The Writing Process: 5 Practical Steps
While you have likely heard the phrase “the writing process” many times — what does it actually mean? A writer’s process may be as unique as the writer, but there are concrete steps in the process of crafting an academic writing project that are guaranteed to yield strong rhetorical results when executed with intention.
STEP 1: ASSESS (Review & Analyze)
The first step of any writing project is to ensure you understand the project’s specific expectations. Some key requirements to take note of:
- Expected length / word count
- Number and type of sources required
- Type of project (genre) and its requirements/expectations
As you move through the project’s details carefully, take note of anything important and make a list of questions you have. Find answers to those questions before proceeding.
Next, consider your rhetorical situation. This means considering your writing goals and the needs, wants, and perspectives of your audience in order to achieve those goals. Sometimes writers write strictly to inform an audience, but most of the time they write to directly persuade an audience into action. Before you can possibly persuade someone else, you need to determine what you know about a subject and what you still need to understand. This is also an excellent time to explore your potential bias, which is crucial if you have never done so. Sometimes, the more answers you uncover, the more questions you continue to ask, which is a positive step in finding compelling content for a more interesting project.
HOW TO CONSIDER THE RHETORICAL SITUATION
- Define writing goals
- What are the project’s required goals?
- What are my personal goals as the creator and writer of the project?
- How will I appeal to pathos, ethos, logos and kairos in my piece?
- Self-reflect and consider bias
- What assumptions do I have about my subject?
- How can I unpack my cultural lenses to better understand where my assumptions are coming from?
- What credible sources can help me determine the truth or misunderstandings behind my assumptions?
- Identify & understand your specific audience
- Who is the best audience when considering my goals?
- Why does this particular audience think and feel the way they do? This takes true empathy to unpack.
- Do some preliminary research
- Run a Google search with keywords separated by the + sign — for example, “homelessness+domestic abuse” — then look for sources from popular magazines, journals, and newspapers.
- Search for the same keywords on the Google “news” tab to find current information about the topic.
The more you know about a topic, the more opportunities you will have for finding what really speaks to your personal interests, which will allow for more diverse research and a more creative approach. Each time you go down a different path and your ideas take new shape, it is important to reconsider the rhetorical situation to ensure that you are considering your goals as a writer and meeting the needs of your audience.
So, how do you know who your audience should be? Finding your intended audience means locating that specific audience you want to direct your persuasive arguments to. While writing projects often start out general, the further you get into your research, the more specific your solutions may become. If you are looking for ways of solving the opiate crisis in America, you may decide to speak directly to pharmaceutical companies, or perhaps your goals are more suited to addressing parents of teens who are prescribed opiates after surgeries. Finding that specific audience is critical to rhetorical success. The more you understand your audience personally, the more likely you will be successful in persuading them.
Mode of Delivery
Your mode of delivery is the medium you use for a project. There are different ways of delivering information: text-based, audio-based, visual-based, etc. Figuring out the best mode of delivery is a key part of the rhetorical situation. First review the project’s instructions: Is there a specific mode of delivery the project asks for? If you have the freedom to choose your own mode, ask yourself questions like:
- Would this project be more effective in an audio format?
- Would it be more powerful with the inclusion of images?
To answer these questions, you need to look at your audience’s specific needs and make choices based on what modes of delivery will work best for them.
Because so many audiences access information online, multi-modal projects (the use of multiple formats within one project) have become increasingly common. The combination of powerful modes allows for even greater rhetorical success. For example: a photo essay relies on images to tell a story and inspire emotion, but the text accompanied with the photos deepens the understanding of the topic’s technicalities. Understanding more about multimodal communication will allow you to convey your information in new and more interesting ways if you think it would be more compelling to your intended audience.
In summary, make sure you have carefully considered the following questions:
- What are the assignment’s specific expectations?
- What do I already know about my topic?
- What do I still need to understand?
- Have I carefully considered the rhetorical situation?
- Who should my intended audience be?
- What would be the best mode of delivery for this particular audience and rhetorical situation?
STEP 2: PREPARE (Research + Prewrite)
Not all types of writing projects require extensive research, but the ones that do will benefit from crafting a research question. Once you understand your audience’s specific needs, you can develop your research question by using a resource like this detailed how-to guide from Scribbr.
The Internet has revolutionized the way in which writers are able to acquire and disseminate information. Because there are so many options of where to find information, sometimes it feels overwhelming trying to decide where to begin researching. This is why it is so important to work through the research process consciously in order to move beyond the obvious.
Once you have developed a strong research question, you can gather the strongest data from reputable sources and move to the academic database.
HOW TO KNOW IF AN ONLINE SOURCE IS REPUTABLE/RELIABLE
- The source is from a reputable and established organization
- The writer cites their sources and also has a exemplary reputation
- The source uses relevant and up-to-date documentation to support its claims
- The source seeks to educate and instill knowledge and is not opinion focused
- In most situations, the source is relatively recent, although this might not be the case when working with primary materials
To help you remember how to evaluate a source, check out the CRAAP test and bookmark this page.
