The Writing Process


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We suggest ways students might improve their academic essay writing by altering their writing process. Some attention is paid to the difference between topic and thesis, the need to read an assignment carefully, and the importance of analyzing an audience. When students have an assignment in hand, we can provide some interaction by discussing their assignment and audience.

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  • Today, I’m going to discuss the different stages of the writing process. I’ll review some of the techniques most writers use, especially college writers. Some of my tips may work for you. And some may not. Just be open to trying some new things as you write. If you want to see changes in your writing (or your grades) be open to trying out a new writing process.
  • First we’ll talk about what should happen before that first draft is attempted. You may find you actually start the writing process far earlier than you’d thought.
  • So begin by considering what and why you are writing. Is it a specific question on a prompt that you have to answer? Or are you supposed to develop your own topic?

    This is a really important step in the process because you have to know why you are responding…what is the point for writing this paper?
    How you answer will affect how you go about writing. What type of assignment is it? Is it a question from your instructor? Is it a topic that you have proposed yourself? If you have an assignment, or prompt, read it carefully.

    One way that you can discover what you are supposed to be writing about is to look for the key words in the assignment.
    Words like:


    Highlight these words to help you figure out exactly what you are to do.

    If you are still unsure, go to the instructor. Make sure you understand exactly what is required. If not, go ask! Instructors do not mind answering your questions….and it is always better to be safe than sorry….and writing off topic will definitely make you sorry!

    If you have several questions to choose from, try to jot down some ideas for each one. See which question gets you to start writing the most- remember: the more you can write about a single topic, the easier it will be to write the actual paper. Pick the topic that can get you writing!

    One of the hardest aspects of writing is coming up with the ideas.

    The first thing you want to do is pick a subject that is interesting to you. So perhaps you are sitting in a basic literature course. Your semester paper can be about any piece of literature that you chose. So how do you chose?
    Well first ask yourself, what was the most interesting thing we discussed in class?
    Well, I really loved our discussion of 16th century England, so maybe I could come up with something from that….
    I also am taking that women’s studies course which is really interesting….so I wonder if I could combine the two? Perhaps look at literature from 16th century England… Shakespeare…..and see how he portrays women…..
    Let’s see…..who are some of the women in his plays…..Juliet…Ophelia from Hamlet….Lady Macbeth…hmm.. How about Rosalind from As You Like It? Then I could discuss how Rosalind broke barriers and played against traditional female stereotypes.

    So here you can see we took something very general (16th Century England and Women in Literature) and moved to something much more specific (Traditional Gender roles in Shakespeare’s As You Like It).

    This, however, is not enough. All we have done is focused in on a topic…. We now have to move from here and create a thesis.
  • Think about your audience as you come up with a thesis. Most academic papers are written not just to prove to the instructor that the student learned something, but to show the instructor a new way to view something he or she already knows. Also, most instructors want students to display critical thinking, a good argument with plenty of evidence, and a clear writing style.

    You can build in interactivity here by involving the instructor. Ask the instructor to describe how he/she envisions the audience and the audience’s needs. (I have tried this and it always works, so don’t be shy.)

    This would be a great start to the interactive portion of the presentation. If the class already has a prompt/topic, have them use that. It would be a good exercise for them to already start thinking about a strong thesis. If they don’t, come up with one. You could use a topic that relates to the course (for example, if it is a history course, then just come up with an appropriate history topic- “The U.S. decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan” etc. etc.) Or you could come up with something fun: College Football. Cartoons of the 90s. Etc. Then break the students into groups of three and have them come up with a thesis. If the class is small enough, share them.

  • Let’s go over some techniques to help develop the thesis. Prewriting helps you develop ideas and ensures you have something original and interesting to write. If you can’t even think of a thesis, you an also use these techniques to help you explore your topic and come up with one.

    Give all these a try. You may find a favorite that always works for you, or you may end up using them only for some projects.

    The first technique to try is listing.
    Besides research on the Web and in the library, consider discussing your topic with people who represent your audience.
    Listing is an easy way to review what you already know about a topic, and it’s an effortless way to get started.
  • Clustering helps you organize ideas as well as generate them. It’s great for visual/spatial learners.
  • This is good when you have a block or have to find a topic. It’s a good method for verbal learners.

    At the end of ten minutes, re-read and underline your most compelling idea. Then, if this seems to be working, write that idea at the top of a clean sheet of paper and start again.
  • Think about your topic throughout the day, and pay attention to things in the world related to it. Is something relevant happening in the news? Did you notice anything on campus? Did someone express an opinion on your topic? Write your observations down. If you’d rather not use a notebook, use a memo app in your smart phone and record yourself speaking notes.

    Keep a notebook at all times—you never know when ideas will come to you!
  • Before we can create our thesis, we need to begin our research.

    In order to truly be able to write a good paper, you need to find other sources that can back up your argument. Since we are not yet at the argument stage, this type of research helps you discover what you want to argue.

    There are several ways in which we can research:
    First, you can use the Library Databases. This brings academic articles to your fingertips and allows you to see what others are saying about your topic.

    You could also peruse the extensive collection of books at the TAMU Libraries.

    You could go through archives and find newspaper articles or magazine stories that relate to your topic.

    And you can go talk to your professor about your ideas. They usually are a great resource for helping change a topic into a thesis.

    All of this research is for you to be able to figure out what you are arguing or claiming. You are trying to discover what your thesis will be.
  • The Evans Library (and the West Campus) has a number of resources to help you with your research. Many people don’t even know they’re there!

