The Writing Process

graphic of the writing process

Writing is a process (and a practice rather than a product) because it is never truly finished as there are always revisions that can be made.  Consider the word ‘revision’ for a moment.  It doesn’t mean to edit.  It means to re-vision.  Significant changes can, and often do, take place in revision. 

Let’s look at the three phases of the writing process.

  1. Prewriting – includes research, reading, synthesizing, brainstorming, outlining, freewriting, etc.  Everything that is done to prepare to write.  This phase can take a lot of time.
  2. Writing – this is the actual writing of the essay, article, book, etc. During this phase, the focus is getting all your ideas down in a logical, structured manner with an introduction, body and conclusion.  Phase 2 is actually the shortest part of the writing process.
  3. Revising – in this stage, the writing is looked at as a whole to see how well ideas are expressed, developed and supported; whether the conclusion(s) are logical based on the information presented; and how well the writing meets the requirements.  Portions may be completely re-written. Editing is not a part of this.  This phase takes significantly more time than writing.

We don’t just go through each phase once.  You will go through each at least once, probably several times.  And, that brings me to the other point I want to make about writing.  It’s a practice, like anything else.  The more you write, the better you will become.  Spending a lot of time in revision will improve your writing and ultimately more of your revision time will be sent on the content and the implications of what you have written.

Phase I – Prewriting

To begin the writing process you must first discover, explore and connect ideas related to your topic.  This involves interpreting and drawing conclusions from your research.  You can use one or more of the following techniques to help you build a big picture understanding from all the data gathered on your topic.

  • Researching – Information – and our understanding of it – changes all the time. Look for recent research whenever possible, but don’t use anything older than 10 years old. Reference and Academic Librarians can help located and retrieve data from other libraries.
  • Re-reading/Reviewing highlighted passages – additional readings of research materials can help you pick up things you missed the first time through.
  • Outlining – This is a structured way of organizing your ideas prior to writing.  Each section of the essay or novel is accounted for and details are provided.  It is very clear what each paragraph is about.  This is one of the best techniques to use, especially in conjunction with one of the previous techniques to prepare for writing your essay. This is especially useful for people who are organized and like to plan. Outlining can include chapter summaries.
  • Character Sketching – For some of us, it is useful to develop our characters in advance. We consider what events have shaped our characters views and reactions to the world. We also write about how our characters look, think, feel, aspects of their lives such as career and relationship status, and their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Freewriting – This involves writing down everything you can think of on the topic.  When you’ve written everything you can, re-read what you have written.  When something you’ve written sparks a new thought or idea, begin writing again.
  • Clustering – This is a way of diagraming and connecting ideas.  It is similar to outlining.  Start with your topic in the center.  Then connect bubbles for the main categories related to your topic.  Connect more bubbles to the main categories that reflect points you want to make related to that category.
  • Brainstorming – Similar to clustering and outlining, but without the structure, brainstorming is writing down ideas as they come to you.  As you notice relationships between thoughts and points, draw lines between them.  You can highlight things that are significant and even number things according to the order with which you think they should be discussed.  There are no rules with this form of prewriting.
  • Listing – Like brainstorming, this technique involves making a list of the types of information you want to include and/or listing everything you know about a topic.

What works best for me is researching, re-reading, outlining and freewriting. I usually do the freewriting inside my outline and eventually copy paragraphs into another word document to begin the writing process.

Phase II – Writing

This is the stage where you write your first draft by organizing, in a logical progression, the information collected and synthesized during Phase I. A previous post illustrates and details how to structure the essay. At this point in the process, you will to do the following:

  1. develop a purpose or thesis statement that states what the writing will be about (based on your research question)
  2. explain your thoughts more fully in a manner consistent with your purpose and audience
  3. provide supporting evidence from your research
  4. for fiction: use research to add details, depth and richness to your story
  5. for non-fiction: detail how the data relates to your ideas about the topic and explain how all your ideas and research date prove your thesis or purpose statement

As you are writing, focus only on that. Some of us have a tendency to correct typos, grammar or word choices as we are writing, but that can interfere with the flow of ideas. Writing is, after all, a learning process. The act of writing continues the synthesizing of data begun during Phase I. Whatever you notice about the quality of the writing, Just make a note of what you discovered and keep on writing. Once you have finished the first full draft, put it aside for a day or two so that when you begin revisions, you can look at what you’ve written with a fresh outlook.

Phase III – Revision

Revising is the phase where you make many, and sometimes substantial, changes to your rough draft.  Review any notes you made during Phase II. The best course is to work on content, structure, cohesion and flow. During revision, you may need to reorder, or rewrite, paragraphs, pages or whole chapters to provide a more logical progression of ideas toward the conclusion you wish to reach. Don’t waste time on grammar and typos in sections that may be completely rewritten (more than once) before you have a final draft that needs polishing.

Many writers find it helpful to receive feedback on a revised draft from at least one other person. Ideally, this would be someone in your target audience. They can discuss the terminology, how well each paragraph builds upon the last, whether you need more or different research, and if you have sufficiently supported your thesis (aka purpose in writing).

Once you have a final draft, you will need to proofread and polish it. It is easier to make several passes at this because there are so many things to consider when revising. 

  • Microsoft Word and Google Docs can help you find and correct grammatical, mechanical and punctuation.
  • Word choices – as stated in a previous post, use better words and a variety of words.
  • Vary sentence structure and lengths – this helps with the readability and flow of your writing.
  • Subject-verb agreement – whether your subject is singular or plural, your verb should be too. Check out this resource.
  • Switching tenses – As a general rule, you should pick one tense and stick to it. For writing that is supported with evidence, that is usually past tense since the studies you will cite were completed in the past. You can switch tenses, but be sure it is for the right reasons. Here is a resource. A lot of fiction writing today is written in the present tense. Whatever tense you use, make sure it make sense with the purpose.
  • Transitions – each paragraph should flow smoothly from one to the next with each consecutive paragraph building upon the information in the preceding passage.
  • Read your paper out loud when proofreading to catch awkwardness.

Sometimes it is better to have someone else edit our work We can be too close and attached to our writing to be objective.

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