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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What is the Writing Process?

Writing is an integral part of both education and employment. Good writers use their work to inform, persuade, entertain, advise, educate, and analyze. But good writing seldom goes from the brain to page in one simple step. Instead, writing is a process. What is the writing process? The writing process refers to a series of actions taken by writers to move from an assignment or idea to a polished product. The writing process definition outlines stages used by most writers to gather ideas, organize their thoughts, write, revise, and rewrite until the text is ready for the intended audience.

Writing Process Steps

Most writers go through the same primary stages of writing when preparing a paper, story, article, or other text. There are five commonly identified writing process steps:

  1. Prewriting: planning such as topic selection, research, brainstorming, and thesis development
  2. Drafting: creating a first version or draft of the text
  3. Revising: reviewing the content of the text
  4. Editing: polishing the details and mechanics of the text
  5. Publishing: preparing the final product

Each of these five steps of the writing process will be explored further below.

Prewriting: the First Step in the Writing Process

Prewriting is the first step in the writing process and includes any work a writer does before producing a formatted document. In other words, if the end goal is a five-paragraph essay, prewriting is every step that comes before actually writing five paragraphs. Prewriting is sometimes called the planning stage. Prewriting activities include:

  • Topic selection: A topic may be assigned by a teacher or selected by a writer. The writer should consider both the audience and the goal of their writing. When choosing a topic, a writer must also identify the writing they will produce, such as narrative, persuasive, or expository.
  • Research: Some types of writing require gathering information from various sources. Writers should choose current, reliable, valid sources and keep track of which information came from which source.
  • Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a gathering of ideas. There are many ways to brainstorm, including:
    • Freewriting: On a blank piece of paper, write everything that comes to mind on the chosen topic. Write continuously for several minutes. When finished, go through the freewriting and highlight words, phrases, and sentences useful in the writing.
    • Graphic organizers: Graphic organizers come in almost limitless varieties. They have in common a visual way to write and connect words, phrases, and ideas. A graphic organizer might look like a spider web, with circled words connected by lines, or it might look like a flowchart showing which ideas come first, second, third, etc.
    • Lists: Simple lists of items that need to be included in a text can be an effective means of brainstorming.
    • Pictures: Drawing pictures of text elements can be a way to organize thoughts during the brainstorming stage.
  • Thesis development: A thesis is a concise statement of the central idea or argument of the text. The thesis, presented as part of the introduction, informs the reader of what the author intends to accomplish in the text. A writer should experiment with several versions of a thesis statement, then choose the one that best fits the text.
  • Organization: It is essential to take the ideas and information gathered during the prewriting process and organize it into a logical format. Organization often takes the form of an outline, but it could also be a story map, a series of pictures, or a list. While organizing, consider how the information can be ordered to best support the thesis statement.

While prewriting will look different for different writers and different writing styles, every writer should go through at least some prewriting steps before moving on to drafting a text.

Graphic organizers are one tool that can be used for brainstorming. Brainstorming is part of prewriting, the first step of the writing process.

Graphic organizers are one tool that can be used during the prewriting stage.

Drafting: the Second Step in the Writing Process

Drafting is the next phase of the writing process. The first draft is the first time the prewriting ideas, goals, and information are written in the paper’s intended format, including complete sentences and paragraphs. A first draft should follow the outline or other organizational plan developed during prewriting and should include the major components of the paper, such as introduction, body, and conclusion. It is important to note that mechanics should not be the focus of the first draft, and the first draft does not need to be good. Once ideas are on the page, they can be revised, rearranged, and edited as necessary. Careful writers should not skip the drafting process. Many papers go through several drafts before being completed. The goal of a first draft is to put sentences and paragraphs on the page.

Revising: the Third Step in the Writing Process

The third step in the writing process is revising. The goal of revising is to examine the content of the text. Revising includes questions such as:

  • Does the content of the paper support my thesis?
  • Does each paragraph have a relevant topic sentence?
  • Do the details support the thesis and topic sentences? Are any of the details irrelevant?
  • Is the tone of the paper consistent and appropriate?
  • Is the organization of the paper logical?

It is good to take a break between writing the first draft and revising it to increase perspective. Other helpful ideas for revision include:

  • Printing the paper.
  • Reading the paper aloud.
  • Viewing the paper in a different font or font size.
  • Working in a distraction-free environment.

