The Writing Process

Learning Objectives

  • Identify how to approach common types of college writing tasks
  • Articulate writing-process steps for the development of academic writing, including revision and proofreading

The following video provides an excellent overview of research essays, one of the most common kinds of writing assignments you’ll encounter in college.

You can view the transcript for “Writing” here (opens in new window).

No writer, not even a professional, composes a perfect draft in her first attempt. Every writer fumbles and has to work through a series of steps to arrive at a high-quality finished project.

You may have encountered these steps as assignments in classes—draft a thesis statement; complete an outline; turn in a rough draft; participate in a peer review. The further you get into higher education, the less often these steps will be completed as part of class.

That’s not to say that you won’t still need to follow these steps on your own time. It helps to recognize that these steps, commonly referred to as the writing process, aren’t rigid and prescribed.  Instead, it can be liberating to see them as flexible, allowing you to adapt them to your own personal habits, preferences, and the topic at hand.  You will probably find that your process changes, depending on the type of writing you’re doing and your comfort level with the subject matter.

Consider the following flowchart of the writing process:Flowchart illustrated with cartoon figures. Title: Research Paper Writing. First step: Come up with a topic/question. What do you want to answer with your paper? Next, Do your research. Learn research strategies from the UBC Learning Commons Library Research Toolkit. Next, Develop a thesis/outline. Come up with a "working" thesis, an argument that might change but will help you direct your paper. Next, write a draft. Try to set a word count that you want to achieve each day and stick to it! Next, Edit/review. Read your paper out loud to catch mistakes and check to see if your paper makes sense. At the bottom is a logo for University of British Columbia, a place of mind, and

The flowchart is a helpful visualization of the steps involved, outside of the classroom, toward completing an essay.  Keep in mind that it isn’t always a linear process, though. It’s okay to loop back to earlier steps again if needed. For instance, after completing a draft, you may realize that a significant aspect of the topic is missing, which sends you back to researching.  Or the process of research may lead you to an unexpected subtopic, which shifts your focus and leads you to revise your thesis. Embrace the circular path that writing often takes!

Revision and Proofreading

These last two stages of the writing process are often confused with each other, but they mean very different things, and serve very different purposes.

Revision is literally “re-seeing.” It asks a writer to step away from a piece of work for a significant amount of time and return later to see it with new eyes.  This is why the process of producing multiple drafts of an essay is so important.  It allows some space in between, to let thoughts mature, connections to arise, and gaps in content or an argument to appear. It’s also difficult to do, especially given that most college students face tight time lines to get big writing projects done. Still, there are some tricks to help you “re-see” a piece of writing when you’re short on time, such as reading a paper backward, sentence by sentence, and reading your work aloud.  Both are ways of reconceptualizing your own writing so you approach it from a fresh perspective. Whenever possible, though, build in at least a day or two to set a draft aside before returning to work on the final version.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is the very last step taken before turning in a project. This is the point where spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting all take center stage.

Learn these rules, and if you hate them, learn to love them. In college, writing stops being about “how well did you understand fill-in-the-blank” and becomes “how professionally and strongly do you argue your point.” Professionalism, I have found, is the key to the real world, and college is, in part, preparing you for it. If you do not learn how to write in a way that projects professionalism (i.e., these rules), then expect to get, at best, Cs on your papers. —Kaethe Leonard, SUNY student

A person can be the best writer in the world and still be a terrible proofreader. It’s okay not to memorize every rule out there, but know where to turn for help. Utilizing the grammar-check feature of your word processor is a good start, but it won’t solve every issue (and may even cause a few itself).

Your campus tutoring or writing center is a good place to turn for support and help.  They will NOT proofread your paper for you, but they will offer you strategies for how to spot issues that are a pattern in your writing.

Finding a trusted person to help you edit is perfectly ethical, as long as that person offers you advice and doesn’t actually do any of the writing for you. Professional writers rely on outside readers for both the revision and editing process, and it’s a good practice for you to do so, too.


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