Saturday, August 24, 2013

College Writing Skills: The Writing Process

This is dedicated to my students in the College Writing Skills program at ESC, though any writer--or student--will find it helpful. When I began teaching writing at the local college, I created a weekly sheet to help freshman students learn to manage the syllabus. It evolved into a "newsletter" of sorts complete with articles, study tips, and motivational quotes. I'll now post those on my blog (and use the online course page for updates and homework/assignment due date reminders). 

Whether we are aware of it or not, all writing goes through a series of stages from the initial idea to the completed product. It helps to relate the process of writing to what you know. A process is simply breaking something into steps. Many things we do daily follow a process. Think about the steps used to do daily tasks, enjoy your hobbies, or improve skills such as dance, music, sports, and so on.
Prewriting is the first step in the writing process. It  includes brainstorming ideas, settling on a subject, and selecting a topic. Brainstorming is accomplished in several ways. Making lists, creating a cluster or bubble outline (sometimes called a mind map), or journaling all help in focusing the topic.
  Prewriting also includes planning and organizing. Deciding on audience and purpose takes place during this stage. The method used for brainstorming is then turned into an outline or plan for our writing. When you complete your assignment to poll 12 people to ask whether they use prewriting, note whether they are still students or working adults. Many people who have been in their occupations for awhile and writing emails, business letters, and reports do not realize that they "prewrite" because they plan in their heads what they will say and how they will say it.
Drafting is the next step. The purpose of this stage is to get thoughts onto paper. In elementary and secondary school your teachers may have referred to the “sloppy copy.” This is the messy draft. DO NOT ever try to turn in your draft to a college instructor. They expect your papers to have gone through at least one round of revision and editing. Keep in mind, professional writers will do this many, many times before submitting it to their editors to make it as perfect as possible.
Revision is the rethinking step. At this point you will review your draft for clarity, supporting details, and move and/or cut sections to better express your point. This stage should not be confused with editing. (That is not about rethinking your approach.)
Editing and Proofreading is the final step. The purpose of this stage is to check for flow, grammatical and spelling errors, correct format, and so on.
Keep in mind that the entire process is recursive. (This word will by on your vocabulary quiz!) This means that it is not necessarily a chronological process. At any point you can go back to a previous stage to improve the overall product. Unlike say, baking a cake, in which it would be ineffective to add the forgotten baking soda once the cake is in the oven, in the writing process you can go back to prewriting and add to your plan even as you are drafting.
  Though not part of the writing process, prioritizing is vital for your academic career (and beyond). Prioritizing means setting both goals and the action steps to achieve those goals.
Breaking tasks into smaller steps creates manageable pieces. This helps in prioritizing schedules. Create goals and then set action steps to complete each goal. Remember, we eat an elephant one bite at a time; we write essays one word at a time.