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College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

The Stages of Writing–The Old Becomes New Again

Writing is often scary, but it is also a skill like any other, one mastered with the proper tools. Among the most powerful of these is the process approach, a recursive technique using discrete stages that are revisited throughout the composition process, as writers refine their work across multiple drafts.

Writing and editing

The Process Approach

The process approach consists of three stages: planning, drafting, and revision. Though these stages appear linear, a writer never truly leaves a previous stage behind, because writers return frequently to earlier stages of the process to refine underdeveloped, incomplete, or problematic areas of the draft.

1. Planning:

In the planning stage, a writer develops the topic and writing strategy. There are a number of techniques writers can use to get the creative juices flowing.

Freewriting: Freewriting is ideal for generating writing ideas. In freewriting, the writer turns off that critical voice that worries whether what is being written is ‘good enough’ and simply writes.

  • Select a writing prompt to get you started. For example, if you need a paper topic, use the prompt, ‘It might be interesting to write about…’
  • If you already have a topic in mind (for example, global warming), but you’re not sure what to write about, your prompt might be, ‘If I were to write on global warming, I might discuss…’
  • Sit down at the keyboard or with a pen and paper and write for 10 solid minutes. Do not stop writing, even for a second. Simply write whatever comes to mind. Forget about grammar; forget about typos. Let the thoughts flow. If you get stuck, write/type, ‘I don’t know what to write about…’ until the ideas begin flowing again.
  • Next, set your text aside for at least 30 minutes. When you return to your text, circle or highlight the three most interesting, promising, or surprising ideas.
  • Now, either move on to the next part of the planning process or freewrite again on the ideas you’ve highlighted to see which one generates the most promising content for your project.

Mind-Mapping/Webbing: Mind maps/webs are excellent for planning and organizing your writing project. If you are a visual learner, you may find mind maps/webs especially helpful.

  • To create a mind map/web, place a keyword (i.e. your topic) at the center of the page. Then, brainstorm all the concepts you can think of related to this word, writing each word somewhere close to the keyword.
  • Then, brainstorm ideas related to those new words and write them nearby.
  • Finally, draw lines from your keyword to the related topics and subtopics to see how concepts connect.

Mind Map
Mind Map

Outlining: If you are more of a language-based learner, outlining may work best for you. At the top of the page, write your thesis sentence. Beneath the thesis, write the main points you will use to support your thesis. Under each main point, write the important supporting points that will ‘prove’ this main point. Use Roman numerals, numbers, and letters to organize your main points and supporting ideas.

Essay Outline
Outline

2. Drafting:

The hard work you’ve put into the planning of your project will pay off in this stage of the process. Use your freewriting, outline, and mind map/web to help you write.

  • Keep these elements close at hand as you write, but don’t feel married to them. As you draft, new ideas will come. This is actually a good thing, a sign of your growing knowledge! Follow those new ideas when they come, and then return to your outline or mind map, adjusting it as needed to fit your new ideas.
  • If you get stuck on one part of the essay, come back to it later. This probably means you need more time to think about this section.
  • Remember that NO draft is perfect. Turn off the inner editor and simply write. Page quotas generally work better than time limits. If you sit down to write for ‘two hours,’ you may pass that time without writing anything at all. But if you vow to write two pages in one sitting, then, before you know it, you will have a number of pages!

3. Revision:

Now that you have a draft, you can begin revisions. Look for any problematic areas in your draft. Try printing your text to make notes in the margins as you read, and consider enlisting additional readers who will give you honest feedback.

  • Pay close attention to the higher order, or global issues: identify areas that feel unclear, unconvincing, or incomplete.
  • Consider the essay’s organization: are the paragraphs arranged logically, enabling readers to progress easily from one idea to the next?
  • What about sentence arrangement: do the sentences lead smoothly from one thought to the next? Do all the sentences within the paragraph address the same topic or would any of the sentences work better in a different paragraph?

And Back Again:

Now comes the recursive aspect of the process: Once you have made your revision notes, return to previous stages of the writing process to carry out those revisions: you may need to create new outlines or mind maps/webs to better organize the essay or complete underdeveloped sections of your draft. You will also most certainly return to the drafting stage, as you write new content and rework existing material.

  • Then, it’s back to the revision stage. Read your newest draft, make your revision notes, and then carry them out with more planning and drafting.
  • Continue this process until the draft is the best it can be–or until you have reached your writing deadline. A general rule is that at least five revisions are required to create a strong finished product!

Lesson Summary

The process approach to writing is an efficient method for producing quality work. The process consists of three stages: planning, drafting, and revision. Outlines and mind-maps/webs facilitate content development and organization during the planning stage while the drafting and revision stages allow writers to refine their work. This recursive technique enables writers to improve their work with each draft.

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