The Writing Process

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.

Phase One: Prewriting

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.

Selecting a Topic

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.

Gathering Information

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.

Organizing Information

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.

Formulating the Skeleton

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.

Phase Two: Drafting

The second phase is the easiest--just putting your plan into real sentences and paragraphs. Some tips to help you get it done:

  • Try to write the project all at one sitting if possible. The hardest step is to get started; its much easier to just keep going once your writing "juices" get flowing.
  • If time does not allow you to write the project at one sitting, write the body paragraphs first, then the conclusion, and then the introduction. The logic here is that the body paragraphs contain the more concrete information and so they are easier to write; they flow logically into the conclusion. After you're finished with everything else, you know "where" you're going, so you can then work on preparing your audience to go there with the introduction.
  • Write in complete sentences, but don't worry and fuss over every single word at this point. You can edit it later.
  • Focus on communicating your ideas as clearly and completely as possible.
  • Develop your paragraphs as fully and completely as possible. Use explanation, specific details, and vivid examples to clarify and support what you're saying.
  • If possible, it is best to get your first draft done at least 5 days before the final draft is due (the earlier, the better).
  • Go to the Writing Center. If there are problems with development or organization--it would be better to catch them (and fix them) at this point.
  • Phase III: Polishing

    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:

  • Let your draft sit in a drawer or your notebook at least 24-48 hours before beginning the editing/polishing phase. This time restores objectivity to the project and helps you make better improvements and find the errors that still reside there.
  • Have someone else (who has not seen the essay before) read your essay aloud to you. "Fresh eyes" won't know what you mean--just what you have actually said. If there are syntax problems or confusing words, the reader's face and voice will show it. Be sure to mark these places and fix them later.
  • Assuming that you have already gotten help for development and organization (and have addressed those problems), you should now focus on the clarity, precision, and emphasis of your sentences. Examine every sentence for clarity first and then emphasis. Eliminate as many "extra" words as you can--think of ways of constructing the sentence that would eliminate the extra words. Don't be satisfied with just "good"--go for excellence!
  • Check for grammatical and mechanical errors. If you need help, go to the Writing Center. They have handouts that teach proofreading skills. Click here to access the online editing tips. USE SPELL CHECK, but d