Nancy Ami; Natalie Boldt; Sara Humphreys; and Erin Kelly
Drafting is an important step in the writing process. You might start by drafting, then think, then draft or you might do the opposite or some other process. There is no one right way to engage the writing process – the main point is to have one. The following gives some suggestions for how and when to draft and where to start. Of course, everyone’s process will be different — so there’s no need to feel limited by what’s listed here.
Where to Begin
By this point, you’ll have done the necessary preparatory work: be that simply thinking carefully about your assignment prompt or reading sources and making notes. Whether you’re writing a response paper or a research essay, most writing assignments will require you to make an argument or claim of some kind.
Let’s think about the example from earlier: you’ve read an article on restorative justice programs for first-time offenders and are being asked to respond. In this case, you’re being asked to describe your reaction to the article and support your reactions with reasons and evidence from the text. In a more formal assignment like a research paper, your instructor will expect you to summarize your argument in one to two sentences. These few sentences are referred to as a “thesis statement.” (For more on thesis statements, check out this webpage on “Thesis Statements” from the Writing Center at UNC or read about and/or watch a video on “Creating a Thesis Statement” from The Learning Portal.)
Though, as we’ve said above, there are many ways in which to draft your paper, few people begin without a working thesis — in other words, a rough idea of the argument they plan to make. I say “working” because it’s not uncommon for our ideas to shift as we write. As award-winning teacher and rhetorician Wayne C. Booth tells us, one of the reasons we write is to understand: “When you arrange and rearrange the results of your research in new ways, you discover new implications, connections, and complications.” In other words, we (and Booth) would like you to ask questions of your writing (e.g., “Does this belong here? Does this make sense? What if I moved this over here?”). We’ll talk more about revision later in the book.
Outlining and Writing Your Assignment
Many writers will draft an outline or “map” of their paper. This outline might be basic or it might be incredibly detailed. A basic outline may, for example, include a working thesis and rough sketch of what you plan to cover in each paragraph. A detailed outline may include topic or transitional sentences, excerpts from or summaries of the evidence you plan to use, and word counts for each paragraph. The type of outline you come up with will depend on several factors, including the length of the assignment and your own writing process.
Once you have drafted your outline, it’s time to commit fingers to keyboard and content to page. You may wish to write the introductory paragraph first, but you don’t have to. Many experienced writers leave writing the introduction until after they have written the body of the paper (or report or response or whatever the writing assignment might be). This experience is similar to introducing a guest speaker. To introduce a speaker you don’t really know, you need some background before you can make the introduction. In a similar way, you can better introduce your paper after you are acquainted with the content. Perhaps try writing the introduction to your paper last. Give it a try!
Now you need to think strategically about your writing. How are you going to produce a clearly organized, cohesive draft? Your drafting may normally involve stopping and starting, writing and backspacing as you agonize over your word choices, wonder about your comma use, or worry about your citations. (“I know I found that somewhere; where is my source?”) Stopping and starting can be frustrating. When drafting, don’t worry about perfecting your text:
- Highlight words you want to change; bold commas you are unsure about.
- Use comments in your word processor to add notes, ask questions, and write reminders.
- Keep writing without pausing.
- Use a pomodoro technique to help you write continuously for a period of time.
Drafting without stopping enables you to flesh out your paper. You will see your ideas emerge, and soon full pages are complete. While the writing itself may not be polished, you are making progress, knowing that you can revise and polish the draft later.
What does it mean to revise and edit a draft? Revision can refer to making improvements in content and organization, while editing may refer to making changes with sentences and grammar. A short discussion of revising and editing and their differences is available at the OWL at Purdue.
When revising, focus on the assignment task, the overall organization, and the content development. It’s a good idea to review your instructor’s marking rubric or guidelines. If you are not familiar with the word “rubric,” then we can help: rubrics are guidelines instructors use to help them allocate marks fairly. Begin by carefully reading the rubric; then, return to your assignment and check that you have achieved the task. Here’s a handy set of questions to ask when you are revising your writing assignment (Remember! Keep your reader in mind!):
- Have you explained your key points?
- Have you provided examples/data to support your point of view?
- Have you cited sources?
- Have you added concluding sentences that wrap up the discussion and hint at the next point you’re discussing?
Now you might be ready to add your introduction and conclusion (or maybe you are the type of writer whose process involves writing the conclusion first? Remember, there are many writing processes, not just one). We have a suggestion for you: you might want to write them together. If this seems odd, hear us out. If you are starting with historical context on your topic, end your essay with a conclusion that offers a prediction. If you are starting with a quotation relating to your topic, return to the quotation in your conclusion: Does it still ring true? Please see this resource for helpful tips on writing the introduction and conclusion.
By connecting your introduction and conclusion, you complete the circle for your reader. Your reader experiences a sense of closure or completion when the end links back to the beginning. For additional tips on introductions and conclusions, see a helpful resource from Ashford University.
- “Thesis Statements,” Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accessed May 25, 2020, https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/. ↵
- “Creating a Thesis Statement,” The Learning Portal, College Libraries Ontario, accessed May 25, 2020, https://tlp-lpa.ca/writing/creating-a-thesis. (*Note that there is a transcription of this video available on this webpage.) ↵
- Wayne C. Booth et al., The Craft of Research, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 11. ↵
- “Pomodoro Technique,” Wikimedia Foundation, last modified May 20, 2020, 14:42, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique. ↵
- “Steps for Revising Your Paper,” Purdue Online Writing Lab, Purdue University, accessed May 25, 2020, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/steps_for_revising.html. ↵
- Leora Freedman and Jarry Plotnick, “Introductions and Conclusions,” University College Writing Centre, University of Toronto, accessed May 25, 2020, https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/intros-and-conclusions.pdf. ↵
- “Introductions and Conclusions,” Writing Center, Ashford University, accessed May 25, 2020, https://writingcenter.ashford.edu/introductions-conclusions. ↵