According to Cottrell (2019, p. 292) “the art of writing is in the craft of redrafting”. Try as we might, our writing is never perfect the first time around. Drafting is a natural process in academic writing; you can expect to write and rewrite many drafts for each assignment until you get it right. The following advice is intended to guide you on the drafting process and provide you with tips for each stage.
Your first draft
Your first draft will not be a masterpiece; this is not the purpose of a first draft! A first draft is about getting your ideas onto the page, without worrying too much about word choice, structure, spelling, grammar or clarity. These come in later drafts. Here are the things you should focus on in your first draft.
Use your essay plan
If you are using an essay plan (and this is highly recommended) then use it to stay on topic and focused throughout your first draft. Although your first draft should be loose in terms of structure and language, you must distinguish this draft from your essay plan. As Flesch and Lass (1996) state: “Your plan and your notes tell the story in too much of a hurry. They are good reminders for yourself, but they are too brief for a reader” (p. 32). You will need to ‘flesh out’ the ideas on your essay plan by beginning to explain and contextualise ideas and introduce your critical analysis.
See more : Essay Plans
Interpret the essay question
Make sure you know the question you are answering. This will help you stick to the essentials rather than going off on a tangent. You can use your essay plan to check that your writing is on topic as you go. If you are slightly unsure about what is being asked, then go back to your assignment brief to identify the approach to take and what your writing should cover.
See more: Interpreting the Essay Question
It’s unlikely that anyone but you will ever see your first draft. Your first draft gives you a license to write how you like as all corrections can be made later. Fowler and Aaron (1998) recommend writing fluidly at this point to encourage spontaneity and increase your receptiveness to ideas and critique as you go. If you can’t find the correct word, then highlight the closest thing so that you can revisit word choice later. Don’t be overly critical of your writing style at this point; if you can’t resist then make these criticisms in a different colour so you can come back to them.
Clarify your position
“It is important to state your position clearly – although some people like to sit on the fence, so that might be important too” (Cottrell, 2019, p. 106). Joking aside, your first draft is a great time to clarify your position and the argument that is being made in your writing. This means clearly stating your main ideas, conclusions and line of reasoning.
The main body of your assignment will be made up of paragraphs. Paragraphs are the building blocks of any essay and are used to organise the information you wish to convey so your reader can access similar information within the same section. Here is a suggested paragraph structure to follow:
Add in the evidence
Hamilton likens evidence in an essay to “chocolate chips in a cookie – you need plenty…, and, ideally, they should be evenly distributed” (2011, p.103). Typically, two pieces of evidence per paragraph is an excellent starting point, but you may come across more in your reading that you wish to include. However, be mindful that you don’t overwhelm your writing with evidence; it should be used to convey your own voice and understanding, not mute it! At this point, attempt to paraphrase the evidence, but don’t worry about this too much. You can always insert quotes into your work with a view to paraphrasing them during your editing process. Make sure you cite as you go so you can retrace where evidence originated!
Your first draft is a great time to note the links between paragraphs and evidence, so that you can make these clearer in future drafts. Connect your sentences so you know which ideas belong together; don’t worry about coherence at this point; just get your points connected. Use signposts to indicate to your reader the direction of your argument i.e. however, in contrast, furthermore.
See more: Signposting in your essays
Cottrell, S. (2019). Fifty ways to excel at writing. London, UK: Red Globe Press.
Flesch, R. & Lass, A.H. (1996). The classic guide to better writing. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Fowler, H.R. & Aaron, J.E. (1998). The little, brown handbook. (7th ed.). New York, NY: Longman.
Hamilton, C.L. (2011). Anthem guide to essay writing. London, UK: Anthem Press.
Your second draft will require careful consideration of the argument you are making. If you have planned your time, then you will be able to take a couple of days off from this assignment and revisit it with a fresh perspective. You will need to scrutinise your writing to ensure that your line of reasoning is clear, and your argument progresses throughout the paragraphs. Use this flowchart to guide you:
Beginning, middle & end
Your second draft is the best place to draft an introduction and conclusion too, so you have all of the relevant components ready for the editing process. Once your main paragraphs have been redrafted, you can then focus on how you will introduce the essay now that all of the information is in place, and how you will conclude the essay, now that you have considered the evidence required to make recommendations and summarise.
See more: Writing introductions and conclusions
Put feedback into action!
Your second draft is a great time to put any feedback you have received on previous assignments into action. Go through your feedback point by point and make sure that you are checking for similar errors in this draft and amending them.
See more: Handling feedback