If writing a paper seems like a challenging task, maybe
it will help to break the project into manageable steps. After
all, writing is a process -- very few people can just sit down and write
a good paper. Even those that can create good drafts on the first
attempt can edit and revise their way to more powerful writing.
Expressing ourselves in writing is about creating text
that is clear, communicates our ideas, and engages the reader. In
some cases, style is important. In all cases, the style is less
important than the desired impact on the reader.
By thinking of writing as a process, we can structure writing
tasks so that we are constantly improving our work. Not only will
this help create better writing now, it will build skills for future
projects. Want to learn to be a better writer? Practice,
With today's computer technology, editing and revising
are easier than ever before. Common productivity
software allows virtually anyone to present ideas with professional
looking fonts, typesets, formats, and graphics. Perhaps even more
importantly, technology can be used to support and enhance virtually any
learning style or need.
Simply stated, today their is no excuse to accept a
poorly written and sloppy paper. Whether we like it or not, the
"bar has been raised." People expect, no demand, that
things they read be produced to a high level of quality. Do you
think a teacher or professor will accept documents that indicate I did
not care enough about the project to meet minimum standards?
Explaining writing as a process is not a precise
endeavor. There are many ways to "chunk" the tasks that
need to be accomplished. In keeping with the concept of Writing
Quick Tips, we will present the simplest presentation that meets our
needs. We will also provide a variety of links to provide
alternative perspectives and presentations of writing skills.
ABC Writing Process
Parsed to its most basic functions, writing is as simple
as the ABC's.
C. Editing and Revising
A simple 3-step process is presented here because it provides a framework that ties the different aspects of writing
together into an easy to remember strategy. If you look online
or in different textbooks; you will see 4-step, 5-step, 6-step, and
even more ways to present these concepts. This writer has yet to
see a "12-step" writing process, but is sure that the
writing process could be presented that way.
Remember, there is no magic in the words. The key
is how we apply the ideas being transmitted. The navigation bar on
the right contains links to other ways to look at writing as a
process. Accepting that writing is something we do in stages
creates a "blueprint" for learning to write more
The ABC Writing Process presented here is sequential and
recursive -- meaning that while the steps are applied in the order of A,
B, C. Getting to the final draft may mean returning or
"revisiting" any of the steps as needed. For example,
successfully applying this process might mean prewriting, drafting, and
then doing some more prewriting to generate more ideas.
Wouldn't you agree that it is not possible to write
anything of meaning without having something to say? Have you ever
read something where it was clear the author was still putting their
thoughts together? If I do not know what I am going to say, I
cannot possibly do a good job of writing about anything.
The purpose of prewriting is to expand our ideas.
The objective is to write down as much as possible without concern for
all of the details that the finished project will include. Have
you ever had a hard time getting started with a writing project? Perhaps
it would be easier to just start thinking about ideas and writing those
Prewriting is about answering these 3 questions:
- What thoughts can I share about this topic?
- Have I left out any important details?
- Can I included all five senses: sight, smell, touch,
At this step, there is no reason to be concerned about
the organization of concepts or the writing style -- those details will
become more manageable after we collect our thoughts. Think of it as "brain
storming." Some call it "freewriting." Just
relax and let yourself go. How many different ideas can we come up
with? There is no reason to worry about what is right or
wrong at this stage.
Some people will find prewriting easier if they start
with paper and pencil. It doesn't have to be done on notepaper --
prewriting our ideas on notecards makes it easy to experiment with how
different thoughts relate to each other. Others might prefer to
use a computer. Specialty software like
Inspiration allows for the easy creation of concept maps or visual
organization of ideas. One does not need to use
specialty software, however, to visually organize information.
This ABC Writing Process assumes that
we have done some preliminary research and have some understanding about our
purpose BEFORE prewriting. We do not, however, want to have all of our research
"done" -- in most cases, thoughtful reflection and prewriting about what
we want to say will suggest additional areas to research and
investigation. Trying to research EVERYTHING before prewriting will
be a waste time.
Don't worry about grammar, spelling, sentence structure,
and overall organization. Everything we do when prewriting can be
changed -- in fact, that is the whole point. Getting ideas down
will allow us to improve them in steps. We don't have to worry
about getting things "just right" or perfect. That is
the beauty of the writing process -- we are always looking at what we
have done and striving to make it clearer and more readable. By
definition, our ABC Writing Process will result in better writing.
As a result of prewriting, we should be able to form questions about what additional information will help the reader
understand our ideas. Prewriting not only clarifies our
thoughts, it points us in new direction, and starts creating
"chunks" of information. Prewriting lets us start asking questions about
additional information and resources we will need when we start the next step,
creating a first-draft.
