should talk about how deep an essay is. Plenty of essays can be fairly long without making a valid argument, but it’s a lot less likely for an essay to be short and to still include everything that it needs.

Overview:  Imagine typing the same sentence over and over again until it filled six pages. Does that fulfill the requirement of a six-page essay? Maybe it does, but only in the minds of those deliberately trying to undermine the learning environment. Likewise, imagine writing just one sentence that happens to make a valid factual claim and turning it in for the six-page assignment. Isn’t that one valid claim enough? Shouldn’t the ‘essay’ be judged on quality instead of quantity?

Not really. Both of these fictional student responses to an assignment overlook the idea of development. Take a moment to think about the reasons a teacher might have for assigning an essay. Most of the time, when college instructors are asked why they assign essays, they give the same basic answers: essay assignments are designed to check a student’s knowledge of an issue, to require a student to think critically about course content, and to improve the ability of a student to put course content into a broader context. Neither the ‘repeat the same content over and over again’ example nor the ‘cut all of the content down to the shortest possible answer’ example fulfills these goals.

Application:  In order to demonstrate knowledge of an issue, a student needs to be able to explain that issue (in this case, in writing) in a way that is clear. Simply copying and pasting the Wikipedia entry doesn’t display this knowledge any more than driving through a fast-food restaurant displays an understanding of cooking. This is why even with proper source citation, direct quotation tends to be less meaningful than a student paraphrasing content into his or her own words—the first simply checks a box, while the second requires a bit more understanding.

Likewise, writing an essay about the content of a course usually requires the student to support a claim about one of the subjects the course covers (an essay needs a thesis, or something like a thesis). However, the real length of a good essay does not come from repeating the same point. It comes from developing an idea. Frequently, students are expected to show their work. In math, students are asked to explain how they reached the answers. In argument, students are expected to explain what evidence, and what reasoning, supports their theses. For students who really struggle to find ideas, both the Toulmin model and the scientific method offer suggestions for how such essays can be structured.

What to Avoid:  Try not to think of an essay as an attempt to explain why you, personally, support your main claim. Instead, think of an essay as an effort to demonstrate the knowledge and understanding that went into reaching a conclusion.

ORGANIZATION

If you have ever had a discussion end only to think, five minutes or five hours later, “oh, I should have said ______,” then you understand how frustrating it can be to try to organize an essay. Our best thoughts rarely occur to us when they are most useful, and even good ideas can seem silly when they are stranded without support or context. This is why organization is key for college-level essays.

Overview:  One of the most frustrating things about writing anything, let alone writing essays for a grade, is how difficult it can be to organize thoughts into a meaningful form. Many different strategies have been proposed, and most of them work a little bit. One thing that seldom works is for a writer to keep all of the thoughts on the screen in the order those thoughts happen to drift through his or her head. However, the solution is rarely as simple as ‘outlining’ a potential essay in advance. Instead, organizing an essay requires understanding its goals.

An essay that is asking for a student to demonstrate an understanding of course content should probably focus most of its body on that course content, with very little ‘off topic’ on external material. On the other hand, an essay that specifically asks students to contextualize their writing should probably split its content much more evenly, with frequent connections being drawn between lecture notes, the textbook, and the broader world.

Application:  Students writing college-level essays should remember their readers. Information should be presented with the mindset of explaining related facts to someone who wants to understand why the essay presents its thesis or central claim.

Writers of college essays have a major advantage over writers of professional documents. A writing assignment given by an instructor is almost certainly possible (not easy, but possible). Other students have likely struggled with and completed the assignment before. However, this advantage also has a downside—instructors grading college-level essays have seen good and bad versions before. They already have their own preferences. Be sure to ask about and to include these preferences in your own writing. Remember that it is not your place to organize your essay the way you prefer; it is your responsibility to organize the essay in a way your reader will think makes sense.

What to Avoid:  Don’t think of organization as a one-time thing. It is a process. Students need to set aside time to evaluate how their essays are organizes as they write them.

TRANSITIONS AND PARAGRAPHING

Even if you have a good, general idea of how you want to organize your thoughts, it can be difficult to move from major idea to major idea. It can be even harder to decide which ideas belong together.

Overview:  Whenever you’re trying to get somewhere new, you need directions. Whether you look at a map, read road signs, or have a navigation system guiding you, you need to know ‘what’s next.’ Reading an essay also requires guidance.