    [Consultant: If you have time beforehand, you can find the subject librarian for the major associated with the class, and bring up that page on the library website.]

    Subject librarians can answer questions about your research and help you find materials and resources in your field.

    The AskUs Services can be reached through the library’s webpage at You can get information from them concerning use of library resources, and you can even schedule an appointment with a subject librarian! Hooray!
  • Show them how to get to RefWorks from the library homepage. This is a great and easy way for them to keep organized. There are tutorials on how to use it on this page.

    Plagiarism will get you into a lot of trouble. Academics see it as a very serious offense because when you use someone else’s ideas or words without giving credit, you are seen to be stealing. If you cite properly, you:
    Give credit to the author
    Protect intellectual property
    Allow readers to cross-reference sources
    Add credibility to your argument

    To avoid plagiarizing, be careful to make a distinction in your notes between direct quotes, summarization, and paraphrased information. [Describe the difference between quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing if they don’t know.]

  • First drafts are usually very rough—revise later!

    Focus on getting ideas on paper. Tailoring the prose to your reader’s needs and expectations comes later.

    You don’t have to start with an introduction. Write down your thesis and begin to
    develop support.


  • Take those lists and notes and get to organizing them. If you have not already done so, now is the time to decide on a thesis, or main argument. Don’t be limited by a 5-paragraph structure. Decide on paragraphs based on your assignment, your audience, and your thesis. What sort of set up and support does your thesis need? What are the usual parts of the sort of paper you are writing?
  • Remember that your main concern in writing is to communicate with your reader, so the introduction should provide context so that your reader knows what you will be discussing.

    Following your introduction, the body of your paper will contain your argument, discussion, etc.

  • The conclusion should restate the argument, wrap up the discussion, and perhaps recommend a solution. It should both summarize and reflect.
  • Some revision techniques that really make the difference between a great and a good paper:
    Create a new outline for your draft.
    Check the clarity of your transitions from paragraph to paragraph.
    Make sure the argument is logical and relates to the thesis.
    Check the evidence.

    On style:
    Consider your…Word choice, Ask yourself…Can I use slang?
    Consider your…Sentence types/lengths, Ask yourself…Is this a formal or informal paper? If it’s formal, you want more longer and more complex sentences. But always vary the sentence lengths and types so the writing has variety.
    Consider your…Tone, Ask yourself…What kinds of evidence are normally used for this type of reader? If they are experts, they will want more fact-based evidence and careful logic. If they are a popular audience, they may be more swayed by emotional arguments and not want the source for every fact.
  • After you revise, set the paper aside for a while. Sometimes you get so into the paper you can’t see things you might like to change. Looking at your paper after giving yourself a break can help you find and fix things. It is a also a great idea to get someone else to review the work. Most professional writers do.

    Here you can ask the instructor if he or she has anyone review drafts.

    Use this final phase to make changes in sentence structure, grammar, mechanics, format, diction and to proofread. Don’t skip the proofreading, and don’t do it on a screen. Print out your work and read slowly.

    Good luck, and come visit us for help at any stage of the writing process!

  • If you’re struggling at any stage in the writing process, make an appointment with us at
  • The Writing Process

    1. The Writing Process 2
    2. Prewrite “Of a good beginning cometh a good end.” – John Heywood 3
    3. What Does the Assignment Say? What Do You Want to Say? • Read carefully. • Highlight key terms. • Ask questions. • Use what you know. • Choose a topic of interest. 4
    4. Topic vs. Thesis Topic What you are writing about Thesis Your claim, argument, or recommendation Frank L. Baum’s use of political symbolism in The Wizard of Oz Baum’s use of a yellow brick road can be viewed as commentary on the gold standard debate, a heated political issue at the end of the 19th century. 5
    5. Listing 1. Write down every idea you have. 2.Stuck? Put on a timer. 3.Look for patterns of thoughts. 4.Group material left over in categories. 5. Elaborate. 6
    6. Clustering 1. Start with the middle circle and write a topic. 2. Write down random ideas. Use lines to connect these ideas. 3. See if there is one “cluster” of ideas and start from there. 7
    7. Freewriting 1. Write quickly without stopping, 5-10 minutes. 2. Can’t think of anything? Write “I’m stuck, I can’t think of anything!”—you will at least be moving your pen. 3. Keep writing. 4. Read what you did. 8
    8. Recording 9 Keep a notebook at all times—you never know when ideas will come to you.
    9. Researching Library Databases There are thousands of academic articles located here. TAMU Libraries Has an extensive collection of books, newspaper articles, magazines, and journals Instructors Can help change a topic into a thesis. 10
    10. Library Services Subject Librarians The Evans Library has a librarian for every major at Texas A&M AskUs Services Ask questions about research, request an appointment with a subject librarian, find help with library services 11
    11. Take careful notes. Keep track of all of your sources. Avoid plagiarizing. Make a distinction between direct quotes and paraphrased information in your notes. 12 Research Tips
    12. 13 The First Draft I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it. — William Faulkner
    13. Organization Decide on length and organization based on the assignment’s purpose, audience, and thesis. Use an outline, list, or a rough draft to begin. 14
    14.  Captures your audience’s interest  Provides background on your subject  States your thesis 15 Introduction
    15.  Restates your argument  Recommends a solution or states why your argument matters 16 Conclusion
    16. Revise “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” —Michael Lee 17
    17. Another Pair of Eyes Who can give you feedback? • Your instructor or TA • A University Writing Center consultant • A friend or classmate • A relative 18
    18. For More Help… Visit our website or call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you at any stage in the writing process! 19