The Writing Process


Whether writing a paper for school or a document for work, high-stakes writing requires careful thought and execution. The steps involved in this form of writing constitute a writing process. Even though everyone ultimately has his/her own process for getting ideas down on paper and turning those ideas into a finished product, there are identifiable steps involved in the process of writing that can be defined, developed, and discussed. These steps include:

  • Getting Started (from deciphering a writing task assignment to getting your initial thoughts on a topic on paper)
  • Drafting (from organizing your ideas, to strategies for refining drafts to dealing with writer's block)
  • Organization and Structure
  • Gathering and Using Feedback (from responding to comments to using comments constructively)
  • Revising, Editing, Proofreading

Common Types of Writing Assignments (Univ. of WI-Madison Writing Center)
Links to separate guides on different types of writing assignments from literary analysis to research papers to scientific reports.

If I Were a Carpenter: The Tools of the Writer (Roy Peter Clark, Senior Scholar at The Poynter Institute and director of the National Writers' Workshop)

Includes 20 of the best writing tips that Clark has learned from reporters, editors, authors, teachers, and coaches.

Stages of the Writing Process (Univ. of WI-Madison Writing Center)
A series of online guides on the different stages of the writing process: planning to write, creating an argument, working with sources, drafting and revising your paper and finishing your paper.

Ten Steps to Writing an Essay (Tom Johnson, The American University in Cairo)
A 10-step guide to writing a college essay. The steps covered are research, analysis, brainstorming, thesis, outline, introduction, paragraphs, conclusion, MLA style, and language. The site also includes practice exercises.

The Writing Process (Purdue OWL)
The highly regarded OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue University offers a large collection of online guides on writing that are updated regularly and cover a myriad of topics. This is a link to their page on the writing process.

A Writer's Reference Companion Website (Diana Hacker / Bedford St. Martin's)
Includes exercises, tutorials, helpsheets, research and documentation guidelines, model papers, and other resources.

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Before you begin writing, there are a few steps you can take to help you prepare yourself for the task at hand. The first step in any writing task is to understand what you need to write. In a classroom setting, this means understanding the assignment. In a professional setting, this means studying the publication: its audience, writer's guidelines, and editorial reviewers. And in a business setting, it means identifying and understanding the needs of your customers.

Once you have an idea of what you need to write and why, you can begin brainstorming and generating ideas on what you want to write. Below are resources on prewriting, also known as invention, in the writing process.

Beginning the Academic Essay (Harvard College Writing Center)
"The writer of the academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence. The beginning of the essay is a crucial first step in this process. In order to engage readers and establish your authority, the beginning of your essay has to accomplish certain business. Your beginning should introduce the essay, focus it, and orient readers."

Checklist for Assessing the Writing Situation (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) A list of rhetorical questions for writers to ask themselves to better define their topic, purpose, audience, research, assignment guidelines, and overall scope.

Developing an Outline (Purdue OWL) This guide demonstrates how to develop an outline for a first draft.

Getting Started (Pace University Writing Center Turbo Tips) Posted on iTunes U: May 6 2009 | length: 1:45 / Access: iTunes U "Not sure how to begin your paper? Stuck on a topic? Not sure where to begin? Listen to this short podcast about how to get yourself started quickly and easily!"

Getting Started: Student Writers (Bedford/St. Martin's) Video (4:15 min.), transcript, questions

The Perils of Writer's Block: A Poem (Pace University Writing Center Turbo Tips) Posted on iTunes U: April 10 2009| length: :40 / Access: iTunes U "We all hate writer's block and this fun poem will give you an opportunity to rant and rave with our very own consultants!"

Preparing to Write (Writing@CSU)
An online writing activity that walks the writer through a series of questions to help the writer think through the planning stages of a writing project. To access these exercises, you need to register with Writing@CSU. Registration is fast and simple.