For even more strategies on deciding on whether or not a source is reliable, check out this guide by the University of Maryland.
Most writing projects require at least some research. While there are a host of strong, reliable sources online, GoogleScholar and library databases can take your research further and legitimize your ideas. Generally speaking, scholarly information took the author/s considerable time to research, write, and peer review. Their dedication to their research now allows us to participate in the conversation and continue to build on the foundation they already laid.
Library databases are notoriously intimidating. To help you find the right database, try searching for your college’s libguide like this:
[your college’s name]+libguide
There you should find a link to your college’s lib guide where databases are conveniently organized into different subjects. College libguides also usually connect you with specific librarians who can help you with any research questions you have.
Other Types of Research
Not all research comes in the form of using your computer. Examples of field research that could assist your rhetorical goals include:
- Site visits
- Case studies
- Ethnographic studies
This amount of preparation may seem intimidating, but by moving through each stage carefully, you prevent the experience of having to start projects over or spending more time revising than actually writing. Prewriting starts with crafting a working thesis statement. The difference between a working thesis statement and a thesis statement is in the word “working.” The working thesis acts as your thesis statement, but as you research and form new ideas and strengthen your arguments, you are able to amend your thesis statement to be even more powerful. As your ideas evolve, so will your thesis statement.
HOW TO WRITE A THESIS STATEMENT
To write a compelling thesis statement, focus on the following:
- Determine the project’s specific focus
- Example: Given the evidence in the most recent state and nongovernmental organization studies, Utah should preserve and protect its public land, rather than auction it off to oil and gas development.
- Focus your argument into a working thesis
- Example: The evidence in recent reports from [State Agency] and [Nongovernmental Organization] strongly suggests that in order to preserve Utah’s unique landscapes and wildlife, Utah’s public land should remain under federal management.
- After you have finished your research and drafted part of your project, develop your working thesis into a final thesis
- Example: The evidence [state specific evidence briefly] clearly shows that auctioning public lands to private interests puts Utah’s unique landscapes and wildlife at risk and would also severely restrict public access to those lands, which is why Utah’s public land should remain under federal management.
The more confident you become as a writer, the more complex and unique your thesis statements may become; however, often a thesis statement typically includes:
- Stating a specific argument/position
- Supporting that thesis statement with three claims
- Using credible research to bolster those claims
The stronger your thesis statement and supporting evidence is, the easier it will be for you when you sit down to outline the project itself.
More Resources on Building a Thesis Statement
Most students admit they skip outlining their work, but without intentional outlining, your strong, powerful points can be lost on an audience. In order to prevent confusing or misdirecting an audience, take the time to consider the order in which you organize your information. This step takes ample focus and time, which is why it’s tempting to skip it altogether, but without understanding how to outline and why it’s so important, your writing goals may never be carried out as effectively as they could.
Over time, writers typically start to outline in a more organic way, but understanding this step must happen first.
HOW TO OUTLINE
Spending time outlining your work gives yourself a map for the drafting process, which means rather than struggling to figure out what to say next, your outline shows you what points and sources come next. While you practice different methods of outlining, consider using your sources as a way to structure your project. For example, say you have seven strong sources that you plan on using in your project: decide what order to share them in that will yield the strongest rhetorical results. Or, you could also focus on your main claims and determine in which order those arguments become the most persuasive.
Whether you are working on an essay, a multi-modal piece, a podcast, a video, etc., being intentional about outlining your work before you begin writing will overall create a more productive and pleasant experience within the writing process.
More Resources on Outlining
STEP 3: DRAFT
At this point, you are finally in the drafting stage of your work. Because you have done so much preparatory work to get here, the following steps will go smoother than ever.
Because you already took the time to outline, you created a guide for drafting your project. The outline shows you when and where to share your main claims and supporting evidence. Each genre has specific expectations, so make sure you take a look at professional examples of the type of project you are creating. If you have chosen an essay as the ideal mode of delivery, your paragraph structure will likely follow an arrangement similar to this:
- Summarize paragraph topic or introduce new claim
- State evidence
- Explain evidence
- Emphasize your point
- Transition to new paragraph
Also in this step of the writing process, you will use your sources to layer and support your arguments, which means you need to understand how to cite those sources. Answering the question “How do I cite my sources?” isn’t as simple as it used to be. Citing sources isn’t just about deciding between MLA, APA, or Chicago; it’s about returning to the rhetorical situation. If you are writing an essay for a college course that is asking for MLA, then absolutely use MLA. But what if a project is being published online? Most essays published on online platforms link their sources, so referring to sources is as easy as a click of the mouse. Even using traditional software like Microsoft Word allows for writers to embed or hyperlink their sources. If you still feel overwhelmed with citations, check out this article by Annika Clark called “Finding the Right Spiderman: An Introduction to Reference and Citation Formats.”
