The Writing Process

Understand the Various Stages of the Writing Process

To write well is not easy. But it's worth the effort. You can derive great satisfaction from going through the process of clarifying your thoughts and getting them down in writing in order that others may share them. It's a skill worth learning and, although you can learn about the technique of writing in places like this, the best way to learn is to read widely and to write, write, write. As you write you'll discover that writing is a continuous feedback loop, clarifying your thoughts on the subject you are writing about and bringing to mind new ideas and points of view. It's a magical learning process.

But the process we are considering here consists of the stages most writers go through as they produce their work. Although we like to break things down into distinct stages, in reality these stages often overlap. You may brainstorm and write down the ideas you want to explain, but as you write you might get some other or better ideas. As you write a draft, you'll be reviewing and revising as better expressions spring to mind. Nevertheless, if you're learning how to write, it's useful to examine these stages individually.

One reason for breaking the process down into sections is that it can increase your efficiency. If you have a lot of ideas and resources from your first brainstorming session you can choose the most important ones and you won’t need to go back and look for more later.


1. Task Analysis

Before you start even thinking about writing, you need to understand your task. This may be easy; perhaps because it has been clearly explained and discussed in class, or perhaps because you have already been required to do some preparatory work.

But sometimes, perhaps in an examination, you only have very brief instructions about what you are required to write about. In this case, it is crucial to understand these instructions in detail.

See the task analysis page to learn more about understanding task instructions.

2. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is usually thought of as a group activity where people try to generate ideas for solving a problem, but we also use it to mean the process of generating ideas, whether you are doing it yourself or in a group.

Often you might have to write essay at short notice perhaps because you're in an exam. In these cases you need to generate some ideas pretty quickly.

At other times, you may have luxury of time - your deadline in some way off - and you can do some background reading and research as you think about how your writing might take shape.

Often your topic is chosen for you; you are required to write an essay, report, research paper or some other text on a particular topic, and now you have to decide what you're going to say about this topic. So your brainstorming session is concerned with generating ideas about this subject matter. You may be lucky and already have plenty of ideas and a strong opinions about the topic. In this case you'll need to make some choices about which ideas are the most important, rather than generating new ones.

Whatever the case, you need some kind of system for generating ideas, and recording them and the resources you want to use in your essay. One suggestion is using a mindmap, but you should use whatever system suits you best.

Before you move on to the planning stage you should think about the reason you are writing and your audienceWho will read your work? Your audience are the people you are writing for.. Why are you writing and who are you writing for? Your reason may be simply that you are required to write an essay on a particular topic and your audience may be just one person; the tutor who gives you a grade. Nevertheless you should write as if your had a real reason to write (to persuade, to explain, to encourage, to complain to exhort .....) and as if you had a real audience in mind. Your writing will be much better if you have a real reason to write.

3. Planning

You have a reason to write. You know who you are writing for. Now you need a plan. You need a plan because it will make the writing process more efficient and save you time in the end. A plan will help you make important decisions about the type of text you will write and will make your text more coherent.

An important distinction to make is between expository and persuasive texts. Expository texts are mainly concerned with presenting information and they make make no strong claims or arguments. Persuasive texts are texts which try to convince the reader about a particular stance or belief. Although they often present information in support of their arguments, their main purpose is to change of reinforce the reader's opinion about the matter under discussion in the text.

You should decide what type of text you are writing as this will effect how you plan your writing. Expository texts present information in a clear and logical manner. Persuasive texts present evidence in support of an argument and perhaps evidence to refute counter-arguments as they attempt to convince the reader of the importance or truth of the writer's opinion. Understanding this difference will help you with your text organisation.

Whichever type of text you are writing you need a strong thesis statement. The thesis statement is important for you because it helps you to stay focused on the one central purpose of your text. It is also important for your readers because it helps them to understand the central point of your text right from the start. In this section you can see how well-written thesis statements can also sometimes help you to organise your paragraphs.

4. Drafting/Writing

How many drafts you produce before you submit your final product will depend mainly on the length of your essay, how much time you have available and how confident you as a writer. It may also depend on whether you can get feedback on the drafts you produce. For more information an advice on writing drafts see the writing a draft page.

5. Reviewing/Editing

You will obviously do some revising as you write your draft(s). But once you feel you have a draft which is complete you need to review it and edit it systematically. This is also part of the writing process - the continuous cycle of reviewing and rewriting. You can see how to do that on the reviewing and editing page.

6 Submitting/Publishing

Before you submit do some final checks. Use the publishing checklist.

7. Feedback

Feedback helps you to improve your writing. Learn how to deal with feedback on the feedback page.