Writing is a messy process in which you explore ideas, write a little, think some more, write some more, erase some of what you wrote, add in new parts, switch the parts around, and so on, in an attempt to figure out what you want to say and how you want to present it. As writing is messy and recursive, it does not usually occur in a step-by-step fashion. Even so, the following steps can be of use in clarifying writing's messiness.
Beginning to write
It's not always easy to begin writing an essay. To get the words rolling, it's helpful first to generate ideas to use in writing your essay. The following links from the CUNY Writesite provide different ways of generating those ideas.
- Define your audience
- Assignment key words
- Categories and Clusters
- Reporters' questions
- Pre-draft outlines
By now, you should have generated some ideas and organized them. Although you will likely continue to think of new ideas as you write your essay, it's time to start putting them together, one paragraph at a time. Each paragraph should focus on one controlling idea. To accomplish this task, see:
- Paragraph development and topic sentences (Guide to Grammar & Writing)
- Tips for the First Draft (CUNY)
Once you've written your first draft, you'll need to review it and consider how to improve it, that is, revise it. When writers revise, they make significant changes to their draft at the level of purpose, audience, content, and organization. For example, a writer may change their perception of their target audience, seeing them in a more complicated way. A writer may also add, delete, or reorder points in a draft to further develop the ideas. Essentially, revision requires "re-seeing" the piece at the highest levels. While revision usually takes places after drafting and before editing, it can occur at any point in the process. In fact, going back and forth between generating, drafting, revising, and editing is a normal process in writing a good paper. The links below offer some strategies and principles for revision that you can apply to your own work.Interactive Activities
- Revising (CUNY): This site allows you to copy your text into the site and make revisions guided by a set of questions.
- Revision (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center): This page explains the importance of revision and suggests strategies to use while revising.
- Revising the Draft (Harvard): In addition to describing general principles of revision, this page includes an example of a paragraph revised by famous author E.B. White.
- Strategies for Revising Your Writing (Temple University)" This page contains a list of questions and principles that can help guide your work as a reviser.
As you near finishing your essay, you'll want to improve your writing at the sentence level, to pay attention to clarity and style. Generally, you should wait until after you have finished making the major changes revision requires. Then, examine each sentence and work to make them clear, precise, and elegant. The first set of links below offer strategies for reaching those goals. Some sources, such as this page, include checking grammar as part of editing. Other sources consider that part of the proofreading stage of writing because it requires a different type of focus than editing.
These links will give you strategies for editing that focus on making your sentences clear and interesting to readers:
- Attending to Style (Dartmouth Writing Program)
- Conciseness (Purdue OWL)
- Sentence Variety (Purdue OWL)
- Using Appropriate Language (Purdue OWL)
The final step in writing your essay is to proofread it, to find and remove errors from it. These links will give you strategies for proofreading and correcting grammar errors. For information on specific elements of grammar, see either The Guide to Grammar and Writing or Purdue University's Online Writing Lab.