Creating a successful paper is a different process for everyone. Some writers require complete silence with no distractions, while others crave noise while they work. While no guide can help you find what situations will work best for you to write, there are steps in the writing process that promote a cleaner, better final draft. The general steps are: discovery\investigation, prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing.
The first step in writing a successful paper in college requires an active engagement with your sources. Simply reading a primary source for content is no longer sufficient. The question should no longer be “What happened?” but rather “Why did that happen? What does that say about the character(s)/plot?” Make notes of your thoughts and ideas as you read.
Once the writer has finished an active reading of the primary source, it may be necessary to obtain secondary sources to back up the thesis. If your research yields books, remember that it is not necessary to read the entire book. You can either look for a chapter title that you believe will have information pertinent to your paper, or look at the index for terms that you will be discussing. Peer-reviewed journals available online will be your most commonly used secondary resource. Use the online searches through the Knight-Capron Library, but remember that other search engines, such as Google Scholar, can yield results.
Prewriting is the step in which tools such as free writing, brainstorming, outlining, or clustering are used. In prewriting, no idea is too off topic or too strange. It is these sometimes dissociative ideas that can lead you to a paper topic that you never would have considered. Though the common perception is that there is nothing that hasn’t been written about before, if you allow yourself to think outside the box, you can find a way of looking at an old topic through new eyes.
It is also during prewriting that the writer needs to make a decision about audience. Asking questions like: “Who is going to read my paper?”, “What is the purpose of this paper?”, and “Why are they going to read my paper?” will help you set your audience. The simple answer to these questions is “My professor” and “Because they assigned it.” they are not the true answers. It could be that your paper needs to be geared towards elementary level students or participants in a seminar or peers at a conference. The language and tone for either of those audiences would be very different.
Drafting is the beginning of “writing” your paper. It is important to remember that in drafting you should already have a thesis idea to guide your writing. Without a thesis, your writing will be prone to drift, making it harder to frame after the fact. In drafting, the writer should use materials created in the prewriting stage and any notes taken in discovery and investigation to frame and build body paragraphs. Many writers will tackle their body paragraphs first instead of beginning with an introduction (especially if you are not sure of the exact direction of your paper). Beginning with body paragraphs will allow you to work through your ideas without feeling restricted by a specific thesis, but be prepared to delete paragraphs that don’t fit. Afterwards, create an opening paragraph (with an appropriate revised thesis) that reflects the body of your essay.
There are two different scopes of revision: global and local. Global revision involves looking for issues like cohesion and the overall progression of your paper. If your paper has paragraphs that do not flow into each other, but change topic abruptly only to return to a previous thought later, your paper has poor cohesion. If your topics change from paragraph to paragraph, it is necessary to either consider altering the order of your paragraph and/or revising your writing either by adding to existing paragraphs or creating new ones that explain your change in topic. A paper that includes smooth transitions is significantly easier to read and understand. It is preferable to keep all like thoughts together and to arrange your paragraphs in such a way that your argument builds, rather than laying everything out with equal weight. Though the blueprint for your paper is in the thesis, your main point, the end result of your argument should not come early in the paper, but at the end. Allow the early paragraphs serve as examples and information to build to your conclusions.
Local issues involve looking for clarity in sentences, ensuring coherence with your ideas. The greatest asset to avoiding and fixing local issues is to use varied sentence structure and to avoid using the same words repeatedly. Repeating the same sentence structure can make your paper feel mechanical and make an interesting topic feel boring.
The final stage in writing a paper requires a review of what you have written. In this last read of your paper, you should look for any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors that have slipped through the cracks during the revising stage, or that were introduced in your revisions. Reading your paper aloud, or asking a friend to read your paper to you is a good way to catch errors. Often if you read your own paper, especially out loud, you can catch errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Though this step seems minor within the process of writing, it is an easy way to prevent the loss of points over simple mistakes.
