Overview of the Writing Process

Six Stages of the Writing Process

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Writing can be daunting for many students. There are so many aspects to writing: coming up with good ideas, using good grammar and spelling, making the writing interesting, staying on topic, and so on. Trying to juggle all of these can be frustrating. Looking at writing as a process rather than a simple action helps writers focus on one task at a time. By breaking a writing task into separate activities, writers can focus their attention, avoid distraction, and write successfully. In this way writers can avoid frustration, despair--and the garbage pail of crumpled pages.

Writing process means breaking a writing assignment into separate functions, each with its own purpose and goal. In general, writers have to choose a subject (and reason for writing about it), find details to support their subject, organize their materials, revise for effectiveness, edit the language, and proofread and format the final version of the writing.

Prewriting

Try to sit down, put pen to paper, and write without making any mistakes. You'll end up hating writing, and you will be very frustrated. Prewriting takes the stress out of beginning a writing project by letting a writer scribble away without worrying about "perfection." Prewriting recognizes that writers need to think about their topic before beginning. Sometimes it's necessary to do some research, if the subject of a paper is unfamiliar. And even for the familiar subject, it helps writers to sort through their ideas or memories.

Anything that a writer does to prepare for writing that involves gathering details and ideas is prewriting. Talking with a friend about a writing assignment, brainstorming a list of details, freewriting to see what the writer already knows, reading and talking notes from sources--these are just some of the ways a writer prewrites.

And this isn't just wasted effort--although sometimes it can feel that way. All of the stumbling around, false starts, scribbled notes that a writer does to get started are like a dog trying to pick up a scent--necessary in order to nose out the trail to be followed.

Drafting

Sooner or later, writers have to start pulling together all of the ideas and details discovered during prewriting and make some sense out of the mess. The drafting stage of prewriting involves sorting through the morass of materials the writer has gathered and selecting those things which will best help the writer develop the central idea he or she has decided on. The key during this stage of the writing process is to get the big picture and support it with enough details to feel convincing.

Some writers do this by writing an actual draft of the paper. Others create a scratch outline. Sometimes the writer's choice depends on the anticipated length and complexity or genre (kind) of the final version of the paper. For a research paper, the writer may first put together a scratch outline and then complete a first draft of the paper. In any case, the writer's goal is a rough sketch of the finished product committed to paper or a computer file (rather than floating in the writer's mind).

Revising

The real work of writing is rewriting. This is the stage where writers bring all of their critical abilities to bear. During rewriting, writers strive to flesh out the rough sketch made during the drafting stage, give it shape, dimension, and depth. Foremost in the writer's mind is the audience for the finished work. During this stage writers strive to go beyond making sense to themselves and aim to see the writing from the mind of their audience. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every element of punctuation is scrutinized. In general, the rewriting process involves revision, re-seeing the paper as a whole from the perspective of the anticipated audience; editing, revising the language for effectiveness; and proofreading for correct punctuation, spelling, and other elements of document format.

©2002-3, Bill Stifler