The Writing Process

The writing process typically is not a neatly ordered process where you advance from one step to the next without looking back. Instead, effective writers take advantage of phases according to the development and refinement of ideas. These phases include prewriting (also known as invention or discovery), drafting, revising, and editing.

Figure 1

Central to the Writing Process is the “Assignment.”

The Assignment

Before delving into the writing process, it is important to understand the assignment. What is the purpose of the assignment–to inform or persuade your reader? Does the assignment provide you with a field of study or discipline, a topic, or a specific approach to the topic to consider? Are you required to use outside sources to support your points? Are you required to do primary research in the form of surveys, interviews, or observations? All of these questions lead you to think about the goals of the assignment.

Read your assignment through several times, taking notes, highlighting areas of interest or confusion. You might consider contacting your instructor if you have questions about the assignment.

Prewriting

Once you have looked through the assignment thoroughly, focus on your topic–whether it has been assigned to you or you have selected it yourself. Prewriting will help you discover and explore a topic by writing without censoring yourself. Prewriting strategies such as freewriting, brainstorming, mapping, outlining, and cubing allow you to search your memory and experiences to discover what you do and do not know about a topic, what interests you about the topic, and what you want to explore further about the topic.

Outside Research 

Some of your assignments will require outside research. In these cases, you will need to prepare a plan to find, evaluate, and use information from outside sources before drafting the essay.

Drafting

Once you have a significant amount of prewriting, enough to get inspired, thinking, and focused on your topic, then you are ready to draft. Drafting is the phrase in the writing process when you begin to create the text that eventually becomes your composition. There are many ways to draft. Some authors write chunks of information at a time, following a rough outline form. Other writers may sit down for a marathon session and type out an entire, fluid draft in one extremely long sitting.

Some find it helpful to pretend they are in an essay exam situation, timing themselves for a couple of hours to create a rough draft, ignoring the introduction and instead focusing on body paragraphs first. Other writers might make a speech about their topic in front of a few friends or a recording device. Regardless of your approach to drafting, keep in mind that the first draft is not meant to be perfect. In this phase of the writing process, you are creating content by exploring ideas and imagining structure. A rough draft will still look messy. You will have an opportunity to revise and edit it later.

Revising

Revising is the remodeling phase of the writing process. At this point in the process, you have a solid piece of text, the first draft, which needs a fresh look. Taking a day or two away from the draft will give you that new perspective or fresh approach to your work.

As you revise, try not to be too attached to your writing. Revision can be difficult for writers who want to hold on to specific wording or phrasing. Keep in mind that, as the writer, you are not the intended audience. Put yourself in your reader’s place when trying to decide what content should stay and what should go.

Structure is one area of the draft that you will consider as you revise. Is the order of information logical? Do the supporting ideas and examples flow well? What is the strongest supporting point you have? Where should it be placed? Depending on your topic, you might choose to structure your composition emphatically (building in emphasis to the strongest point of the paper), sequentially (ordering chronologically or by steps of a process), or spatially (ordering by the physical location of items).

As you revise, decide if supporting points are relevant. Some points may be interesting to you, but they may not advance the discussion of your topic. Some points might fit well, but they are not fully explored. They need more examples, explanations, or detail to be clear and to persuade your reader.

Effective writers tend to revise again and again to ensure that the content and structure are fully developed and clear.

Editing

After you have drafted and revised your composition, it is time to edit for clarity and correctness. Consider grammar (sentence structure), word use, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, sentence variety, and the economy of language.

Experienced writers use a number of different editing strategies. One simple way to begin the editing process is to read your paper out loud. Many times writers will hear and recognize mistakes in sentence structure, clarity, grammar, and mechanics simply by reading their work out loud. Other writers like to read their text while a family member, colleague, or friend reads it to them. If the other person, stumbles over words or seems to be confused, the writer can mark the troublesome passage on their text. If you use this strategy, you might notice a misspelled word, a period in the wrong place, or another such error.

Experienced writers might begin by reading their papers from the end to the beginning. That way, instead of noticing the content and structure (which was already crafted during the revision phase), the writer can concentrate on the words, phrases, clauses, and sentences used to create complete ideas.

The Recursive Writing Process

Think of the writing process as recursive, a word describing a process that can be repeated infinitely. For example, you might begin rewriting and then draft. Once you read over the rough draft, you might realize that you need more information in one section, so you decide to return to the development stage to brainstorm or freewrite.

Or you might get all the way to the editing phase of your writing process, reading the paper carefully for sentence-level errors, and realize that part of the paper seems out of order. That may take you back to the revision process, where you rewrite and reorder information to create a more logical flow of ideas.

Revisit the stages whenever necessary to create your best draft.

There are always ways to make writing more interesting and effective, but eventually, you will need to submit your assignment to your instructor. Allow yourself time to use the writing process phases as often and in as many combinations as you wish. Take advantage of the many Writing Center resources. Doing both, you will gain confidence and competence in your ability to create clear, thoughtful compositions.

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