It is the responsibility of the author of an essay to explain how two different ideas relate. Transitions are supposed function like road signs or navigational signals, telling readers what relationships exist between ideas while also serving to indicate what differences merit the move from one section of an argument to the next.

Paragraphs, on the other hand, are a bit more complex. In a general sense, a paragraph is a group of related sentences connected by a shared focus. However, that’s not a very useful definition. Instead, it’s helpful to think of a paragraph as a bite of information. If you ‘feed’ your reader to small of a bite, it’s not very interesting; if you offer too big of a bite, it’s going to be hard for your reader to process it all. Instead, a paragraph should be broken in two whenever it is getting too big to understand. The easiest place to break a paragraph is when it essential to understand the first section—and to reflect on it—before reading the second section.

Application:  Students should be certain that they write a document that is easy to navigate, posting ‘signs’ along the way to help a reader. If it is difficult to explain the relationship between two ideas, the student writer should consider the possibility that one or both of the ideas needs to be moved to another part of the essay, closer to the sections it does relate to.

Likewise, paragraphs need to be seen from the perspective of the reader, not the author. Look at a paragraph and imagine it is in an assigned reading such as a textbook. Is it massive and daunting? Would you think about skimming it? Is it so small and vague that you wonder why it is left to stand on its own? Paragraphs do not have a magic length—complex arguments might have longer paragraphs than simple narratives, for example—but by remembering that each paragraph needs to be used by somebody else, student writers can get closer to managing the length and form of their essays.

What to Avoid:  Do not assume that simply because you intuit a relationship between ideas that your readers will agree. Don’t forget that someone needs to read the document after you’ve written it—turning in the essay is only the midpoint of the process.

REVISION and EDITING

Think about a professional athlete, musician, or actor. Imagine if, after each performance, that person could take back the worst quarter of his or her actions and try them over again. The ball is never dropped, the note is never misplayed, and the line is never forgotten. The ability to revisit a performance is a rare opportunity, and yet most amateur writers fail to take advantage of the chance. There are two ways to improve a writing performance after the fact: revision and editing.

Overview:  Spending long periods of time thinking about a subject and trying to explain that subject in a clear, concise, and objective manner is not a skill most people practice. Opinions tend to be reached gradually, over time, and are then offered for discussion. Dialogue occurs. Then, all parties move on. College essays don’t work this way. As a result, writing an essay is a very strange experience. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that many of us aren’t very good at it. The first time a student writes an essay for a college course might be the first time that student seriously thinks about the causes of World War I, the role of convergent evolution in biology, or the ethics of anti-smoking policies. Therefore, the initial draft of such an essay is likely to be shaky. Thoughts are probably incomplete. Evidence might be poorly explained.

After this first attempt at writing the essay, then, students should try to look at the essay again and try to see what needs to be changed. This process takes time. It means that the essay cannot be put off until right before the due date. It means that the student needs to spend even more time on a single assignment. However, it also means that one aspect of the student’s course performance is completely under his or her own control—because the student can keep working on the essay until it makes sense. This process, revision, is different than editing.

Editing is a more familiar process to many students. Editing consists of going through a written document and fixing mistakes. Proofreading an essay can help a student spot misspelled words, and looking over a document can allow for corrections of minor factual errors. Editing can be done after a desperate attempt to finish an essay just before a deadline, and frequent editing can help a student create writing that communicates clearly.

Application:  When a draft is complete, the student who wrote the essay needs to take some time away from the essay (anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of days, depending on the schedule). Then, the student needs to return to the draft and look at it honesty and critically. This is when having a friend or family member look at the draft can be a good idea, but only if this other person is going to be critical—blind support and encouragement isn’t all that useful. Once the student has looked at the draft and taken some notes on what need to get better, it’s time to go back to writing.

Editing and proofreading should not happen once. Students who proofread need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Struggle with punctuation? Then go over that part twice. Have trouble with spelling? Then stop relying on spell-checking software and go through the document slowly. The essay is a part of your course performance that is under your control. Take advantage of this opportunity.

What to Avoid:  Don’t confuse revision and editing. It is possible to revise a document and still to fail in editing it. Likewise, just because a document has been proofread does not mean that it has been revised.

Writing Academic Arguments Copyright © by Joshua P. Sunderbruch. All Rights Reserved.

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