Writing essay drafts
Writing the first draft
Write a ﬁrst, rough draft of your essay, using the points made in your plan as the basis for paragraphs or sections.
- Always try to keep to one main point per paragraph: make the point at the outset, then support it with arguments, evidence, or discussion.
- You may not keep strictly to your original plan since your thoughts will develop as your writing proceeds, but make sure that you have an introduction, a main section (or body), and conclusion.
- Once you have written a ﬁrst draft, you might ﬁnd it helpful to read it through quickly to check that you have addressed all the points raised by the question and that you have not wandered off the subject.
- Do not worry about grammar, punctuation, and spelling at this stage: these are matters to be addressed at the end of the essay-writing process.
- Put your ﬁrst draft aside for a day or so (if you’ve planned enough time to do so). This will give your mind a rest and allow you to look at the essay with a fresh eye later on.
Preparing the final draft
This is essentially an assessment, redrafting, and checking process.
- Look at your ﬁrst draft critically: think of your reader, and rewrite or sharpen up passages that seem unclear, rambling, or badly worded. For guidance on language and choosing the right word, read our top tips for word choice.
- Assess the essay’s structure for logical order and coherence. Make sure your sentences and paragraphs are linked and make sense.
- You may wish to reconsider the beginning and end of the essay in the light of what you have written or revised in the main body of it: does the introduction still clearly state your approach and does the ﬁnal conclusion incorporate and sum up your key arguments?
- Check your facts and evidence. Have you provided all the relevant supporting data and referenced all your sources in a consistent and accurate way?
- Write a Bibliography or References section.
- If you have been asked to keep to a particular word count for the essay, then now is the time to count the words and reduce or expand your text as necessary.
When you have ﬁnished writing and reﬁning it, read the whole essay once more for clarity, logical structure, and relevance to the question.
The ﬁnal stage of the essay-writing process should be a thorough proofread.
- This is the point at which you must check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting very carefully.
- You should read the essay more than once for such mistakes, and might ﬁnd it useful to ask a friend to proofread your essay as well if they have time: another person can often spot errors that you might have missed.
- Lastly, check that you have attached any supplementary or supporting material, such as graphs, tables, or diagrams, and that you have put your name, the date, the essay question or title, and any other necessary information (such as a module or course title) at the top.
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Building the Essay Draft
Building a strong essay draft requires going through a logical progression of stages:
Tip: After you have completed the body of your paper, you can decide what you want to say in your introduction and in your conclusion.
Once you know what you want to talk about and you have written your thesis statement, you are ready to build the body of your essay.
The thesis statement will usually be followed by:
- the body of the paper
- the paragraphs that develop the thesis by explaining your ideas by backing them up
- examples or evidence
Tip: The "examples or evidence" stage is the most important part of the paper, because you are giving your reader a clear idea of what you think and why you think it.
- For each reason you have to support your thesis, remember to state your point clearly and explain it.
Tip: Read your thesis sentence over and ask yourself what questions a reader might ask about it. Then answer those questions, explaining and giving examples or evidence.
- Compare and contrast: Show how one thing is similar to another, and then how the two are different, emphasizing the side that seems more important to you. For example, if your thesis states, "Jazz is a serious art form," you might compare and contrast a jazz composition to a classical one.
- Show your reader what the opposition thinks (reasons why some people do not agree with your thesis), and then refute those reasons (show why they are wrong).On the other hand, if you feel that the opposition isn't entirely wrong, you may say so, (concede), but then explain why your thesis is still the right opinion.
- Think about the order in which you have made your points. Why have you presented a certain reason that develops your thesis first, another second, etc.? If you can't see any particular value in presenting your points in the order you have, reconsider it until you either decide why the order you have is best, or change it to one that makes more sense to you.
- Keep revisiting your thesis with three questions in mind: 1. Does each paragraph develop my thesis?
2. Have I done all the development I wish had been done?
3. Am I still satisfied with my working thesis, or have I developed my body in ways that mean I must adjust my thesis to fit what I have learned, what I
believe, and what I have actually discussed?
It is important to link your paragraphs together, giving your readers cues so that they see the relationship between one idea and the next, and how these ideas develop your thesis.
Your goal is a smooth transition from paragraph A to paragraph B, which explains why cue words that link paragraphs are often called "transitions."
Tip: Your link between paragraphs may not be one word, but several, or even a whole sentence.
Here are some ways of linking paragraphs.
- To show simply that another idea is coming, use words such as "also," "moreover" or "in addition."
- To show that the next idea is the logical result of the previous one, use words such as "therefore," "consequently," "thus" or "as a result."