Prewriting (Invention) (Purdue OWL)
This guide introduces the writer to strategies and techniques for developing an idea for a writing assignment through a series of questions.

Prewriting (Invention)(Purdue OWL on iTunes U)
Last Modified: Feb.27, 2009 | Length: 4:31
This is a podcast of their Prewriting guide. Using questions as the tool for brainstorming, this guide helps the writer use more and more focused questions to explore and narrow a topic for writing. Purdue OWL on iTunes U is only accessible through the Purdue Boilercast page. Once at the Boilercast page, click on the navigation link to the left for "Access Public Files on iTunesU," which is located under Boilercast Student Resources. This will launch Purdue's private iTunesU site through your iTunes account. Once iTunesU Purdue is open, scroll down and click on the "Online Writing Lab" link in the "Around Purdue" section. From there, click on the "OWL Podcasting" and select "Invention and Prewriting".

Prewriting Activities (Purdue OWL) "This handout covers major topics relating to writing about fiction. This covers prewriting, close reading, thesis development, drafting, and common pitfalls to avoid."

Starting the Writing Process (Purdue OWL)
This guide addresses how to begin thinking about a writing project.

Subjects for Writing (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) A broad list of topics that writers can browse through to get ideas as they move toward their own topic selection. Any subject on the list can serve as a good starting point, but should be narrowed and focused by the writer.

Understanding an Assignment (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) A handout that offers students tips on what they should do when they receive an assignment to ensure they understand the assignment and their instructors' expectations.

Understanding the Assignment (MIT Online Writing and Communication Center) When you get a writing task, the first step is to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. This guide explains how to understand a writing assignment.

Understanding Writing Assignments (Purdue OWL) "This resource describes some steps you can take to better understand the requirements of your writing assignments. This resource works for either in-class, teacher-led discussion or for personal use."

Ways to Narrow a Subject to a Topic (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) Includes suggestions on how to make your topic more manageable by assessing your purpose, audience, and available resources.

Write a Great Essay Using The Topoi (USC College Writing Program Senior Lecturer Mark Marino)
Posted on YouTube: Oct. 27, 2008 | length: 10:22
This video demonstrates how to brainstorm a topic using the prewriting strategy called "Topoi."

Writer's Block / Writer's Anxiety (Purdue OWL)
This guide discusses the causes and provides ideas and suggestions for dealing with writer's block.

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Prior to writing and during the drafting stage, you should be thinking about the central claim - also known as the thesis or argument - of your paper. Developing a single statement that clearly articulates the main argument of your paper is a key component to writing a strong paper. As you delve futher into research and exploration, your argument may change slightly or drastically; thus, you should continually reread and revise your central claim so that it provides a true representation of your paper. Many people like to think of a central claim as a roadmap of the paper, as it offers your readers a guide for where the paper is headed. Usually a central claim is written at the end of an introduction, though it may be present anywhere in your paper.

Developing a Thesis Statement (Writer's Handbook Online, Univ. of Wisconsin Writing Center) Offers a step-by-step approach to developing a thesis statement, from defining a topic to drafting a statement and finalizing it.

How to Write a Thesis Statement (Indiana University Writing Tutorial Services) Covers what a thesis statement is, why your paper needs one, and how to write/assess a thesis statement based on the following:

The Thesis Statement: A Roadmap for Your Essay (Modesto Junior College)
A PowerPoint presentation (approximately 20 slides) that uses many examples to help you understand what a thesis statement looks like and where you might add it to your paper.

What is a Thesis? (Academic Resource Center, Wheeling Jesuit Univ.) (PDF)
Uses Roadmap + so what? = Thesis formula to demonstrate how to develop a strong thesis.

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Now you're ready to put your ideas together and produce a first draft. This early and rough draft will lead you to your second, third, and fourth drafts as you continue to conduct more research and refine your ideas.

Drafting Your Essay (Purdue OWL) "This handout covers major topics relating to writing about fiction. This covers prewriting, close reading, thesis development, drafting, and common pitfalls to avoid."