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As a result of prewriting, we now have a set of ideas to
actually write about. Here is where many people get lost in the
process. We defeat the entire purpose of using the ABC Writing
Process if we now try to write a detailed, meticulously crafted,
and perfect final draft. THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS DRAFTING PHASE IS FOR!
Prewriting let us look at our thoughts. Drafting uses those
thoughts and creates meaning through structure.
The purpose of drafting is to start limiting our
thoughts and distilling them to the ideas that will help us effectively
communicate in writing. The objective is to look at your
prewriting and determine what are your strongest points. In
academic writing, we call this a thesis. Then,
start organizing your thoughts around this thesis. Each main idea will have subordinate
concepts that are
logical extensions of the corresponding main idea. Each of these
subordinate concepts will, in turn, have supporting details. Writing
a draft based on prewriting will take our thoughts and transform them
into something to say.
Drafting is about writing to discover 4 simple questions:
- What is my main idea?
- What is most interesting?
- What is most important to me?
- Why am I writing about this?
Remember, we are just organizing the prewriting and
creating a draft. Most will find that the hesitation and
reflection needed to write "final copy" quality prevents them from writing smoothly and fluently. For some, this
is actually where "writer's block," or the inability to get
started, comes from. Imagine the freedom and comfort that will
come when we accept that the drafting stage is not about
"perfection." Drafting is about making progress towards
Drafting allows us to create a "working document" that will
be further refined. Prewriting allows us to generate ideas.
Drafting allows us to choose the ideas we want to write about and then
begins to organize them as our main idea (thesis), subordinate ideas,
and supporting details. If we have followed the ABC Writing
Process, we now are now ready to look at how our ideas are presented and
start shaping them into a more readable form.
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Many think of revising as a negative -- as if it indicates that
something was "wrong." Nothing could be farther from the
truth. The ABC Writing Process merely puts the final details off
until after we had generated ideas and organized them into a thesis,
subordinate ideas, and supporting details. Once that is
accomplished, we turn our attention to the actual presentation
itself. Think about it -- does it really make any sense to look at
readability, grammar, and writing styles before I actually have
something to say?
The purpose of revising is to refine or clarify meaning for the
reader by looking at the way we use language. In the process of
paying attention to how we have expressed our ideas in writing, we are
also working on engaging our reader and stimulating interest in what we
have to say. Revising is where we format our writing to conform
with appropriate English usage.
Revising is about finding answers to 7 questions:
- Why did I write about this topic?
- Does the writing present a main idea and then expand this idea in
- Does each paragraph serve a purpose and move the reader toward
accepting the main idea?
- Within each paragraph, does each sentence support the main concept
- Are the words in each sentence properly used given the context of
the writing's purpose?
- Does the choice of words enhance the clarity and preciseness of
- Does each sentence reflect proper usage of the English language.
Reading a draft out loud is an excellent way to start this process --
learning theory tells us that we write and listen with different parts
of the brain. Things that may not be obvious when we write often
scream for correction when we hear them. We start to learn
language when we "hear" our mothers speak while we are babies
in the womb. Listening to what we write is a powerful tool -- use
it. Specialty software such as TextHELP or Kurzweil 3000 can read
text aloud for us.
Revising is done in steps. First, read the essay quickly.
Does it focus on a single idea? Does this idea develop
clearly? Do the sentences flow smoothly as if spoken by a single
Next, reread the essay, this time, slowly. Read each paragraph
one at a time. Does each start with a sentence that catches the reader's
attention while introducing the ideas to follow? Each
paragraph should be complete, with details to lead the viewer towards
accepting the main idea or thesis. Within each paragraph, ideas
should be presented in an order that maximizes their impact.
Make appropriate revisions to each paragraph and then continue the
process with the next. As you move through this process, look at
how each paragraph builds on the previous one. When appropriate,
move ideas around within paragraphs or consider moving paragraphs
around. This is easy to do if you are using a computer. When
you get to the last paragraph, the conclusion should leave the reader satisfied that
your writing was upfront and direct about what was going to be said,
delivered that message, and then confirmed or summarized the main idea
of your writing.
We are not done yet -- now reread your work, sentence by sentence, word by
word. The first two "passes" made sure that our ideas
are complete and organized. Now we want to verify that the all sentence and words
are appropriate for the meaning and purpose of our writing. At
this stage, it may be useful to have an English textbook or some online
resources available. Writing Quick Tips organizes a variety of quality
Web sites that will help.
Finally, read your writing again, slowly. Start at the end of
the paper and read each sentence one at a time, progressing to the beginning
of the paper. Ever notice how much easier it is to proofread
someone else's writing? That's because our vision is not
"clouded" by an understanding of what me meant to say.
Once we are confident that our writing is properly organized around the
main idea, paragraph by paragraph, we check for grammar, punctuation, spelling, typographical, or formatting errors.
Reading one sentences at a time, backwards, is a powerful tool to verify
that we have actually stated what we meant to say.
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