Thinking of Writing as Process

Writing is a unique and personal act, and there is no one “right” way to do it. But when writing assignments fill you with anxiety, or you wait until the last minute to start writing a paper, you may want to reconsider how you think about writing as a process. To make writing less stressful, it may help you to think about writing as a complex process made up of multiple smaller steps. The following tips outline a flexible framework that can help you manage the process.

Three circle outlines moving in a circular pattern with arrows in between them also in a circular pattern showing a cycle.

Also, remember that, although reading is usually a linear process, writing is not. For example, rather than beginning your paper by writing the introduction, you might begin by writing a body paragraph. You may repeat steps, such as revising, and you may move back and forth between different steps, for example from drafting to generating more new ideas or reorganizing content.

Understand Your Assignment
Before you start writing, make sure you understand the assignment. What are you being asked to do? If you’re not sure, review any written instructions or ask your professor for clarification. Also, make sure you know specific details about what is expected: the format of the paper, the page length or word count, and the due date.

Determine Your Purpose
People write for a variety of purposes: to reflect on emotions or memories, to report information gathered from reading or talking to people, to explain a concept, or to persuade a reader to agree with a position on an issue. Begin your writing process by asking yourself, “What am I trying to do in this paper? What results do I want?”

Generate Ideas
Writing is easier when you have something to say. Use these methods to come up with ideas:>

  • Ask questions about your topic: Who was involved? What happened? Where did it happen? When? Why? How could we respond? How should we respond?
  • Read about your topic. Find out what other people have written on it.
  • Observe people, places, or things that you plan to write about.
  • Talk about the subject matter of your paper with other people.
  • Keep a journal to record ideas that come to you while you prepare to write.
  • Free-write on your topic for five to ten minutes, without stopping.
  • Map out your ideas on a blank sheet of paper, linking one idea to the next.

Organize Your Ideas
Prepare a simple outline or map to plan how you will organize the parts of your essay. Beyond an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, there are many possible ways to organize the content of your paper. Here are some commonly used patterns:

  • Describe an event, then analyze why it happened.
  • Give background information about a problem, then offer a possible solution.
  • Summarize what someone has said or written, then analyze it and evaluate it.
  • Present one side of an argument, then offer an opposing viewpoint.

Create a Thesis
What is the main point or thesis of your paper? Although not every paper will have a thesis statement, explicitly telling your reader the main point of your paper is a common feature of academic writing A good thesis is clear, concise, and expresses an attitude about something; for example, “When they result in the elimination of music and arts classes, education reforms aimed at improving academic achievement may actually do more harm than good.” A good thesis lets the reader know the scope of your essay and shows the direction your essay will take. Remember, your thesis may change as you write your paper.

Begin writing your ideas down, and arrange them according to your outline or map. Put one idea in each paragraph, and move from one paragraph to the next using transitional expressions. Make sure each paragraph ties back to your main point or thesis.

Cool Off
Take time to stop thinking about your paper. Move away from the computer. Do something different. Put the paper aside until tomorrow. Give your brain a chance to rest so you can come back to the paper with a fresh perspective.

After taking a break, look at your paper again, or ask someone else to read it and respond. You’ll likely discover things that you didn’t notice when you were writing it. Take time to revise your work, with these considerations in mind:

  • Is there anything missing from your paper that you need to add?
  • Is there extra, irrelevant information that you need to remove?
  • Is there information in one part of the essay that needs to be moved to another section?

Edit and Proofread
When your paper is complete, read it once more. This time, look carefully for sentence-level errors such as missing words, misspelled words, or wrong word order.

  • Read your essay out loud. By reading out loud, your ears and your eyes are working to help you find errors. If you hear a word or phrase that sounds out of place, change it.
  • Read from bottom to top. Cover your essay with a blank sheet of paper. Uncover and read one sentence at a time, beginning from the last sentence and gradually working your way to the first sentence of your essay. In this manner, you avoid reading for understanding and focus on finding sentence-level errors.