Planning, Drafting, & Organizing (Writing@CSU)
A series of online writing activities that uses a technique called cubing to walk the writer through planning, drafting and organizing your writing. To access these exercises, you need to register with Writing@CSU. Registration is fast and simple.

The Structure of an Essay Draft (Univ. of Arizona) Tips for drafting your introduction, body, and conclusion.
(Handout based on Hacker's A Writer's Reference)

Writing a First Draft (Portland State) "In this section, we explore how to get words on paper and feel good about them. Though the process of actually composing sentences and paragraphs into a full draft is often shrouded in mystery (or at least not discussed in much detail), most writers keep a few guidelines in mind as they compose a first draft."

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Sometimes writers have difficulties beginning and ending their papers. However, many effective introductions share similar elements - a hook, context, your argument, etc. - depending on the type of paper being composed. Likewise, many introductions and conclusions attempt to convey the "so what" factor, or why your reader should care about the subject. If you get stuck when writing the introduction, you might try moving onto your body paragraphs and then writing the introduction after the rest of your draft is complete. The websites listed below also provide a number of useful strategies and tips.

Conclusion Strategies (MIT Online Writing and Communication Center; Click here for a full list of their online resources for writers)
Examples of strategies to use in writing an introduction for a college essay.

Ending the Essay: Conclusions (Writing Center at Harvard University) Offers strategies on how to provide readers with closure at the end of your essay or leave them thinking critically about the larger implications. It also provides some suggestions on ways not to end an essay.

Introductions (Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center) "This handout will explain the functions of introductions, offer strategies for writing effective ones, help you check your drafted introductions, and provide you with examples of introductions to be avoided."

Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions for Argument Papers (Purdue OWL)
This guide addresses how to develop the key parts of a paper: the introduction, the body and the conclusion. There is a similar guide for writing exploratory papers.

Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions for Exploratory Papers (Purdue OWL)
This guide addresses how to develop the key parts of a paper: the introduction, the body and the conclusion. There is a similar guide for writing argument papers.

Introduction Strategies (MIT Online Writing and Communication Center; Click here for a full list of their online resources for writers)
Examples of strategies to use in writing an introduction for a college essay.

Presentation on Introductions and Conclusions (PDF) (Vanguard Writing Center)
Includes activities and exercises to engage groups in critiquing and revising introductions and conclusions.

Strategies for Concluding an Essay (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) A handout that offers five strategies that most effective conclusions use.

Strategies for Writing a Conclusion (LEO: Literacy Education Online) Includes strategies for approaching a conclusion with examples of how to incorporate them.

Strong Introductions and Effective Titles (Owens Community College Writing Center) Tips on how to make your title and introduction the most effective.

Writing Introductions (Franklin and Marshall College Writing Center) A handout that breaks the introductory paragraph into manageable units - the opening sentence, middle sentences, and thesis statement. It also includes a sample effective introductory paragraph and ineffective introductory paragraph.

Writing Strong Introductions and Conclusions (Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania) Presents "five basic methods for concluding your paper in a way that will leave your reader intrigued and impressed": anecdote, basic summary, startling summary, famous ideas, and hinting at related issues.

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The organization of your paper should always be intentional. Whether you choose to structure your ideas chronologically, thematically, or in some other way, you should be thinking about the most effective way to present your argument to readers. You should also be able to clearly see how ideas are interwoven. Within each individual paragraph and between multiple paragraphs, you should seamlessly transition between concepts so your readers never lose track of your thought process.

Considering Structure and Organization (Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth) "Writing papers in college requires that you come up with sophisticated, complex, and even creative ways of structuring your ideas. Accordingly, there are no simple formulae that we can offer you that will work for every paper, every time. We can, however, give you some things to think about that will help you as you consider how to structure your paper." Click here for a full list of their online guides for academic writing.

Order of Ideas (Purdue OWL) "This resource deals with order of ideas."

