Multiple Drafts

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the importance of writing multiple drafts of an essay

The First Draft

If one is the loneliest number, the first draft is the ugliest draft. The end. There’s no way around it. If you can accept that reality, carry on. If you can’t, writing will be an ever-frustrating task. You will struggle to find joy in doing the work. Knowing that it is just a draft can free you from having to write something “golden” every time you come to the page. The pressure eases. You can write terribly. You can use cliches and jargon and run-on sentences. Don’t worry about any of it. You can – and should – revise and edit later.

Let the words fill the page. If no words come, use a writing exercise. Steal a line from someone (cited, of course). Get your writing muscles working, and your mind will follow suit. It will start to make connections.

Stop waiting to “feel” like writing and do the hard work of writing. Feelings more often follow actions rather than the other way around. Waiting to feel like writing is the same thing as waiting for inspiration. Neither typically happen unless you’re working.

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writer’s block can occur at any point during the writing process. You may find yourself sitting down to write when you suddenly realize that you can’t think of a single thing to say. Don’t panic! It’s a common problem with a variety of solutions. Here are a few…

  • Staring at a blank screen can be intimidating. Try writing out your dilemma in the form of a question: “What is it I’m trying to say?” “What are my goals?” Then brainstorm to answer these questions.
  • Take a break. Ten minutes away from your work will usually recharge your creativity.
  • Review the literature on your topic to see what other people are saying. Even opposing views can be inspiring.
  • Bounce ideas off someone else. Speaking about your writer’s block with friends, family, and fellow students may help untangle ideas or generate new ones.
  • Read aloud what you’ve already written to see if the juices start flowing again.

Don’t be afraid of the horrible, no-good words. At least you have words. That’s an accomplishment. Many give up before even getting that far. You didn’t. You have an ugly first draft. Now get to work on the second. It’ll still be ugly but much less so than the first.

Make sure that you start early to have enough time to go through many drafts. If you wait until the day before, you will have time for only one draft, and that will show in your writing.

Rough draft of paper showing a typed essay with lots of handwritten notes such as: provide context here, check on spacing requirements, can I make this claim? need more content here, cut this, I like this part, and so forth. Many sentences and words are underlined or circled.

Figure 1. Take a look at this example with notes a student wrote on her rough draft. Once you complete your own rough draft, you will want to engage in a revision and editing process that involves feedback, time, and diligence on your part.

The Second Draft

The second draft is about organizing your information logically and effectively. If you created a thorough first draft, this should be easy. Organize the main points that you plan to make, find supporting evidence for each point, and spend a few sentences explaining what conclusions you are able to draw from the information. Don’t be afraid to show off. Professors like it when students are able to draw conclusions on their own. It weakens your argument to use softeners like “might” “I think” and “maybe,” so keep an eye out for these.

The Third Draft and More

The third and any subsequent drafts are really about finesse. These are the drafts that will hook your reader and earn you an “A.” Try to write an attention-grabbing introduction as well as a conclusion that leaves the reader thinking about your paper. If you are still struggling with the overall flow of your paper, go back to your first draft and start rewriting.

Often your main point will change by the time you get to this draft, and that is fine. However, you may need to go back to your first draft when this happens. The elusive “show, don’t tell” expression comes into play in this draft, meaning that you want to set the stage for the reader to have them experience and feel a certain way instead of merely telling them what to experience or feel. Your audience wants to be informed, but they want more than just facts.

During this draft, you want to check that you are showing your own thoughts in your writing, and synthesizing from multiple sources. You need to show that you know what you’re talking about and that you can write in an engaging style. If you are bored reading the paper, chances are the audience will be, too. Add action verbs, remove passive ones, and use examples.

Revising

Although we often use the terms first draft, second draft, third draft, etc., know that there are no set boundaries on what constitute each draft. The key idea is that you continue to revisit and revise your paper through multiple passes.

If you hit a point where you’re not sure what the next step should be, here are three key questions to ask.

Black and white photo of a tablet displaying text and wireless keyboard, on a table in a cafe with people in the background.

Figure 2. During your revision process, ensure that all of your claims are supported by evidence. This will strengthen your credibility as a writer.

1) Does the argument hold together?

Does your essay move convincingly from one point to the next? Maybe you decide to move your key points around and change the structure of the essay.

Do your paragraphs carry the argument clearly? You might want to look at the links between paragraphs to make the relationships between them more clear.

2) Is your argument supported by evidence?

Every point you make should have some evidence to support it. Maybe there’s still some reading you need to do to find the evidence you need.

3) Does the essay have an effective introduction and conclusion?

At this stage, you have a good idea of what the essay as a whole will look like. So now is the time to write and refine your introduction and your conclusion. These are much easier to write at this second stage than straight off at the start of your work on the essay.

Try It

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