Writing is often described as a linear process, moving from the first stage to the last stage in an orderly fashion. However, the writing process often requires moving back and forth between steps and is often more complex than the linear model represents. If you are working on a larger project you may have to break down the work into smaller parts to make it manageable; therefore you can be at different stages of the writing process in different parts of your project. You may also have to make changes in sections that you thought were finished as the contents are affected by what you write in other sections. Furthermore, new questions may arise along the way that will make it necessary to return to an earlier stage of the process, for example to do further research.
In the pre-writing stage you plan and prepare your writing. This is also the stage where you research your topic and look for relevant sources.
Early in the pre-writing stage you should give thought to the subject and purpose of your assignment. If you are assigned a broad subject by your instructor you will need to narrow it down and focus on a smaller subject area, preferably something that interests you. In order to write effectively you also need to know the purpose of why you are writing. Each type of writing has a unique set of guidelines and knowing your purpose for writing will help you produce a text of high quality and relevance. In order for you to know the purpose of your writing you will need to interpret the task. See more information below about this.
Doing thorough preparatory work is important for your writing and will save you a lot of time in the long run. It will help you keep your focus during the writing process. As your project progresses you may have to make some changes to your initial plan.
At the beginning of the writing process it is important to take time to create a timetable for writing in order to ensure that you will have a finished product when the assignment is due. When planning your time, take into account that the revising phase may take as much time as the initial writing, or perhaps even longer. This is in many ways similar to planning your studies in general.
Interpreting the task
Before you begin writing it is important to understand what is required of you. Interpreting the task is an essential part of the writing process as it will influence the quality and relevance of your writing. The guidelines for the assignment should give you information about the required length and format of your text, as well as some information about genre and structure.
Perhaps the expected genre of your text is not stated directly in the guidelines but can be deduced from the instruction words. These are words that indicate what type of text you are supposed to write. They could be words such as “analyze” or “discuss”.
The guidelines should also include information about which referencing system to use. Furthermore, they often contain information about how the assignment will be assessed and graded. If you lack information of what is expected of you, you should consult the course teacher.
Choosing a topic
You will have to choose a topic to write about, if one has not already been assigned. To choose a topic and get started with the writing process you can use invention techniques. Mind mapping or clustering and brainstorming are examples of invention techniques.
It is likely that the topic that has been assigned or the one that you initially come up with is too broad or general to serve as the focus of the paper.
In the introduction to your paper you will need to make a claim that sets your position in an academic argument, a so-called thesis statement. Or, if the genre or discipline you are writing within calls for it, you may instead formulate one or more research questions that your text will try to answer. Both thesis statements and research questions serve to narrow down the topic and focus of the paper.
During the writing process you are likely to discover aspects that you were not aware of at the beginning, or the focus of your paper might become more refined or shift slightly. You can go back and rephrase the definition of your topic as well as the thesis statement or research questions as the writing progresses.
What is a thesis statement?
In a thesis statement you define the main idea of the paper and make a claim or state your position in an academic argument. A thesis statement is presented in the introduction and tells the reader what to expect of the rest of the paper. If it is not possible to formulate a thesis statement at the beginning of the writing process you may instead write down one or more questions that you would like to answer. Once you know what your findings are or where you stand in an academic argument, you may go back and define the thesis statement.
Example of a thesis statement:
Reading aloud to pre-school children stimulates their development of reading skills and increases their vocabulary as well as contributes to the development of general cognitive skills.
What is a research question?
A good research question is debatable which means that the answer requires an academic argument. That is, research questions should not be simple yes or no questions, or questions that can be answered with a list of facts. Instead, to answer your research questions, you need to present a claim during the course of your paper, and support it with evidence. Be aware that your research questions should not be too big to be answered within the framework of the assignment. Your research question/questions should be presented to the reader in the introduction.
Example of a research question:
How does reading aloud to pre-school children affect the development of their reading abilities?
Watch this short video from Lund University about research questions and thesis statements:
Researching and reading
During the pre-writing phase you also research your topic and look for relevant sources. Often finding relevant literature is part of the final assessment of the assignment, as is the correct use of citations and references in the text.
You may have to return to the search or reading process as your project progresses and new aspects or problems become apparent.
When you read and take notes it is important to keep track of references. Always write down your sources when you take notes and mark out if you write down any quotations. This will make it easier to handle your references during the writing process and also help you avoid plagiarism.
Even though the outer framework of the structure might be given, you still need to decide how and in what order you should present your material and your argument. Outlining is when you create a plan that presents your material in a logical order.
