On my last blog, I described the default strategy that students use for writing papers. This time, I’ll discuss the ideal strategy that students should work on, one in which they use conscious decision-making for an effective process. This allows the writer to creatively shape the words on the page, making writing an art. Because writing can foster critical thinking and problem solving skills, the best approach to writing optimizes those skills. Generally, the writing process includes several stages.
The process looks like this:
- Prewriting: considering all aspects of the topic and using strategies that engage students in critical thinking—like asking and answering questions, developing a thesis that reflects an argumentative stance (one that considers the significance of a topic and how it can be used by readers) and organizing ideas into an outline that reflects coherent thinking on the topic. This is the point where students gather their materials, just as an artist gathers clay and sculpting tools and paints.
- Drafting: using the thesis and outline to develop ideas in writing, integrating explanation and evidence; and writing well developed introduction, body and conclusion paragraphs. At this stage, the writer is molding the clay and finding out what shapes it lends itself to.
- Revising: paying attention to the words on the page and how they will be interpreted by readers and making changes to enhance the writer’s control over readers’ experience of the writing. Here the writer will refine and reshape the draft, bringing out the beauty and harmony.
- Editing: using close reading to find and eliminate grammatical and sentence level errors that detract from a reader’s ability to understand the words on the page, often by knowing common errors and working to find and correct them. At this stage, the writer will put the final polish on the piece, paying attention to the tiniest detail.
Most of the professional writers I know spend a considerable amount of time prewriting. But this stage of the process is often invisible because writers review ideas and make connections in their minds. I often tell people that I wrote the majority of my dissertation for my Ph.D. while walking my dog. I would conduct research, locating the best sources by credible experts in the field and read and take extensive notes. During walks, though, I would mull over all of the new information I had collected, consider what it meant and try to find patterns and connections with previous research and with my own experiences. After hours spent contemplating information, it sometimes seemed like the drafting stage took almost no work at all.
For beginning writers, though, prewriting should take place in writing. Synthesizing ideas from various sources, teasing out patterns, recognizing inconsistences—all of this is easier when the writer can see the words on the page.
The stage that writers spend the most time on is revising. In revision, the craft of writing becomes art. Drafting provides the clay, and during revision, the writer shapes that clay, applying critical thinking skills to evaluate, rethink and rearrange until a beautiful sculpture emerges.