- To show that the next idea seems to go against the previous one, or is not its logical result, use words such as "however," "nevertheless" or "still."
- To show you've come to your strongest point, use words such as "most importantly."
- To show you've come to a change in topic, use words such as "on the other hand."
- To show you've come to your final point, use words such as "finally."
After you have come up with a thesis and developed it in the body of your paper, you can decide how to introduce your ideas to your reader.
The goals of an introduction are to:
- get your reader's attention/arouse your reader's curiosity
- provide any necessary background information before you state your thesis (often the last sentence of the introductory paragraph)
- establish why you are writing the paper
Tip: You already know why you are writing, and who your reader is; now present that reason for writing to that reader.
Hints for writing your introduction:
- Use the Ws of journalism (who, what, when, where, why) to decide what information to give. (Remember that a history teacher doesn't need to be told "George Washington was the first president of the United States." Keep your reader in mind.)
- Add another "W": Why (why is this paper worth reading)? The answer could be that your topic is new, controversial or very important.
- Catch your reader by surprise by starting with a description or narrative that doesn't hint at what your thesis will be. For example, a paper could start, "It is less than a 32nd of an inch long, but it can kill an adult human," to begin a paper about eliminating malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
There can be many different conclusions to the same paper (just as there can be many introductions), depending on who your readers are and where you want to direct them (follow-up you expect of them after they finish your paper). Therefore, restating your thesis and summarizing the main points of your body should not be all that your conclusion does. In fact, most weak conclusions are merely restatements of the thesis and summaries of the body without guiding the reader toward thinking about the implications of the thesis.
Here are some options for writing a strong conclusion:
- Make a prediction about the future. You convinced the reader that thermal energy is terrific, but do you think it will become the standard energy source? When?
- Give specific advice. If your readers now understand that multicultural education has great advantages, or disadvantages, or both, whatever your opinion might be, what should they do? Whom should they contact?
- Put your topic in a larger context. Once you have proven that physical education should be part of every school's curriculum, perhaps readers should consider other "frill" courses which are actually essential.
Tip: Just as a conclusion should not be just a restatement of your thesis and summary of your body, it also should not be an entirely new topic, a door opened that you barely lead your reader through and leave them there lost. Just as in finding your topic and in forming your thesis, the safe and sane rule in writing a conclusion is: neither too little nor too much.
Revising and Proofreading the Draft
Writing is only half the job of writing.
The writing process begins even before you put pen to paper, when you think about your topic. And, once you finish actually writing, the process continues. What you have written is not the finished essay, but a first draft, and you must go over many times to improve it -- a second draft, a third draft, as many as necessary to do the job right. Your final draft, edited and proofread, is your essay, ready for your reader's eyes.
A revision is a "re-vision" of your essay -- how you see things now, deciding whether your introduction, thesis, body and conclusion really express your own vision. Revision is global, taking another look at what ideas you have included in your paper and how they are arranged;
Proofreading is checking over a draft to make sure that everything is complete and correct as far as spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and other such matters go. It's a necessary, if somewhat tedious and tricky, job one that a friend or computer Spellcheck can help you perform. Proofreading is polishing, one spot at a time.
Tip: Revision should come before proofreading: why polish what you might be changing anyway?
Hints for revising and proofreading:
- Leave some time -- an hour, a day, several days -- between writing and revising. You need some distance to switch from writer to editor, some distance between your initial vision and your re-vision.
- Double-check your writing assignment to be sure you haven't gone off course. It's alright if you've shifted from your original plan, if you know why and are happier with this direction.
- Read aloud slowly. You need to get your eye and your ear to work together. At any point that something seems awkward, read it over again. If you're not sure what's wrong -- or even if something is wrong -- make a notation in the margin and come back to it later. Watch out for "padding;" tighten your sentences to eliminate excess words that dilute your ideas.
- Be on the lookout for points that seem vague or incomplete; these could present opportunities for rethinking, clarifying and further developing an idea.
- Get to know what your particular quirks are as a writer. Do you give examples without explaining them, or forget links between paragraphs? Leave time for an extra rereading to look for any weak points .
- Get someone else into the act. Have others read your draft, or read it to them. Invite questions and ask questions yourself, to see if your points are clear and well developed. Remember, though, that some well-meaning readers can be too easy -- or too hard -- on a piece of writing, especially one by someone close.
Tip: Never change anything unless you are convinced that it should be changed.
- Keep tools at hand, such as a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a writing handbook.
- If you're using word processing, remember that computers are wonderful resources for editing and revising.
- When you feel you've done everything you can, first by revising and then by proofreading, and have a nice clean final draft, put it aside and return later to re-see the whole essay. There may be some last minute fine tuning that can make all the difference.