The Writing Process
No single set of steps automatically works best for everyone when writing a paper, but writers have found a number of steps helpful.
Your job is to discover what works for you. Generally there are three stages in the writing process:
Preparing, Writing the draft and Revising and editing.
Involved in these stages are a number of separate tasks, and that’s where you need to figure out what works best for you.
Discuss what you read, see, and hear.
Talking with others about your ideas is a good way to begin to achieve clarity.
Listening to others helps you understand what points need special attention. Discussion also helps writers realize that their own ideas are often best presented in relation to the ideas of others.
Jot down your thoughts as they come to mind. Just write away, not worrying at first about how those ideas fit together.
Once you’ve written a number of notes or short blocks of sentences, pause and read them over. Take note of anything that stands out as particularly important to you.
Also consider how parts of your scattered notes might eventually fit together or how they might end up in a sequence in the paper you’ll get to later on.
In your notes, respond directly to what others have written or said about a topic you are interested in. Most academic writing engages the ideas of others.
Academic writing carries on a conversation among people interested in the field.
By thinking of how your ideas relate to those of others, you can clarify your sense of purpose and even discover a way to write your introduction.
Write a short statement of intent or outline your paper before your first draft.
Such a road map can be very useful, but don’t assume you’ll always be able to stick with your first plan. Once you start writing, you may discover a need for changes in the substance or order of things in your essay. They simply mean you are involved in a process that cannot be completely scripted in advance.
Write down on a card or a separate sheet of paper what you see as your paper’s main point or thesis.
As you draft your essay, look back at that thesis statement.
Are you staying on track?
Are you discovering that you need to change your main point or thesis?
From time to time, check the development of your ideas against what you started out saying you would do. Revise as needed and move forward.
Outline your paper
Outlining is usually a beginning point, a road map for the task ahead. But many writers find that outlining what they have already written in a draft helps them see more clearly how their ideas fit or do not fit together.
Outlining in this way can reveal trouble spots that are harder to see in a full draft. Once you see those trouble spots, effective revision becomes possible.
Don’t obsess over detail when writing the draft. Remember, you have time for revising and editing later on.
Now is the time to test out the plan you’ve made and see how your ideas develop. The last things in the world you want to worry about now are the little things like grammar and punctuation.
Focus on developing your material, knowing you can fix the details later.
Some students think of a draft as something that they need only correct after writing.
They assume their first effort to do the assignment resulted in something that needs only surface attention. Good writers know that the task is complicated enough to demand some patience. Revision rather than correction is what you should be focusing on.
Revising a Draft
This usually involves significant changes including the following:
Making organizational changes like the reordering of paragraphs
Clarifying the thesis or adjustments between the thesis and supporting points that follow
Cutting material that is unnecessary or irrelevant
Adding new points to strengthen the presentation
Editing and Proofreading
These are focused, late-stage activities for style and correctness. Editing and proofreading a draft involve these steps:
Careful spell-checking. This includes checking the spelling of names.
Attention to sentence-level issues. Be especially attentive to sentence boundaries, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, and pronoun referents.
Most colleges provide resources that can help you from the early stages of an assignment through to the completion of an essay.
Your first resource may be a writing class. Most students are encouraged or required to enroll in a writing class in their first term, and it’s a good idea. Use everything you learn there about drafting and revising in all your courses.
Most colleges have a tutoring service. Look up and visit your tutoring center early in the term to check on the following:
Do you have to register in advance for help?
Are appointments required or can you just drop in?
Are regular standing appointments encouraged?
Are a limited number of sessions allowed per term?
Are small group workshops offered?
Are specialists available for help with students who have English as a second language
Writing tutors are there for all student writers-not just for weak or inexperienced writers. Writing in college is supposed to be a challenge.
Some students make writing even harder by thinking that good writers work in isolation. But writing is a social act. A good paper should engage others.
Tutors respond only to what you say and write; they cannot enable you to magically jump past the thinking an assignment requires. So do some thinking about the assignment before your meeting and be sure to bring relevant materials with you. If you want to get help from a tutor, you need to give the tutor something to work with.
Do some thinking about the assignment before your meeting and be sure to bring relevant materials with you.
For example, bring the paper assignment. You might also bring the course syllabus and perhaps even the required textbook.
Most importantly, bring any writing you’ve done in response to the assignment (an outline, a thesis statement, a draft, an introductory paragraph).
Tutors are not there to correct sentence-level problems or polish your finished draft. They will help you identify and understand problems so that you can achieve greater control over your writing.
But their more important goals often are to address larger concerns like the paper’s organization, the fullness of its development, and the clarity of its argument.
Teaching Assistants and Instructors
In a large class, you may have both a course instructor and a teaching assistant (TA). Seek help from either or both as you draft your essay. Some instructors offer only limited help.
They may not, for example, have time to respond to a complete draft of your essay. But even a brief response to a drafted introduction or to a question can be tremendously valuable.
Remember that TAs and instructors want to help you learn.
Many writing Web sites and handbooks can help you along every step of the way, especially in the late stages of your work.
You’ll find lessons on style as well as information about language conventions and correctness. Not only should you use the notes and pointers your instructor assigns in a writing class, but you should also become familiar with the different websites that are available, providing writing tips and help for student writers.
Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of material from a source.
At the most obvious level, plagiarism involves using someone else’s words and ideas as if they were your own, it’s cheating, pure and simple. If you use another’s words, those words must be in quotation marks, and you must tell your reader where those words came from. But you can’t just change some words and call the material yours; close, extended paraphrase is also not acceptable.
One does need to cite ideas that are distinct contributions. A distinct contribution need not be a discovery from the work of one person.
It need only be an insight that is not commonly expressed (not found in multiple sources) and not universally agreed upon.
There is no need to cite common knowledge. Common knowledge does not mean knowledge everyone has. It means knowledge that everyone can easily access.
For example, most people do not know the date of George Washington’s death, but everyone can easily find that information. If the information or idea can be found in multiple sources and the information or idea remains constant from source to source, it can be considered common knowledge.
Always remember that numbers are only as good as the sources they come from.
If you use numbers like attendance figures, unemployment rates, or demographic profiles-or any statistics at all-always cite your source of those numbers.
If your instructor does not know the source you used, you will not get much credit for the information you have collected.
You should check with your instructors about their preferred form of citation or referencing when you write papers for courses.
No one standard is used in all academic papers. You can learn about the three major forms or styles used in most any college writing handbook and on many Web sites for college writers. The three major forms or styles are:
The Modern Language Association (MLA) system
The American Psychological Association (APA) system
The Chicago Manual of Style
A writing course is central to all students’ success in many of their future courses.
Writing is a process that involves a number of steps; the product will not be good if one does not allow time for the process.
Seek feedback from classmates, tutors, and instructors during the writing process.
Revision is not the same thing as editing.
Many resources are available to college writers.
Words and ideas from sources must be documented in a form recommended by the instructor.
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