Formatting, Inner-text citation, and Works Cited
The formatting required for your paper will change depending on the field of your topic. Generally, the sciences and business and economics use APA or CSE formatting. English, and other humanities will use MLA, and History uses Chicago. The appearance of inner-text citations, and Works cited page will all be affected by these different formats. Consult your syllabus or ask your professor to learn what format you should use. Guides for APA, Chicago, and MLA are available online.
Invention: Starting the Writing Process
Tips for how to start a writing assignment.
Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2018-01-31 03:45:19
Writing takes time
Find out when is the assignment due and devise a plan of action. This may seem obvious and irrelevant to the writing process, but it's not. Writing is a process, not merely a product. Even the best professional writers don't just sit down at a computer, write, and call it a day. The quality of your writing will reflect the time and forethought you put into the assignment. Plan ahead for the assignment by doing pre-writing: this will allow you to be more productive and organized when you sit down to write. Also, schedule several blocks of time to devote to your writing; then, you can walk away from it for a while and come back later to make changes and revisions with a fresh mind.
Use the rhetorical elements as a guide to think through your writing
Thinking about your assignment in terms of the rhetorical situation can help guide you in the beginning of the writing process. Topic, audience, genre, style, opportunity, research, the writer, and purpose are just a few elements that make up the rhetorical situation.
Topic and audience are often very intertwined and work to inform each other. Start with a broad view of your topic such as skateboarding, pollution, or the novel Jane Eyre and then try to focus or refine your topic into a concise thesis statement by thinking about your audience. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about audience:
- Who is the audience for your writing?
- Do you think your audience is interested in the topic? Why or why not?
- Why should your audience be interested in this topic?
- What does your audience already know about this topic?
- What does your audience need to know about this topic?
- What experiences has your audience had that would influence them on this topic?
- What do you hope the audience will gain from your text?
For example, imagine that your broad topic is dorm food. Who is your audience? You could be writing to current students, prospective students, parents of students, university administrators, or nutrition experts among others. Each of these groups would have different experiences with and interests in the topic of dorm food. While students might be more concerned with the taste of the food or the hours food is available, parents might be more concerned with the price.
You can also think about opportunity as a way to refine or focus your topic by asking yourself what current events make your topic relevant at this moment. For example, you could connect the nutritional value of dorm food to the current debate about the obesity epidemic or you could connect the price value of dorm food to the rising cost of a college education overall.
Keep in mind the purpose of the writing assignment.
Writing can have many different purposes. Here are just a few examples:
- Summarizing: Presenting the main points or essence of another text in a condensed form
- Arguing/Persuading: Expressing a viewpoint on an issue or topic in an effort to convince others that your viewpoint is correct
- Narrating: Telling a story or giving an account of events
- Evaluating: Examining something in order to determine its value or worth based on a set of criteria.
- Analyzing: Breaking a topic down into its component parts in order to examine the relationships between the parts.
- Responding: Writing that is in a direct dialogue with another text.
- Examining/Investigating: Systematically questioning a topic to discover or uncover facts that are not widely known or accepted, in a way that strives to be as neutral and objective as possible.
- Observing: Helping the reader see and understand a person, place, object, image or event that you have directly watched or experienced through detailed sensory descriptions.
You could be observing your dorm cafeteria to see what types of food students are actually eating, you could be evaluating the quality of the food based on freshness and quantity, or you could be narrating a story about how you gained fifteen pounds your first year at college.
You may need to use several of these writing strategies within your paper. For example, you could summarize federal nutrition guidelines, evaluate whether the food being served at the dorm fits those guidelines, and then argue that changes should be made in the menus to better fit those guidelines.
Once you have thesis statement just start writing! Don't feel constrained by format issues. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or writing in complete sentences. Brainstorm and write down everything you can think of that might relate to the thesis and then reread and evaluate the ideas you generated. It's easier to cut out bad ideas than to only think of good ones. Once you have a handful of useful ways to approach the thesis you can use a basic outline structure to begin to think about organization. Remember to be flexible; this is just a way to get you writing. If better ideas occur to you as you're writing, don't be afraid to refine your original ideas.