The Writing Process

A text rarely develops linearly; writing is often a process which involves several stages: analysing the task, collecting material, writing a draft, working through and reviewing the text. Below, you can read about the different stages of the writing process. Do not be surprised if you find yourself going back and forth between the different stages when you write, or if you find that doing the stages in another order works better for you. Find the way that works best for you!

Analysing the task

Prepare your writing as early in the process as possible. For instance, find out who will read the text, and for what purpose. Different readers have different expectations of texts - for instance, you do not write a text message to your friend in the same way that you write a chapter in a textbook.  In first-cycle programmes and courses, your readers will be your teachers, classmates, supervisors, and examiners. In most cases, they will expect your text to follow academic conventions with regard to style and language.

An academic text must often relate to knowledge in some way. The teacher usually provides you with instructions and directions regarding the subject and content matter of the task. You should read the instructions carefully to ensure that you fully understand the task. Underline central concepts, terms, and technical terms that you are unsure of. Find out what they mean. Also underline the "question verbs" that the teacher uses in the instructions. Common verbs that teachers use are for instance: identify, describe, account for, define, analyse, compare, assess, and reflect.

Also underline the material which the teacher has asked you to base your answer on. If the teacher wants you to refer to source X but you refer to source Y instead, you may not be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary knowledge.

Collecting material

When you have understood the task instructions, consider what material you need in order to complete the task. Your material may be your own notes, power point images, text books, compendiums, scientific journal articles, and your own research. Hopefully, you have already studied most of the material prior to past seminars, lab workshops, work placements, and other course activities.  Then, the process of selecting the material that you need in order to write an essay for a course for instance, will be fairly quick. Choose material that will be of use, and study it. A bigger task, such as a thesis, will require that you collect more complex material – as well as more material – than an essay. 

Writing a draft

Even if you do not know exactly what you are going to write, you will benefit greatly from writing a draft early on in the process. For instance, you can plan the overall structure of the text as soon as possible. As you then begin to answer the exam questions, or start writing your essay, you can use the structure as support for developing your text. Initially, before you know exactly what you will discuss in each section, you can write an outline. The outline may include a cover page (if your teacher requires one) and headings for the sections that you intend to include. If you are writing a take-home essay, the headings can be based on the questions that your teacher has given you. If you are writing a longer essay you can use the IMRAD structure - that is, introduction, methods, results and discussion.

Write subheadings as well. For instance, the introduction often includes subsections on the background, the research questions, the purpose and the theoretical framework. If you are to write these, include them in your outline. The discussion should address your reflections on your method, your results, and previous research. In some cases, you are also expected to include concluding thoughts. Add these to your outline as well, if it is stated in the task instructions.

You can also use the outline to write notes and comments for yourself under each heading so that you do not miss any important points. Under the Introduction heading you can write: “Remember to motivate the relevance of care here. We are allowed to use “I” in this section - but only in this one. Use examples from my work placement to motivate why I have chosen this subject.” 

Eventually, you can write entire paragraphs under the relevant headings. Let the text evolve gradually. If you get stuck, or become nervous about the text not being good enough, simply try to ignore such thoughts. In the beginning, the most important part of writing is to write without constantly assessing your work. Be prepared to review your text several times - there is no shame in having to revise the text; on the contrary, it is very common and will make your text much better. Write, add, reword, and move sentences, as you write your way to a greater understanding of your topic.

Working through the text

The time it takes to work through a text depends on the scope and the complexity of the text. Do not be surprised if you have to rewrite the text three or four times, or perhaps even more, before you are satisfied with it. In the beginning of the writing process you are probably going to focus mostly on the content. This is normal, as you will be assessed based on how well you demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. You can work through your text with the following questions in mind: Is all the information that I wanted included, or do I need to add more? Is the content expressed logically and clearly? Are concepts clearly and accurately defined or described? Have you included the necessary references? Have you referenced correctly, in accordance with the reference system that you should use? Does the content in the different sections correspond with the headings?

When you are happy with the content you can work through the different sections. In relation to each other, the sections should be ordered from the general to the specific - from the global and more universal to the more detailed and specific. Academic texts can be compiled of relatively long sections, but these should be separated into at least a few paragraphs per page, otherwise the text will come across as too compact and hard to read. Each paragraph should be introduced with a comprehensive topic sentence, and the rest of the paragraph must then develop and refine the content that the topic sentence has introduced. Anything that does not belong in the paragraph in question must be removed or perhaps moved to another paragraph, where it suits better.

Once you reach a point where you feel that the content, structure, and organisation of the text work well, only then it is time to work through each individual sentence. Go through the text, sentence by sentence and work on the academic style. For example, remove repetitions, unnecessary words, and reinforcement words such as adjectives. Make sure that you have defined central concepts, if your teacher has requested this, or if you are writing an essay at BA or MA level. Also remember to be clear. Use concepts and terms unequivocally. If a concept has several synonyms, choose one and use it consistently throughout the text.

Reviewing the text

Before you submit the text you must make sure that you have built your sentences, used punctuation, and applied writing and spelling rules correctly. You can use the grammar and spell checker in Word or in Spellright (available on computers in the library); however, you should be aware that these programmes don't always detect every mistake and may even occassionally make incorrect suggestion. Therefore, you always need to read the text carefully yourself. It is a good idea to print the text so that you can read the text on paper, not just on the screen. A good tip is to put a ruler under the line that you wish to review, so that you are not distracted by the line beneath it. Many find they can concentrate better this way. You should then check the text carefully for any typos, grammatical mistakes, or any other mistakes that you may have made. Remember that proofreading a text demands a high level of concentration. Work in short stints and take a lot of breaks, so that you feel less tired and find more mistakes.

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