Watch a video to gain an understanding of why it is important to present your points in a logical order:
Tips for creating an outline:
- Make a list of points to gain an overview of your material. Include any evidence and counter-evidence you have for your points or statements.
- How are your points connected (does one lead to the other as a consequence/logical development?), can they be grouped together and how? Considering these questions will help you find a logical order for your points.
- Do your points answer your thesis statement or research questions and how?
- Identify your main points and use these as headings in your outline. Order the rest of your points under these headings.
- Use ordering principles that take their starting point in a reader’s understanding of the text or argument. Present necessary background information to your reader before developing an argument based on this information.
Considering your material in this manner will also give you the opportunity to evaluate whether all your points are relevant and should be included in your finished text. If something does not seem to fit in your line of argument, consider whether it belongs in the text at all.
Once you have created an outline it is time to start writing. Remember that you do not have to write a perfect first draft. Instead of focusing on producing a flawless text at this stage, try to concentrate on writing down your main ideas. You do not need to edit or proofread yet. Instead, try to let your thinking and writing flow as freely as possible. Furthermore, you do not have to write the text from start to finish. It is okay to begin with the sections that you feel the most confident with.
You will probably have to rework your draft several times before you have a complete text. Preferably you should allow time between drafts (1 to 2 days, if you have the time) as it will give you a new perspective on your text.
Giving and receiving feedback
In many university courses giving and receiving feedback is part of the writing process. In some courses it is also part of the final assessment. But above all, giving and receiving feedback is a learning experience and the process will help you become a better reader and writer.
Tips for giving feedback:
- Read the text thoroughly and all the way through before you begin commenting.
- Write down your comments. Make notes to support you when you have to present the feedback orally. Make notes in the document that the author can use when revising.
- Consider the structure: Does the text follow the assigned structure? Are the points presented in a logical order?
- Consider the language: Does the language align to academic standards? Are there any sentences or passages you do not understand? Does the writer make a particular type of mistake throughout the paper?
- Consider the contents: Are the claims or questions that are raised in the introduction clearly stated and answered in the paper? Does the writer provide sufficient evidence? Is the argument coherent and easy to follow?
- Find something positive and begin with this. This gives the author an idea of what works well in the text.
- Explain why certain passages work and others do not. Be specific and give examples and suggestions.
- Ask questions to the writer if something in the text is unclear.
- Think and comment as a reader. You do not have to provide all the solutions.
- Use a helpful and respectful tone.
Tips for receiving feedback
- Perhaps write down questions you would like the respondent to answer and hand these over together with your paper.
- Be open to feedback on your text. This is your chance to learn how the text is received and understood by a reader – before you hand in the final version.
- Listen and take notes when you receive feedback.
- Answer questions from the respondent. Be aware that they might indicate unclarities in your text.
- You do not have to argue or defend your text if you do not agree with the comments.
- Not everything has to be changed according to the feedback that you receive but you should carefully consider the advice that you get.
- If more than one fellow student reads your paper you might get comments that point in different directions. Instead of being frustrated with this, see it as an indication that this part of the paper needs revision and that the problem might be solved in different ways.
- After the feedback session you will have to rework your text, at least to some extent.
Revising, editing and proofreading
This is the stage in the writing process where you make sure that your text is coherent and written accurately. Your final product should be a text that has been thoroughly worked through and that meets the academic standards of writing. Make sure that you allow enough time to revise, edit and proofread your assignment before submission.
Points to use when revising your text
Read through your text and revise it according to the following points (note that not all points apply to all texts):
- Structure. Does your text follow the chosen or assigned structure?
- Outline. Are your points presented in a logical order? Edit for relevance - perhaps not all text that you have produced during the writing process belongs in the final product.
- Contents. Are your argument and claims supported with evidence? Does your text support the thesis statement or answer the research questions?
- Check your introduction, particularly if you wrote it early in the process. Does it correspond with what you have written in the rest of the text?
- Language. Is the language keeping in line with academic standards? Is it explicit, objective and formal? Have you avoided subjective expressions and clichés?
- References and citations. Are all sources cited correctly and included in the list of references? Do your references follow the assigned referencing system and are you consistent in your use of references?
- Check for coherence. Think from the reader's perspective. Rewrite any passages that are unclear.
- Check for consistency. Make sure that there are no shifts in the language and style. This is particularly important when you are writing in a group - remember that you should sound like you are one voice.
- Check paragraphing, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
- Formal requirements. Does your text follow the requirements for formal aspects such as length, spacing and title page?
- Make sure you have the time to proofread! Allowing enough time to check your assignment ensures higher levels of quality and accuracy.