The writing process can sometimes feel overwhelming. Try not to let it stress you out! Even professional writers experience fear and anxiety when it comes to putting their thoughts on paper, so know that you’re not alone.
Writing requires vulnerability, motivation, and determination. If you break it down into pieces, however, the process should hopefully feel a bit easier. Remember, our writing tutor can always help you throughout any part of this process, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help! In the meantime, here are some tips to keep in mind:
First Drafts & Brainstorming
Well, here you are. You have a great idea you’re burning to write about, or you have an assignment you need to finish. Here is some advice to get you started.
1. Ask yourself, “What is my mission?” Read the assignment description carefully, then e-mail your teacher or a writing center tutor if you don’t understand what is being asked of you.
2. Now ask, “Do I need to plan, research, read, or can I just start?” If this is a journal entry or a discussion post, you should just get your thoughts down and touch them up later. If you need to write an essay or research paper, however, you need to take a step back and make a research plan and outline (or brainstorm if you don’t know your topic yet). After you’ve read what you need to read, begin your outline, or just start writing. Sometimes getting your thoughts on paper is what you need to push you further along. You can always tweak the organizational scheme and grammar after the fact, so don’t let those components hold you back.
3. Lastly, think to yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We’re often intimidated by how many options and how many ways there are to get an assignment wrong – so we put off writing until the very last second. This can leave the composition disorganized and filled with accidental errors. If you notice yourself putting this off, write down something instead of nothing. Maybe (but probably not) your instructor will hate it and you will fail, but procrastinating is likely to lead to an outcome that’s much worse!
Drafting & Revision
Congratulations! If you’ve finished your first draft and have composed something that meets the length requirement, you are most of the way there. Now it’s time for the fun part!
It’s time to look back to your work so that someone who reads it understands fully, and so that your words come across in a way that conveys your intentions. If this is a short journal or discussion post, you only need to read through once and fix any unclear parts. If this is an essay or major assignment, follow these three steps to get your writing ready for review:
1. Give it 24 hours. If you just wrote your first draft, take some sort of break. Your mind will work on it even while you aren’t thinking, and 24-hours or even a nap will be ideal to give you new insight. You’ll be amazed, and you’ll enjoy your writing more.
2. Skim. This means you should look over your writing to make sure each paragraph discusses one (and only one thing). Make sure that one thing is clear, is not too short or long (it should be sufficiently developed so that your main idea is supported and makes sense) and has clear transitions between itself and other paragraphs that come before or after it.
3. Read through slowly, preferably out loud, and think about how it might sound to a classmate, family member, or trusted friend. Are you repeating yourself? Are your quotes clear? Are they properly attributed? Is your tone engaging?
If you’ve completed a first draft and revised following these steps, show it to someone if you can, then take their thoughts to heart, revise, and finish up your essay by doing a careful last reading. You can always send it to a writing tutor for review! You’ll receive feedback with 48-hours, so plan accordingly. Simply e-mail the draft, and in the meantime, relax. You deserve a break!
Proofreading & Citations
You’ve drafted; your paper’s clear; you’ve gotten feedback. Are we there yet? The last essential step is proofreading. This is like when you vacuum out your car or enter your notes into a patient’s chart at the end of your rotation–you’ve got to do it, even if it’s tedious! This is where you are skimming your paper for any references or citations and hunting for the smallest of errors. The reason for proofreading is that it shows your instructor respect and makes it looks like you care about your patients, your work, and your thoughts–don’t show up to an interview in a Skyline shirt!
Follow these steps to complete your paper, and then send it in! You’re almost finished!
1. Re-read the assignment description (skimming it to remember is fine). You could write the most awesome essay ever, but if your instructor asked for a personal narrative and you submitted a research paper or missed the recommended format, you won’t get a good grade. Double check it!
2. Review format requirements–if your teacher gave specifics, follow them. Otherwise, be sure everything is properly cited in APA style. Remember the first word from each citation in your References is what you put in parentheses after quotes in the main part of your paper.
3. Don’t stress, and read through one time carefully, writing down any questions you’re unsure about related to format or the teacher’s requirement. For every error you find, congratulate yourself, fix it, and keep moving on, as errors happen to the best of us! Even in your final draft–the main thing is to be clear and to acknowledge (through a citation) other people’s ideas when you use them.
You are finished. Send it in!