4b. Drafting

Drafting is the point in the writing process at which you compose a complete first version of an essay. There are as many ways to write a first draft as there are essays in the world. Some academic writers begin their drafts with body paragraphs and work backwards to their introduction while others feel the need to develop a solid introduction before launching into the body of the essay.  The best advice offered by most professional writers is to try not to worry too much about how unprepared, disorganized, repetitive, or uninspired a first draft might feel because relatively few of us can sit down and compose an entire essay (or even email) that is ready to be published in a single draft.  As students, it can be easy to overlook the fact that the books and articles we read for class have been revised and edited many times and with the support of many people prior to publication. Your instructors will expect you to perform the role of both writer and editor before turning in your final draft.

As you dive into the drafting stage of the writing process, the following advice may come in handy when you are facing the pressure of deadlines and grades:


  • Begin with the part of your essay you know the most about or feel least nervous about.

    • Having an outline allows you to start with the third, fifth, or second paragraph of an essay without worrying how it will flow with the rest. Your initial paragraphs may vary in length or contain insufficient reasoning or evidence as you draft. Topic sentences, transitions, and other details can be cleaned up later. Be sure to cite sources even if you’re unsure what quotation or other evidence you might include to reduce your formatting time later (and help you avoid unintentional plagiarism).
  • Just do it!

    • Hesitation can be a writer’s worst enemy. Facing a blank page can feel like a climbing to the top of a diving platform and being too wary to jump or being unable to choose a restaurant for dinner.  Although every good writer should be self-critical at times, try to remember that a first draft can be terrible and still be very useful. Try not to look back or doubt your ideas – there will be time for that later. Treat your drafting sessions like freewriting and do not worry about transitions, spelling, punctuation, and other mechanics.
  • Leave yourself a short note or comment at the end of each writing session.

    • Every writer has picked up something they wrote a day or week ago and wondered what the heck they were thinking. Take an extra minute at the end of a writing session to leave yourself a short note or comment to remind yourself where you hope to pick up or anything you need to look up. Notes and comments can also be useful if you feel a sentence in your paragraph may be tangential or incomplete and you want to come back to it later.
  • Pace yourself and take breaks.

    • Essays take time to develop. Hopefully, you can find a place to write where you are comfortable and able to avoid distractions. Turn off your phone and try not to have an internet browser open unless citing evidence.
  • Be reasonable with your goals.

    • Begin each writing session by taking a moment to consider how long you plan to write and what you hope to accomplish. Plan breaks to stretch and rehydrate. Holding yourself to a goal for each session will help you stay on track toward your deadlines and give you a sense of achievement. Rewarding yourself after each successful writing session can be useful motivation as well.
  • Keep your audience, purpose, and task requirements in mind.

    • By the time we get several paragraphs or hours into a writing task, we can become so attached to our own ideas and writing style that we lose track of our audience and purpose. Asking yourself “who will be reading this essay?” and “how will it be assessed?” or “what is my overall purpose?” can help you keep an eye on the big picture. Checking assignment guidelines will help guide your work and help you ensure that your draft meets an instructor or editor’s expectations.


The Value of First Drafts

A first draft is a complete version of a piece of writing, but it is certainly not expected to be the final version. During the revision stage, you will have the opportunity to make all kinds of changes to your first draft before you put the final touches on it during the editing stage. A first draft gives you a complete working version of an essay that is ready to share with peers, writing coaches, instructors, and/or editors that can be improved with revision and editing.


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Writing as Inquiry Copyright © 2021 by Kara Clevinger and Stephen Rust is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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