The process of writing, while it does almost always involve some or all the the steps below, is almost never linear.
Instead you will often find yourself moving back and forth, or “shuttling,” between stages: brainstorming, then drafting, then brainstorming some more, then revising your outline and changing your thesis statement to correspond with your revisions. You get the idea. Don’t try force these steps in a certain order; instead use these hints to help you at any point along the way, and remember: the tutors at the writing center can and will help you with any and every stage of your writing.
Brainstorming can be a useful way of collecting and organizing your ideas before you begin writing. Here are some ways of getting the ideas flowing:
- If you’re writing about a piece of literature or some other outside source (like a movie or a song) try reviewing the source again and make notes to help you see specific details that you can reference later.
- Try listing several different approaches to whatever you’re writing. Giving yourself options can help you find the connections between your ideas.
- Make a list of questions you have and would like to answer — these can lead to a direction for research and the development of a thesis statement.
Creating a Thesis or Purpose Statement
A thesis or purpose statement usually comes within the introduction of your paper and clarifies what you are trying to prove or demonstrate in the course of the paper. The statement should be as specific as possible, covering only what you will discuss in your paper. As you revise your paper, your topic may change slightly, so be sure to revise your thesis or purpose statement to fit with your final draft.
A thesis statement and a purpose statement are two different things, designed for different types of writing. Here are some tips for each:
- A thesis statement is usually found in analytical or argumentative papers, and should assert something about the topic and indicate the direction and conclusion of the paper.
- A purpose statement can be found in more general writing, and should show the reader the topic and direction of the paper without drawing any conclusions.
- Both thesis and purpose statements should introduce the topic without simply announcing it. DON’T say “In this paper I will talk about X.).
- Be sure that the rest of your paper brings in evidence supporting your thesis or purpose statement.
Once you’ve brainstormed and developed a thesis, organizing your thoughts into an outline can give you direction for your writing. Outlining the main points of your paper will help you to establish the relationships between your ideas and develop a logical path from beginning to end. You can use a system of headings and subheadings (numerals and letters are often used) to arrange larger ideas and smaller details. For example:
- Thesis statement
- Main Body
- Example one
- Example two
- Example three
This is a very simple example, but can help you to get started on your own outline. If you are required to turn in an outline for an assignment you may also want to ask your instructor about any specific requirement or expectations he or she may have.
As you begin writing your paper, remember that it often takes a few tries to create the finished product. Your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. Focus on organizing and clarifying your ideas from introduction to conclusion. You can worry about smaller details, like word choice and awkward sentences, once you have the larger body of the paper written.
After you’ve written a draft of your paper, it’s time to revise. Here a few things to look for as you read through your draft:
- Is your thesis or purpose statement clear and presented in the introduction?
- Are your ideas relevant, clear, developed, and organized? Do they support your thesis?
- Do you reach an understandable conclusion that follows logically from the rest of your paper?
- Is there anything you can explain more fully?
- Can you add more details, examples, or quotes anywhere?
- Examine your writing for proper grammar, punctuation, etc.
Once you feel that you’ve produced a final draft of your paper, give yourself time to set it aside and come back to the writing with a fresh mind. This way, you’ll have a better chance of catching errors you might not see otherwise. Here are few tips for successful proofreading:
- Read slowly. Reading aloud can also help you to hear errors you might miss in silent reading.
- Let someone else read your paper. A friend or a writing tutor can read your writing from a different perspective and help you see something that might be missing or need revision.
- Keep track of common problems in your writing and look for them when you read your draft.
- Examine the smaller parts of your paper (like paragraphs or topical sections) for smooth transitions and relevance.
- Ask questions about anything you’re not sure about (like grammar or punctuation).