The Ultimate Blueprint: A Research-Driven Deep Dive into The 13 Steps of the Writing Process

This article provides a comprehensive, research-based introduction to the major steps, or strategies, that writers work through as they endeavor to communicate with audiences. Since the 1960s, the writing process has been defined to be a series of steps, stages, or strategies. Most simply, the writing process is conceptualized as four major steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing. That model works really well for many occasions. Yet sometimes you'll face really challenging writing tasks that will force you to engage in additional steps, including, prewriting, inventing, drafting, collaborating, researching, planning, organizing, designing, rereading, revising, editing, proofreading, sharing or publishing. Expand your composing repertoire -- your ability to respond with authority, clarity, and persuasiveness -- by learning about the dispositions and strategies of successful, professional writers.

Like water cascading to the sea, flow feels inevitable, natural, purposeful. Yet achieving flow is a state of mind that can be difficult to achieve. It requires full commitment to the believing game (as opposed to the doubting game).

What are the Steps of the Writing Process?

Since the 1960s, it has been popular to describe the writing process as a series of steps or stages. For simple projects, the writing process is typically defined as four major steps:

  1. prewriting
  2. drafting 
  3. revising
  4. editing.

This simplified approach to writing is quite appropriate for many exigencies–many calls to write. Often, e.g., we might read an email quickly, write a response, and then send it: write, revise, send.

However, in the real world, for more demanding projects — especially in high-stakes workplace writing or academic writing at the high school and college level — the writing process involve additional steps, or strategies, such as 

Related Concepts: Mindset; Self Regulation


Summary – Writing Process Steps

The summary below outlines the major steps writers work through as they endeavor to develop an idea for an audience.

1. Prewriting

Prewriting refers to all the work a writer does on a writing project before they actually begin writing.

Acts of prewriting include

  1. engaging in rhetorical analysis of the context for the writing assignment
    • Prior to writing a first draft, analyze the context for the work. For instance, in school settings students may analyze how much of their grade will be determined by a particular assignment. They may question how many and what sources are required and what the grading criteria will be used for critiquing the work.
  2. engaging in rhetorical analysis of the writing assignment
  3. engaging in rhetorical reasoning
  4. deciding on the rhetorical stance they should adopt
  5. making a plan, an outline, for what to do next.

2. Invention

Invention is traditionally defined as an initial stage of the writing process when writers are more focused on discovery and creative play. During the early stages of a project, writers brainstorm; they explore various topics and perspectives before committing to a specific direction for their discourse.

In practice, invention can be an ongoing concern throughout the writing process. People who are focused on solving problems and developing original ideas, arguments, artifacts, products, services, applications, and texts are open to acts of invention at any time during the writing process.

Writers have many different ways to engage in acts of invention, including

  1. Questioning:
  2. Problem-solving:
  3. Divergent thinking:
    • Embrace multiple viewpoints and consider various approaches to encourage the generation of original ideas.
  4. Experimentation:
  5. Freewriting
    • Write whatever ideas occur to you. Focus on generating ideas as opposed to writing grammatically correct sentences. Get your thoughts down as fully and quickly as you can without critiquing them.
  6. Heuristics
  7. Risk-taking:
    • Embrace the uncertainty that comes with creative exploration.
    • Listen to your intuition — your felt sense — when composing
    • Experiment with different writing styles, genres, writing tools, and rhetorical stances
    • Play the believing game early in the writing process

3. Researching

Research refers to systematic investigations that investigators carry out to discover new knowledge, test knowledge claims, solve problems, or develop new texts, products, apps, and services.

During the research stage of the writing process, writers may engage in

  1. customer research
  2. informal research
    • What can you recall from your memory about the subject?
    • What can you learn from informal observation?
  3. textual research
  4. empirical research
  5. citation practices

4. Collaboration

Collaboration refers to the act of working with others to exchange ideas, solve problems, investigate subjectscoauthor texts, and develop products and services.

Collaboration can play a major role in the writing process, especially when authors coauthor documents with peers and teams, or critique the works of others.

Acts of collaboration include

  1. Active listening
    • Paying close attention to what others are saying, acknowledging their input, and asking clarifying questions to ensure understanding.
  2. Clear communication
    • Expressing ideas, thoughts, and opinions in a concise and understandable manner, both verbally and in writing.
  3. Open-mindedness
    • Being receptive to new ideas and perspectives, and considering alternative approaches to problem-solving.
  4. Flexibility
    • Adapting to changes in project goals, timelines, or team dynamics, and being willing to modify plans when needed.
  5. Sharing responsibility
    • Distributing tasks and responsibilities fairly among team members, and holding oneself accountable for assigned work.
  6. Respecting diversity
    • valuing and appreciating the unique backgrounds, skills, and perspectives of all team members, and leveraging this diversity to enhance collaboration.
  7. Conflict resolution
    • Addressing disagreements or conflicts constructively and diplomatically, working towards mutually beneficial solutions.
  8. Giving and receiving feedback
    • Providing constructive feedback to help others improve their work, and being open to receiving feedback to refine one’s own ideas and contributions.
  9. Empathy
    • Understanding and responding to the emotions, needs, and concerns of team members, and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment.
  10. Celebrating success
    • Acknowledging and appreciating the achievements of the team and individual members, and using successes as a foundation for continued collaboration and growth.

5. Planning

Planning refers to

  1. the process of planning how to organize a document
  2. the process of managing your writing processes

6. Organizing

Following rhetorical analysis, following prewriting, writers question how they should organize their texts. For instance, should they adopt the organizational strategies of academic discourse or workplace-writing discourse?

Writing-Process Plans
  1. identify goals
  2. establish priorities
    • What steps, or strategies, need to be completed next?
  3. set a schedule to complete goals
Planning Exercises
  1. Document Planner
  2. Team Charter

7. Designing

Designing refers to efforts on the part of the writer

  1. to leverage the power of visual language to convey meaning
  2. to create a visually appealing text

During the designing stage of the writing process, writers explore how they can use the elements of design and visual language to signify, clarify, and simplify the message.

Examples of the designing step of the writing process:

  1. Visual hierarchy
    • Establishing a clear hierarchy of visual elements, such as headings, subheadings, and bullet points, to guide the reader’s attention and facilitate understanding.
  2. Typography
    • Selecting appropriate fonts, sizes, and styles to ensure readability and convey the intended tone and emphasis.
  3. Layout
    • Organizing text and visual elements on the page or screen in a manner that is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and supports the intended message.
  4. Color and contrast
    • Using color schemes and contrasts effectively to create a visually engaging experience, while also ensuring readability and accessibility for all readers.
  5. Visual elements
    • Incorporating images, illustrations, charts, graphs, and videos to support and enrich the written content, and to convey complex ideas in a more accessible format.
  6. Accessibility
    • Designing content that is easily accessible to a wide range of readers, including those with visual impairments, by adhering to accessibility guidelines and best practices.
  7. Consistency
    • Maintaining a consistent style and design throughout the text, which includes the use of visuals, formatting, and typography, to create a cohesive and professional appearance.
  8. Interactivity
    • Integrating interactive elements, such as hyperlinks, buttons, and multimedia, to encourage reader engagement and foster deeper understanding of the content.

8. Drafting

Drafting refers to the act of writing a preliminary version of a document — a sloppy first draft. Writers engage in exploratory writing early in the writing process. During drafting, writers focus on freewriting: they write in short bursts of writing without stopping and without concern for grammatical correctness or stylistic matters.

When composing, writers move back and forth between drafting new material, revising drafts, and other steps in the writing process.

9. Rereading

Rereading refers to the process of carefully reviewing a written text. When writers reread texts, they look in between each word, phrase, sentence, paragraph. They look for gaps in content, reasoning, organization, design, diction, style–and more.

When engaged in the physical act of writing — during moments of composing — writers will often pause from drafting to reread what they wrote or to reread some other text they are referencing.

10. Revising

Revision — the process of revisiting, rethinking, and refining written work to improve its contentclarity and overall effectiveness — is such an important part of the writing process that experienced writers often say “writing is revision” or “all writing is revision.” 

For many writers, revision processes are deeply intertwined with writing, invention, and reasoning strategies:

  • “Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what one is saying.” — John Updike
  • “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” — E.M. Forster

Acts of revision include

  1. Pivoting: trashing earlier work and moving in a new direction
  2. Critiquing the document at the global level
    • Identifying Rhetorical Problems
    • Identifying Structural Problems
    • Identifying Language Problems
    • Identifying Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems

11. Editing

Editing refers to the act of critically reviewing a text with the goal of identifying and rectifying sentence and word-level problems.

When editing, writers tend to focus on local concerns as opposed to global concerns. For instance, they may look for

12. Proofreading

Proofreading refers to last time you’ll look at a document before sharing or publishing the work with its intended audience(s). At this point in the writing process, it’s too late to add in some new evidence you’ve found to support your position. Now you don’t want to add any new content. Instead, your goal during proofreading is to do a final check on word-level errors, problems with diction, punctuation, or syntax.

13. Sharing or Publishing

Sharing refers to the last step in the writing process: the moment when the writer delivers the message — the text — to the target audience.

Writers may think it makes sense to wait to share their work later in the process, after the project is fairly complete. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you can save yourself a lot of trouble by bringing in collaborators and critics earlier in the writing process.

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