The goal of citation is always to guide and inform the reader. Citations:
- introduce source material
- give the reader a way to reference the source
- offer the audience specific information (like page numbers) so that a reader can find the information without difficulty
As you draft your work, you also want to return to your thesis statement and make any needed changes to strengthen and clarify it. You might also find that you need additional research to strengthen changes you’ve made to your work. From there you are ready to complete your writing and move to the revision stage.
STEP 4: REVISE & EDIT
Editing and revising are similar, but what separates them is really about time and effort. Editing looks to fix those smaller grammatical issues you may have missed. Revising is when you need to revisit actual steps:
- Is this thesis strong enough?
- Are these the best sources?
- Is this the right mode of delivery?
Editing is fairly easy, especially when you use helpful services like Grammarly and Citation Machine. Revising can feel daunting, but the more time you spend with steps 1–3, the less likely it will be that your work needs a dramatic revision.
Often when we begin the editing and revising process, we discover that we may need to reorder our claims. The outline is a guide, but after spending considerable time with our research and in the heads of our audience, sometimes we find that an argument is stronger in another order. In addition, sentences often need to be reworded or restructured in order to be more clear and straightforward.
As you consider your work one final time, return to your introduction and conclusion. The body of your project is what stabilizes your argument — it is the life of your argument — but the introduction and conclusion are how you connect to your reader and in turn have them connect to your goals.
HOW TO REVISE/EDIT
- Ask a trusted source to read your work and give critical feedback
- Decide if you need to revamp or revise your introduction or conclusion
- Check for and eliminate redundancies
- Remove jargon
- Condense wordy sentences
- Replace generic words (such as “things”) with concrete examples
- Add examples and descriptions where needed to illustrate ideas
- Read your work aloud (preferably to another person) so you can catch any oversights
- Ensure you have included all the documentation/citations needed
- Certify that all your sources are cited correctly
- Run a grammar and spell check
Revising and editing are important steps in completing a strong draft for your intended audience. When you reread your piece (and have others offer peer feedback), you are able to revisit areas that may need to be strengthened. Writers often say a piece is never complete and could be revised countless times, but if you put time and energy into the revision process, you can get closer to assuring you have met your rhetorical goals.
STEP 5: FORMAT
Formatting is the last step of the writing process and is usually as simple as following the formatting rules and expectations for the layout of the project or looking more carefully at the expectations of that particular mode of delivery. For example, if you look on The Atlantic’s website, each article is formatted with the same font, size, and spacing.
HOW TO FORMAT
Each mode of delivery has its own expectations, but in general here are some details to consider:
- Does the project meet the minimum length requirements?
- Is the text you include legible and consistent?
- Are your paragraphs indented or separated from other paragraphs using white space?
- Are all graphics and images high quality and without pixilation?
- If writing an essay, are your margins correct?
- What accessibility edits do you need to make?
- Are there any other requirements of the project you need to consider?
Formatting generates consistency when work is displayed on the same platform. Formatting creates continuity. Formatting is the last polish before you share your work with the world. While this last step is simple, don’t minimize its significance. Remember the rhetorical situation? While our work might be airtight ― strong thesis, intentional organization, powerful sources, poetic conclusion ― if you haven’t formatted the work to look good, you may have already lost your audience.
- Assess (Review & Analyze)
- Know what is required of you
- Answer any questions you still have
- Evaluate your rhetorical situation
- Determine the best mode of delivery for your intended audience
- Conduct preliminary research
- Consider the pathos, ethos, logos and kairos of your piece
- Prepare (Research & Prewrite)
- Develop your research question
- Understand what makes a source reliable
- Get more help with citations by reading “Finding the Right Spiderman: An Introduction to Reference and Citation Formats“
- Use Google Scholar
- Use your library databases
- Consider other types of field research
- Develop a working thesis
- Organize material and create an outline
- Start writing!
- Use your outline to guide you
- Cite your sources based on the rhetorical situation
- Revise & Edit
- Have a trusted source read and offer critical feedback
- Read through your work aloud (preferably to another person)
- Use tool like Grammarly and Citation Machine to help you catch errors and cite sources
- Return to the body of your essay and look for any places you may need to add additional research and data to strengthen your points and arguments
- Look for sentences and sections that may need to be reordered or reworded
- Revise your introduction and conclusion to be as powerful as possible
- Format your project based on the requirements of the piece or use your own formatting considering the mode of delivery and/or rhetorical situation
Once you understand the importance of each one of these steps and have practiced them, you may begin to feel comfortable creating your own writing process. That’s great! These steps, when followed in sequential order, will aid in your success as a writer, and over time you can allow yourself to try new ways of crafting out of order. The writing process doesn’t have one face, but limitless faces. Once you understand the rules of writing you are set free to play with them intentionally.