The Writing Process can help any writer avoid that last minute sick feeling that comes when the deadline has drawn so near that he/she fears there is not time to complete the project. While the word "process" usually implies a substantial period of time, in this case, the process doesn't depend on time at all. Rather, it is a series of steps that can and should be followed, no matter how much time a writer has to complete the project.
Prewriting refers to everything that a writer does before he/she actually writes the first draft. A writer can save a lot of time and trouble later if he/she uses this phase advantageously. If you have trouble with starting an assignment, click here to access the online tips Getting Started.
If, wisely, the writer begins the writing project when it is first assigned, then he/she has ample time to select a topic, a step that can make or break the success of the project. Choose a topic that interests you and which will challenge you without overstretching your resources. Consider the limits of the assignment, its purpose, and its audience before making the final topic selection.
Once a writer has determined the topic, he/she must gather information. Depending upon the project itself, the writer may or may not have to do actual library or other types of research. If so, the writer must be sure to collect correct source information so that he/she can document that information correctly. [For assistance with sources see our Documentation section].
If the "information" for the project comes from the writer's own experience or understanding, he/she can jot down details about his/her topic on paper, an activity commonly called "brainstorming." The object of brainstorming is to get all the ideas (big or small) on a topic down on paper, the order is not important. Sometimes brainstorming with other people can be even more beneficial because different people have different ideas, and sometimes one idea sparks another. A writer wants to generate more ideas and information than he/she can actually use in the project, so that he/she can be more selective about what to include.
Once a writer has finished his/her gathering of information, then the writer must organize that information in a way that meets the criteria of the writing project. [For more detailed information regarding methods of organization, see Getting Organized]. The writing project will be more successful if the project is organized to assist the audience in understanding and comprehending the information. Grouping related ideas together is part of the organizing process, but the writer will also want to determine the order for presenting the groups as well as the order of ideas within each group.
Once the writer has his information organized into logical, meaningful units, he/she should formulate the skeletal sentences--the key sentences that will assist the reader in receiving and comprehending the message. Just as the body's skeleton holds up the soft tissues of our body (without it--we'd just be a puddle on the floor), the skeleton of the writing project holds up and ties together the information already gathered and organized.
The writer will need to compose the thesis (main controlling idea for the entire writing project) and the topic sentences (main concept statements which will introduce each organizational point). Since so much of the audience's understanding depends on the clarity of these sentences, the writer needs to devote special time to making them the best sentences of the entire project. Sometimes writers make the topic sentences parallel as a way to signal the audience that the writer has moved on to another main idea. Sometimes parallelism can result in awkwardness, however, so use good judgment.
The second phase is the easiest--just putting your plan into real sentences and paragraphs. Some tips to help you get it done:
Doing a good job in the final phase can turn a "C" paper into an "A" or "B" paper. There are some "tricks" to make this phase work best: