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Writing Processes

Based on scholarship and research in the field of Writing Studies, the term "writing process" refers to a suite of attitudes about composition and literacy practices. Based on this body of work, faculty assume writing processes may differ from person to person and that different projects may affect which composing strategies are employed. Since the early 1980s, writing instructors have tended to restructure their courses so that students have greater opportunities to revise their work in response to instructor and/or peer feedback. Despite this emphasis on "process writing," research in Writing Studies suggests students often submit early drafts for grading.

Learn strategies for organizing documents effectively. Learn how readers respond to deductive, inductive, and analytical paragraphs. Make effective transitions and learn how format creates belief.

Your brilliant insights are likely to be overlooked unless you learn to organize your ideas for readers. This section provides advice on structuring and organizing information for readers, regardless of the communication situation you are addressing.

Realize your creative potential by adopting the work habits of successful writers, artists, and scientists. Note: For an extended discussion of researching strategies, see Research.

Have you ever heard the expression "success is where preparation meets opportunity"? This same truism can be applied to "invention" or "creativity"; we can all be creative, yet being creative isn't a passive process. Work is involved.

When is a thesis considered weak?

A well-developed thesis statement should clearly and concisely communicate the main point, purpose, or argument of a paper. A weak thesis may be unfocused, incomplete, or inaccurate in some way. Building a focused, accurate thesis can be a challenge, but revising a weak thesis to make it complete and insightful will strengthen the paper’s foundation.

As children many of us heard the classic fable about the tortoise and the hare. The moral of the story is that rushing straight from point A to point B is not always the swiftest way to the destination. Sometimes it makes sense to pause for a few moments and ask yourself, "Do I really want to go there? What obstacles can I expect to encounter? Do I need to take a compass and a map? Is the path well marked? What provisions am I likely to need along the journey?"

Like many children's tales, the tortoise and the hare has implications for adults, too. For even though logic tells us that we can save time by quickly writing a first draft, we in fact might manage our time more effectively by doing some preliminary planning and prewriting.

Ideally, you should find a quiet place where all your needed writing resources—such as a personal computer, dictionary, and paper—are set up. To help you focus on the work at hand, you may need a place that is reasonably free of distractions.

Determine Your Most Energetic Time of Day

"In fact I think the best regimen is to get up early, insult yourself a bit in the shaving mirror, and then pretend you're cutting wood, which is really just about all the hell you are doing—if you see what I mean." Lawrence Durrell

Realize your creative potential and avoid procrastination by logging your work.

You can be more productive and make writing less adverse if you write in brief daily sessions. By keeping a log of your writing efforts, you can:

  1. Motivate yourself. By tracking your accomplishments on a daily basis, you can develop a better sense of how research efforts and invention strategies help you break through writer's block.
    Tracking your work can help you maintain the enthusiasm needed to realize your creative potential: Logging your work can help you see how many different activities—such as locating sources in the library, talking over an idea with a friend, working in the field or laboratory, or just struggling to express an idea succinctly—are essential parts of the writing and research process.

 There are times when writers may be asked to take an essay they wrote and turn it into a speech: perhaps they will give a talk at a conference, stand in front of a class for an oral presentation, or be asked to create a YouTube video. The assignment—the task of revising a paper into something that will be performed (read aloud or otherwise “given” live)—does not simply mean using the paper that exists on the computer screen. Altering a paper to a speech challenges the writer to engage with the audience and revise the piece into one that is easy to follow and interesting to listen to.

Open article to view table.

Paragraphs provide a visual representation of your ideas. When revising your work, evaluate the logic behind how you have organized the paragraphs.

Question whether your presentation would appear more logical and persuasive if you rearranged the sequence of the paragraphs. Next, question the structure of each paragraph to see if sentences need to be reordered. Determine whether you are organizing information deductively or according to chronology or according to some sense of what is most and least important

Segues are used hand-in-hand with transitions to create uninterrupted movement between ideas. Without the use of segues, ideas can appear disconnected and the writing may appear to lack continuity.

In what ways are segues used to signal a shift in ideas?

  • To reiterate an earlier point before introducing another: Segues may be used to remind the reader of an important point or detail from an earlier discussion and link that idea to a new point.
  • To focus on how the author moved from one point to the next: Writers should not rely on their readers to make correct inferences about how two points relate. Instead, skilled writers make clear connections between ideas by using appropriate words or phrases to segue from one point to the next.

Overcome procrastination by establishing an appropriate schedule.

Schedules are extremely important to writers. Documents can almost always be improved with additional revisions, so some writers need deadlines, a line in the sand, to say "Enough is enough!" For writers who tend to procrastinate, schedules can provide an incentive to get started and keep writing.

Your goals for the opening sentences of your paragraphs are similar to your goals for writing an introduction to a document. In the beginning of a paragraph, clarify the purpose. Most paragraphs in academic and technical discourse move deductively--that is, the first or second sentence presents the topic or theme of the paragraph and the subsequent sentences illustrate and explicate this theme.

What is a topic sentence?

A topic sentence summarizes the main idea or the purpose of a paragraph. In an essay, topic sentences serve an organizational purpose similar to a thesis statement but on a smaller scale; a topic sentence helps guide the organization of a single paragraph while a thesis statement guides the organization of the entire essay. A topic sentence may be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph depending upon the way the writer chooses to organize the paragraph.

While you generally want to move from the known to the new, from the thesis to its illustration or restriction, you sometimes want to violate this pattern. Educated readers in particular can be bored by texts that always present information in the same way. For example, how Valerie Steele's anecdotal tone and dialogue in the opening sentences of her essay on fashion in academia prepare the reader for her thesis:

Avoid procrastination and gain some control over how you manage your time while developing documents.

One of the most important lessons writers must learn is to handle the language of time. Judging from the multitude of books dedicated to time management--indeed whole forests have given way to time-management
specialists--many of us have difficulties overcoming procrastination, knowing when to research, when to write, and when to collaborate.

Regardless of whether a paragraph is deductively or inductively structured, readers can generally follow the logic of a discussion better when a paragraph is unified by a single purpose. Paragraphs that lack a central idea and that wander from subject to subject are apt to confuse readers, making them wonder what they should pay attention to and why. To ensure that each paragraph is unified by a single idea, Francis Christensen, in Notes Toward a New Rhetoric (NY: Harper & Row, 1967), has suggested that we number sentences according to their level of generality.

Understand the fundamentals of typography, page, and web design; use visual language to convey meaning; use design to assert authority and organize work for readers.

"Design is a fun word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works."
-Steve Jobs

We live in a culture where images and document design are used aggressively to convey meaning. Today's writers use images to do more than enrich their texts: Page design, layout, font choices, photographs, clip art, screenshots, animations, and video convey meaning.

Understand how writers organize their commitments by organizing work under development into a notebook.

Although the thought of maintaining a notebook may at first appear intimidating, you will probably be surprised to find that it is actually quite easy to keep one on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the following comments are fairly representative of how most students feel after keeping a notebook for a semester:

Use freewriting to avoid writer's block, stimulate your thinking on a subject, and find your voice.

Freewriting involves writing without stopping. Your goal is to write whatever ideas occur to you, using a pen or pencil and paper or using a computer with the monitor turned off. When freewriting, your focus is to generate ideas as opposed to writing grammatically correct sentences. Get your thoughts down as fully and quickly as you can without critiquing them.

Conciseness Improves Flow

Unfortunately, many writers use sentences that are too wordy.  This is not to suggest that lengthy sentences can never be used (because they certainly can), but most of the time writers make the mistake of using more words than necessary to get their message across.  Take this sentence, for example: 

  • “Michelle was supposed to have her car’s oil changed every 3,000 miles, and since it had been 3,000 miles since her last oil change, she took her car to the mechanic.”

This sentence is okay and makes sense, though the statement could be more precise if the author phrased it a little differently.

Use the Weekly Progress Report to keep your instructor apprised of your efforts and to help you focus on completing a project in a timely manner.

Writers often find it useful to log their work and to provide regular progress reports to themselves and those they are accountable to--such as supervisors or editors or teachers (see Log Your Work).