Guidelines for Writing
The Three-Step Writing Process: Plan, Draft, Revise!
Writing is a process. It can be improved by experience and technique. This section provides some best practice techniques to improve your writing. These tips are organized around each of the three basic steps to develop any kind of document: 1) plan, 2) draft, and 3) revise. These steps comprise an iterative process, building to the final document.
Step 1: Planning
Avoid writing without thinking about what you are trying to do. A good portion of the total time you devote to the document perhaps a quarter or a third should be devoted to thinking about the direction the document should take.
How to start planning:
Here are six suggestions for planning the document:
- Analyze your audience. Think about their interests in reading your message; how will it address their “what’s in it for me?” question. Your audience can also include your professor. Pay close attention to all guidelines and recommendations provided.
- Analyze your purpose. Consider two types of purposes: 1) what the project is intended to accomplish, and 2) what the document is intended to accomplish (i.e. what you want your audience to know and do with the information).
- Conduct your research and gather materials. Use the library, online databases, professional magazines and journals. Immediately write down the full reference for any useful source you find to include in your list of references.
- Figure out what you’re going to say before you start making sentences and paragraphs. Brainstorm the topic, listing or outlining ideas that might belong in the document. Organize your ideas around a central theme, and state it early in the document. Support and analyze throughout, and recap how the central theme has been addressed again in the conclusion section.
- Arrange the material. Group related material by linking related topics in your brainstormed list, and determine the best sequence based on your audience and purpose. Now, compose an outline for these sequenced topics.
- Run it past someone else. Finally, check your plan against the assignment instructions, and perhaps even your instructor. Are you addressing all the questions? Are you accomplishing the “spirit” or intent of the assignment? Be sure to make the effort to incorporate specific suggestions or guidance in your final document.
Step 2: Drafting
Write the first draft quickly to capture the general idea of the points you are trying to get across. Support those ideas and points with properly cited evidence, examples, or data. Leave the polishing until later.
There are two main reasons to draft quickly. The first is to stay focused on the big picture. Second, the sentences will mesh better, the rhythms will be more conversational, and your word choice will be more natural. You will have less editing to do later.
How to draft quickly:
Here are three suggestions:
- Draft for a certain period of time, without stopping. About an hour or two is the longest most people can stand.
- Don’t start at the beginning. Instead, begin with a section you know well, and draft it quickly. Move your cursor around from spot to spot on the outline.
- Use abbreviations. Later, use search and replace. If you are writing about potentiometers, instead type something like p*. In the final document, be sure that abbreviations are clarified, as well as acronyms. Show the complete terminology in parentheses for the first use with the acronym or abbreviation you will use going forward.
Step 3: Revising
Revision may require several iterations before the document is complete. It is a mistake to think that you can read the draft once and do a thorough job revising. To revise effectively may require a third of the total time you devote to the document.
How to revise effectively:
Here are some suggestions to make your revising more effective.
- Let it sit, at least overnight.
- Get help. If possible, have someone read through the draft, then talk to that person about it. The campus Writing Center is an excellent resource available for you to use.
- Look for different kinds of problems as you revise. Go through the document several times. Start with the bigger issues.
- Revise sentences. Try to write sentences so that the subject – the object, person or idea that you are talking about – comes at the start and the main action is in a clear, simple verb.
- Read for content. Ensure that your ideas flow logically, and that conclusions or analyses are supported by specific examples.
- Be careful with style and spell checkers. They can detect errors, but may not provide the correct word usage and spelling (i.e. “dear” versus “deer”). There are no substitutes for your reading and comprehending each word and sentence.
An ‘A’ versus a ‘C’ paper
As you are reading and rereading your paper during revision, check these things that separate the ‘A’ from the ‘C’ grades:
- Use headings.
- Use bulleted and numbered lists appropriately.
- Create topic sentences for paragraphs.
- Create focused paragraphs.
- Choose the simplest and most common word. Instead of writing “It is necessary that state-of-the-art communication modalities be utilized,” write, “We should use state-of- the-art communication tools.”
- Avoid words that do not add meaning. For example, instead of writing “It should be noted that caffeine is a stimulant,” write, “Caffeine is a stimulant.”