It is important to factor enough time into the research assignment for students to work on two to three drafts of their essays. The steps they will have done prior to structuring and writing the actual essay are good pre-writing strategies, but much of the thinking and organizing happens once students start making connections in writing among ideas. These connections, and the arguments as a whole, cannot gain clarity and take full complex shape without the benefit of writing, getting feedback, and rewriting.
Give students clear due dates for each draft, scheduling time for peer reviews and/or for you to make comments and suggestions for revision. It is often a good idea for students to receive feedback from more than one reader. For more information about peer reviews, see Writing Peer Critiques. Step through the following sections to guide students through their writing process:
- Writing a First Draft
- Writing a Second Draft
- Writing a Final Draft
WRITING A FIRST DRAFT
In developing your thesis, you have been working on determining and developing your main argument that supports your position. The difference between this and the first draft is that your draft will give you a clear beginning, middle, and end. By the same token, this is not written in stone; in this draft you are still exploring your ideas. You will have lots of time to revise and edit for your audience once you are satisfied that you have covered all the ground. Writing the first draft also gives you the opportunity to see how well your arguments support your tentative thesis and how the differing perspectives or opposing viewpoints will affect your position. Follow the following steps in drafting your essay:
1. Get Started:
Plaster your research question and tentative thesis prominently above your work space, so you can refer to them as you write. Review your notes thoroughly and list ideas that you want to be sure to address in your paper. It is important to have an idea early on of what your thesis looks like in relation to the main arguments and to get a feel for the direction that you want to go. Authors often find it useful to lay out the components that they will include in their writing: introduction, background, tentative thesis, main arguments, alternative perspectives, and conclusion. There are several ways to get this broad picture or overview; two of the most common are mapping and outlining. For more information on mapping out your argument, see Developing a Thesis.
Outlining usually takes the form of a linear listing of the components, organized around a hierarchy of concepts and sequences within each hierarchy:
B. Research Question
II. Tentative Thesis
A. Main argument
B. Main argument
C. Main argument
By now you should have identified the three arguments you find most compelling in defending your thesis. If you have a pretty clear idea about the sequence in which you want to present them, an outline might be most appropriate to you. If you have not yet determined how you'd like to sequence them, mapping might feel more appropriate.
2. Begin drafting:
It is not necessary to begin at the beginning; you can start writing wherever you feel relatively confident. You might, for example, begin by defining or explaining terms and concepts in your research question. Once you have done that, move on to another area you feel ready to discuss. Keep asking yourself what your reader will need to know, and write about that.
3. Review what you have written:
Once you have gotten on paper as much as you have to say, read it back carefully, see if you find contradictions, make new connections between ideas, or notice things you've omitted. The tentative thesis that you have plastered above your desk is there to keep you focused. As you review your main arguments and the material you have used to support it, put it to the "Why? Because" test—providing the "because" to the question "why is your thesis so?" Similarly, review the alternative perspectives to confirm that you've adequately addressed them.
Once you feel you have covered what you want to cover, read through again to make sure that the organization and development are logical. One strategy for doing this is to note in the margin in a few words the point of each paragraph. Take those brief phrases and look at them to see whether they follow logically or require reorganizing. Is anything necessary omitted? Make any appropriate changes to your organization and development.
WRITING A SECOND DRAFT
By this time, you will have received feedback on your first draft, which you need to review carefully. Look for patterns in the responses or questions that are raised by readers. You also need to reread your first draft with a fresh eye, as though you were reading it for the first time.
Up to this point, the focus in developing the paper has been on offering a solid thesis, supporting it with strong evidence, anticipating alternative perspectives and responding to those decisively. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you clearly articulated your thesis?
- Do your main arguments give the reasons for "Why your thesis is so?"
- Have you supported these with credible and relevant evidence?
- Have you adequately addressed alternative perspectives?
- What additional reading or research do you need in order to strengthen your thesis and arguments?
After you have more clearly articulated your thesis and arguments by responding to these questions, you can spend some time thinking about the overall presentation. Whether you began with an outline or with a map, you must now confirm that your presentation is organized clearly and logically for the reader by creating an outline from your current version.
Read what you have written, make margin notes on the purpose of each paragraph, and then take these notes and arrange and rearrange as needed. It is a lot easier to rethink the organization when you are looking at brief notations than when you are looking at the entire text. After you have rearranged your notations, you can cut and paste your document to match the new outline.
- Once you are satisfied with the organization:
- Provide transitions between paragraphs that indicate to the reader how each paragraph relates to your thesis.
- Develop an engaging and informative introduction.
- Look for evocative language that allows you to tie each section of the paper to the thesis without becoming repetitious.
- Come up with a conclusion that returns us to the primary thesis of your paper and gives us ideas about where we can take it next.
WRITING A FINAL DRAFT
As you wrote the second draft, you continued to incorporate new research evidence, refine your thinking and the overall organization and development of your work.
In preparing your final draft, you need to be able to focus on presentation and style, and eliminate distracting errors or breaks in organization, i.e. you need to edit. Editing your final draft includes the following:
- Reading carefully for flow and consistency
- Reading aloud for sentence boundaries and structure variation
- Proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and spelling