Online Guide to Writing and Research

Chapter 2: The Writing Process

When we speak of the writing process, we are speaking of the writer’s unconscious and conscious creativity and the process that writing textbooks generally define structurally. This process is often treated as a linear one that, if followed step by step, will lead to a successfully written product. Although some writers may write this way, most devise their own ways of generating ideas and writing, usually from their own experiences of what works for them.

As we said in chapter 1, writing is a way of thinking. In other words, the quality of your writing depends on the quality of the thinking you do about your topic or your assignment. This chapter discusses the kinds of thinking you need to do before you begin writing, while you are writing your first draft, and when you are rewriting your draft.

The whole writing process can be divided into the prewriting, writing, and rewriting or revising phases. In the prewriting phase, you might try to clarify

  • what you want to write about
  • how you think and feel about your topic
  • how you want to approach your topic
  • what other materials and notes you might need
  • how to organize these materials
  • what kind of audience you are writing for

You plan the content and organization of your paper or assignment during this first phase. In the writing phase, you implement your plan, working out the details and fine-tuning your thoughts. In rewriting or revising, you review what you have written and consider how and where your writing can be improved.

Sometimes, these phases are quite distinct and separate, but for most students, they seldom have clear boundaries. They overlap in a recursive fashion rather than fall in place as an orderly sequence of steps, one neatly following from the other. When you work on longer research papers, you will generate ideas, gather information, plan your organization, and write your draft. You may later go back to revise it. When you write shorter assignments or essays, you may plan, write, and revise as you go along. In most cases, you may revise your plan, your organization, and your content on your way to the final draft.

Understanding that writing is individual and recursive, we can look at the three phases—prewriting, writing, rewriting—and some strategies you may use to write college assignments.