The Writing Process

Writing is not just an activity you sit down and do in a single sitting.  Writing is a process that spans multiple steps, and your skill (and success) as a writer will improve as you devote more time and attention to each phase of the process.


Step 1: Brain-storming

Brain-storming is when you come up with ideas.  It could happen spontaneously when you are doing a reading: the observations, questions, and comments you write down when annotating a text or creating a double entry notebook, for example, are ideas that might become important further along in the writing process.  You might also do some free-writing to help generate thoughts.  Essentially, free-writing is when you start writing on a certain topic and keep writing for a certain amount of time, without regard to grammar or structure.  You could also try a more visual approach.  For example, you could write your topic in the middle of a piece of paper and then write down any the related words or phrases you can think of.  Places those ideas more closely related to the topic nearer to the center of the page and those less related further away.  Try to place similar concepts near each other.  When you finish, you will have a field of related ideas to draw upon in your writing.  More information on these and other brainstorming techniques can be found online here.


Step 2: Outlining

Outlining is extremely helpful in both reading and writing.  Learn what an outline is and how to create one here.


Step 3: Write a first draft

Use your outline to write a first draft of the paper.  This will be a rough draft, which means it may not be very polished yet and will need one or more rounds of correction and revision before you arrive at a polished final product.


Step 4: Proofread, revise, and create a new draft (and repeat, and repeat, and repeat…)

Proofreading is when you read back through you paper to catch any typos, missing words, confusing sentences, or places where you need add information or otherwise improve your argument.  You should do this after you makes any changes to a draft.  Generally, you will want to print out a hardcopy of your paper and mark it up with any corrections.  You may also want to read your paper aloud; this can be very helpful with finding missing words, awkward phrasings, or otherwise confusing sentences.  Once you have decided what revisions you need to make, go back and fix them in your paper.  Sometimes you might also have the opportunity to get feedback from another source (your teacher, a peer, or Writing Fellow), etc.) – learn more about how to incorporate such suggestions here.

So, the latter portion of the writing process will look something like this: create a draft of your paper, find corrections to make (either by reading through the paper yourself or by getting feedback from another person, or both), revise the paper to include those corrections, and then start the cycle over with a new draft.  More details about this part of the process can be found here.   You may need to repeat these steps multiple times before your paper reaches its final state and is ready to be submitted.  It is important to allow yourself enough time in the writing process to be able to go through multiple drafts.


Step 5: Turn in your paper (and revise again)

Once you have gone through one or more rounds of proofreading and revising, you will eventually get to a point where you are ready to turn in your paper (either by getting it a state where you feel very confident about its quality or simply by running into the assignment’s deadline).  Even after you turn in your paper, though, you may still want to do additional revisions later on.  For one thing, it can be a very helpful exercise to update the paper based on any feedback your instructor gives you.   If you revise your paper when you get the “final” version back from your teacher, it will be in a much better state if/when you decide to use it for  for some other purpose down the road: as part of a capstone project here at SPS, as a writing sample for a graduate school application, or even as the basis for a published article.

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