Organizing an Exploratory Essay (Purdue OWL) "This resource will help you with exploratory/inquiry essay assignments."

Organizing your Analysis (Purdue OWL) "This resource covers how to write a rhetorical analysis essay of primarily visual texts with a focus on demonstrating the author’s understanding of the rhetorical situation and design principles."

Organizing your Argument (Purdue OWL) Explains the Toulmin Method of logic/argumentation and offers an example.

Transitions (The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) "This handout will introduce you to some useful transitional expressions and help you employ them effectively."

Writing: Considering Structure and Organization (Institute for Writing and Rhetoric at Dartmouth) "Writing papers in college requires that you come up with sophisticated, complex, and even creative ways of structuring your ideas. Accordingly, there are no simple formulae that we can offer you that will work for every paper, every time. We can, however, give you some things to think about that will help you as you consider how to structure your paper."

Writing Tips: Essay Organization (Univ. of Nevada, Las Vegas) Describes different ways to organize an essay depending on the type of paper you're writing and emphasizes the value in doing outlines and reverse outlines.

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Because writing is meant to be read, one of the best ways to improve your writing is to have others read your work. In academic circles this is called peer review. In business, it is just called review. Your instructor might also give you feedback with the opportunity to revise. Gathering this feedback and using it constructively is a vital step in producing a quality piece of writing.

Challenges of Good Writing ? Part 3: Asking for Feedback (Arizona State University at iTunes U--ASU Challenges of Good Writing - Asking for Feedback)
Posted on iTunes U: March 11, 2009 | length: 13:45
"Dr Jeanne Simpson, Director of the ASU Writing Centers, interviews professors from a variety of disciplines regarding exemplary writing in their fields These professors share their thoughts, challenges, and frustrations about the writing process.

Getting Feedback(University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center; Click here for a full list of their online handouts) "Sometimes you'd like feedback from someone else about your writing, but you may not be sure how to get it. This handout describes when, where, how and from whom you might receive effective responses as you develop as a writer."

Peer Review (Tom Johnson, The American University in Cairo)
A guide on peer review that addresses why and how to do peer review. It's linked to a document "17 Self Review Questions."

Peer Reviewers Gone Wild (YouTube - lmcmillan6176)
Posted on YouTube: January 5, 2008 | length 8:20
"Composition students who call themselves McMillan's Villains show the potential pitfalls and positives of peer review through nutty daydream sequences."

Peer Reviews: Responding to a Draft (University of Wisconsin - Madison Writing Center. This is part of the Writing Center's online Writer's Handbook)
An outline that walks a student through how to response to a draft paper, what to focus on, and how to critique.

Rewriting: Getting Feedback (University of Maryland University College)
From Chapter 2 "The Writing Process" in the Online Guide to Writing and Research from the University of Maryland University College. This page presents a series of checklists to direct the person reviewing your writing to particular areas and provide more focused feedback.

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When you submit a paper to a teacher for a grade, a journal for possible publication, or a customer or colleague in a business setting, you want your writing to be the best it can be in presenting your ideas. If your paper is riddled with pesky typos, misspelled words, or grammatical and punctuation errors, the reader will only focus on the errors. You need to edit and proofread your work closely so your reader focuses on the quality of your ideas.

Checklist for Global Revision (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's ReferenceCompanion Website) "Because the process of global revision can be overwhelming, approach it in cycles, with each cycle encompassing a particular purpose for revising. Five common cycles of global revision are included in this checklist. You can handle these cycles in nearly any order, and you may even skip or combine some of them."

Checklists for Sentence-Level Revision and Editing (PDF) (Hacker A Writer's Reference Companion Website) Two checklists (one for sentence-level revision and the other for editing) that can guide writers when revising. Writers can customize them according to their own common errors.

Editing & Proofreading (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center)
A handout on the differences between editing and proofreading with tips and strategies for revising and editing your own writing.

