A simple, lucid style of writing is often the product of long years of practice in using the language in the written context of various kinds. The writing process involves a series of stages. Essentially a written text requires planning, drafting, revising, editing and proof-reading. These crucial phases in the writing process can be divided into four essential steps.
- Pre-writing (Planning)
- Editing and Proof-reading
Step 1: Planning
This is the first stage and we call it the ‘pre-writing stage’, comprising all that you do before you actually write a draft. It includes deciding the topic, defining the purpose of writing, brainstorming, researching and collecting data and outlining the text to be written.
i) Deciding on the topic
It is always easier to write on a subject you are familiar with on which information is easily available, or which is practically possible to work on. In writing a term paper or an assignment, however, you can challenge yourself more by taking on a topic that involves a greater degree of preparation and higher presentation skills.
ii) Defining the purpose
Once you decide on the topic, you need to ask yourself a few questions to get a better insight into the purpose and scope of your writing. The following questions will help you define the purpose and nature of your writing.
- What is my purpose in writing?
- What do I hope to achieve with the document?
- Is it to entertain, convey a message or share an idea with someone?
- What do the readers know?
- And what do they need to know?
- Do the readers know about the information I am going to present?
- How can I establish rapport with the audience?
- What strategies can I employ to influence the readers and persuade them to act on the lines that I suggest?
iii) Collecting information
This is the third phase in the pre-writing stage of writing. Good content is the essence of good writing. Therefore, collecting appropriate content is of utmost importance. Let us try to understand some of the methods and techniques commonly used by writers.
- Brainstorming: This is a technique to generate multiple ideas, usually through intensive and freewheeling group discussions. The brainstorming session does not involve any analysis or criticism or discussion of ideas.
- Using WH questions: These are question words that we use in everyday situations to get information. Using WH questions can also be a technique or method used to generate more ideas and to get a better picture of the topic.
- Clubbing or Clustering: Clustering helps you explore ideas as they occur to you. A cluster is basically a collection of similar objects. We use this technique to organise ideas that have some connection in a group.
- Mind mapping: Mind mapping is a powerful graphic technique used to capture your thoughts. Along with brainstorming, it is a crucial phase. in certain kinds of analytical writing. It is used to generate visualise structure and classify ideas in the form of a diagram.
- Research: Effective research lays the foundation for a good piece of writing. Once you have put together the main ideas that go into your written text, you may need more detailed and authentic information to expand your arguments and to come up with fresh ideas.
- Note making: It is an essential tool when you attempt any kind of writing. Note making is preparing our own brief notes for a writing task based on the notes we have already prepared from a book we have read or a lecture we have listened to. Note making helps us form our understanding of the topic we are trying to learn or write about.
iv) Structuring and organising ideas
The next step is to organise the ideas and content which you have collected in accordance with your plan. That is, you classify and categorise the information you have gathered through brainstorming, googling, reading and other methods.
v) Creating an outline
The next stage is to create an outline. The purpose of an outline is to help you organise your thoughts and ideas in a logical way by arranging them formally.
Step 2: Preparing the First Draft
At this stage, the focus should be more on the content than on the language used. The outline that you have developed and the organisation of the ideas may be tailored to suit the requirements of the different forms of writing.
Step 3: Revising the Text and Preparing the Final Draft
Revision is the key to writing effective documents. It is a very important path in the writing process. While revising bear in mind the following suggestions.
- Avoid long sentences, make them simple and clear.
- Refine your prose making each sentence as relevant as possible.
- Look for repetition of ideas. Use synonyms to avoid repetition of words.
- Aim for a reader-centred document.
- While revising, it is important to review the text for coherence, cohesion and conciseness. They constitute the three ‘C’s in writing.
Coherence is the arrangement of ideas in such a way that there is a smooth flow from the beginning to the end. Cohesion is related to the appropriate use of language in terms of grammar and vocabulary to ensure connections between sentences and paragraphs. Concise writing aims to be precise. Learning to choose specific, strong words is a big step towards effective writing.
Step 4: Editing and Proof-reading
Editing refers to the preparation of a text for publication, by correcting, revising or adapting the material. In the academic context, it refers to the final complete check in terms of grammar and usage. Uniformity in style and formatting is also checked in the process. Careful editing makes your written text, error-free and polished.
It is quite convenient to use computers at all the stages of writing, from preparing the draft to creating the final version. The following guidelines will help you prepare the text in a way that makes it readable and appealing to the readers.
- The font Times New Roman is often preferred for formal documents, though you are free to use any font except very decorative or cursive ones. Verdana and Arial are other popular fonts used in formal documents. If the font used is Times New Roman, it is good to use font sizes 12, 12.5 or 13.
- In the ‘page settings’ option ensure that you have chosen A4 and provided margins of about 1 inch on all sides. The space between paragraphs could be 6 points and the line spacing should ideally be double.
- In the ‘set language’ option, enable English(UK). In India, we usually follow the British spelling and grammar systems. Enable ‘check spelling as you type’ option.
- When you need to indent a line, always use the TAB key. Similarly when you want to intend indent the first line of a paragraph, press the TAB key once.
The points discussed are not specific to any particular kind of writing and all the steps will not be needed for all kinds of writing either. But when you attempt academic or creative writing like writing an essay or a story it is desirable to plan well. With practice you will gain more confidence with these stages and writing will not be a ‘task’ anymore.