For some assignments, peer revision is an appropriate step at this point. Having a peer read a text is an excellent way to check for clarity. Writers using peer revision should prepare a list of questions for the peer to consider while reviewing the paper. Peer revision questions might include:

  • What was the thesis of this paper?
  • What questions did you have after reading this paper?
  • What was most memorable about this paper?

The revising step is related to the previous step, drafting, in that writers can take their revision ideas to create new drafts of their texts.

Editing: the Fourth Step in the Writing Process

The fourth step of the writing process, editing, is an examination of the details and mechanics of the paper. When editing or proofreading, writers should check:

  • spelling
  • grammar
  • subject/verb agreement
  • sentence structure
  • punctuation
  • redundancy
  • ambiguity
  • consistency

Since the writer examined the content in the revision step, editing focuses on mechanical errors. One strategy is to look at one category of error at a time (such as spelling or punctuation). Another method is to read the paper one sentence at a time. Avoid relying solely on spell check or grammar check software as these do not always correctly identify errors.

Publishing: the Fifth Step in the Writing Process

Publishing is the final step in the writing process. Publishing refers to any actions required to ensure that the text is ready for the audience. Exact details will vary depending on the assignment but may include creating a title page, adding page numbers, or creating a header appropriate to the assignment. Some writing projects may benefit from an illustration or simple binding. Publication is the time to check that all instructions have been fulfilled, including details such as font size and line spacing.

Writing process steps include publication, which means presenting a text in completed form for the audience. Publication may consist of adjusting font, spacing, headers, and title pages. It may also include details like a report cover or illustration.

Writing process steps include publication, which means presenting a text in finished form for the intended audience.

Writing Process Examples

Process writing examples can be found at every grade level. For example:

A third-grade student with an assignment to write about the events of spring break:

  • Prewriting: Student lists words that relate to their spring break. Student then circles several words to include in the writing. The student uses a graphic organizer to decide on the order of ideas, then forms a thesis: The best part of spring break was going to a baseball game.
  • Drafting: Student writes three paragraphs about spring break and the baseball game, using complete sentences.
  • Revising: The student reads the paragraphs and realizes that there are a few irrelevant details. The student replaces those details with more relevant details.
  • Editing: Student proofreads the paper, using a dictionary to correct spelling errors and fixing poor punctuation.
  • Publishing: Student types the final draft, prints it, and draws a picture. The student makes a title page.

A high school junior writing a research paper will follow a similar process even though the results will be different.

  • Prewriting: Student brainstorms areas of interest then chooses a topic. After identifying appropriate research resources, the student gathers content. The student forms a thesis, then decides which of the information from the research is relevant to the thesis. The student arranges vital points in an outline.
  • Drafting: The student writes the first draft of the paper with an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Revising: The student revises the paper’s content, strengthening some of the paragraphs and changing the order of some of the information.
  • Editing: Student proofreads the paper for grammar and spelling errors.
  • Publishing: Student formats the paper correctly, using double spacing, 12 point font, the teacher’s preferred header style, and a simple title page.

These are just two primary examples of how students can follow the writing process.

Lesson Summary

The writing process is a writer’s steps to move from an idea or assignment to a finished writing product. The steps of the writing process are:

  • Prewriting: Pre-writing includes steps a writer takes before producing a formatted draft. Possibilities include topic selection, research, brainstorming (using tools such as freewriting, graphic organizers, lists, and pictures), thesis development, and organization (such as outlining).
  • Drafting: The first draft is the first time the content is arranged on paper in its intended format. The first draft should not focus on mechanics but organization and content. Writers may go through several drafts before creating the final product.
  • Revising: Revising is focused on content rather than mechanics. Writers revise for clarity, tone, and organization and ensure that details are appropriate and support the thesis. Peer revision can be a step in the revising process.
  • Editing: Editing is the step that focuses on details and mechanics. Edit or proofread for spelling, grammar, subject/verb agreement, sentence structure, punctuation, redundancy, ambiguity, and consistency.
  • Publishing: Publishing is the step that prepares the text for the audience. Details vary depending on the text but may include spacing, font, page numbers, headers, title pages, or illustrations.

Good writers follow the writing process to create texts that survive a variety of purposes, whether the writing is narrative, persuasive, or expository.

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