"The The Impotence of Proofreading"(YouTube - Taylor Mali)
Posted on YouTube: August 14, 2008 | length: 3:30
A live recitation of a hysterical poem about proofreading by high school teacher and poet Taylor Mali.

Proofreading for Common Surface Errors: Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar (Indiana University Bloomington Writing Tutorial Services)
This online pamphlet explains proofreading and then offers steps to help you become a better proofreader of your own writing.

Proofreading Your Writing (Purdue OWL)
Strategies for reviewing your finished writing to catch grammar and punctuation errors.

Questions to Prompt Revision (Writing@CSU)
"This tutorial can help you revise your drafts by directing your attention to the main elements most readers react to when reading." To access these exercises, you need to register with Writing@CSU. Registration is fast and simple.

Reverse Outlining: An Exercise for Taking Notes and Revising Your Work (Purdue OWL)
This guide provides a specific strategy of revising your paper by making an outline of a paper after it has been written to see what works and what is missing.

Revising: Real-World Writers (Re: Writing from Bedford/St. Martin's)
A video and transcipt of real-world writers discussing their revision processes. There is also a series of questions included to help you think about your own revision process.

Revision (Pace University Writing Center Turbo Tips)
Posted on iTunes U: April 10 2009 | length: 2:04
"This short podcast will show you effective ways to look at your finished paper and improve it on your own."

Writers Guide: Self Editing Basics (Kari Wethington, Expert
Posted on YouTube: April 4, 2008 | length 1:14
This is a 1-minute video on 5 basic editing tips. This is part of a series that includes other 1-2 minute grammar tips that are practical and use real world examples. Other topics in the series include:

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You may not always have time to go through the steps writing a well-developed essay usually requires. This section provides background information and strategies you can use for completing the GRE Analytical Writing section or other timed essay tests.

For the GRE:

GRE – Prepare for the Test: Analytical Writing (ETS)An introduction to the Analytical Writing portion of the GRE that includes tips on how to prepare, information on scoring, and sample tasks. The GRE Analytical Writing prompts will ask you to analyze an issue and analyze an argument. In order to prepare for the test, you may want to review the topic pool for issue tasks and topic pool for argument tasks that have been published by the GRE.

How to Write a Perfect GRE Analytical Writing Essay (Lea Barton, Yahoo!) Barton, who achieved a perfect score on the Analytical Writing portion of the GRE, offers seven steps to writing a successful essay for the test.

An Introduction to the Analytical Writing Section of the GRE revised General Test (ETS, 2010) (PDF) “The publication includes a description of the section, strategies for each task, scoring information, scoring guides, score level descriptions, a sample test, and essay responses with reader commentary.”

For any timed essay:

Strategies for Taking the Essay Exam or Timed Essay (Jon Plaisted, Stony Brook University, Program in Writing & Rhetoric)Ten tips for writing a timed essay, from preparing to proofreading.

Strategies for Timed Essays (Barbara Z. Johnson, University of Minnesota Duluth)“Timed essays are one of the most stressful assessment activities a student will ever encounter! Here are some tips to use in managing the timed essay and a list of further resources.”

Timed Essay Strategies (Karen Wong and Rachel Bell of Skyline College, Accessed through the California State University Northridge Learning Resource Center) A handout that was designed “to help students who have to take essay writing exams during midterms and finals, and also students who are transferring to universities that require an essay entrance exam.”

A Timed Writing Strategy (University of Montana, Upper Division Writing Proficiency Assessment)A four-step plan for tackling a timed writing task.

Writing Essays for Exams (Purdue OWL)“While most OWL resources recommend a longer writing process (start early, revise often, conduct thorough research, etc.), sometimes you just have to write quickly in test situations. However, these exam essays can be no less important pieces of writing than research papers because they can influence final grades for courses, and/or they can mean the difference between getting into an academic program (GED, SAT, GRE). To that end, this resource will help you prepare and write essays for exams.”