Writing A First Draft Essay

Discovering Ideas Handbook

1.5    Writing a First Draft

1.5.1    Write your first draft as rapidly as you can.

1.5.2    When writing your first draft, don't worry about your introduction. 

1.5.3    When writing your first draft, bracket those sections you can't write yet and try to finish a draft of the whole essay.

1.5.4    Rewrite your thesis statement whenever you can make it a better guide for writing and revising your essay.

1.5.5    Write your first draft in the way that is easiest and most comfortable for you.

1.5.1    Write your first draft as rapidly as you can.

In writing the first draft of your essay, try to get as many ideas down on paper as quickly as you can.  Don't worry about spelling or punctuation at all at this stage, just ideas.  If you change your mind about how to say something, don't stop to cross it out, just write an improved version.  You may have a lot of repetition in your first draft.  That's fine.  

1.5.2    When writing your first draft, don't worry about your introduction. 

One of the reasons why many of us have trouble writing a first draft is that we try to write the essay beginning with the introduction.  This is a difficult, and sometimes an impossible, task.  How can you introduce an essay you haven't written yet?  Until you see what the body of your essay will say, it is almost impossible to write an effective introduction.  You can easily fall into the trap of writing dozens of introductions, rejecting them all, and starting over each time.  It's fairly obvious that this is a non-productive waste of time.  Save the introduction for your second draft.  Start right out with your trial thesis statement and support it.  Start writing with the second or third paragraph of the essay and go on from there.  You will make much more progress writing the body of your essay than trying to guess at what will make a good introduction.

1.5.3    When writing your first draft, bracket those sections you can't write yet and try to finish a draft of the whole essay.

When you are writing your first draft you will probably find that you don't have all of the material you need for a finished essay.  For example, you may know that you need examples of several of your points.  If you have them, fine.  If you're stumped, just put a note in brackets: "[need example of classroom exercise for team building]."  Then move on to the next point.  Likewise with evidence that you haven't found yet.  Put a note in brackets to remind yourself what you need, but don't stop to look for it as you write your draft.  It is important that you make notes to yourself as to what you need to find and develop before you have a finished essay.  Doing so will save you a great deal of time because you will have a "shopping list" to bring to class or to the library that will help define what you need to finish the essay.  This will make your further research much easier.  But it is equally important that you try to get down on paper what you want the whole essay to say.  This is the only way to test and develop your trial thesis statement.  The whole should determine the parts, not the parts the whole.  You may find that your thesis needs major revision and that you really want to take a different approach than you had originally planned.  That will help to clarify what details are important enough to pursue and what can be omitted.

1.5.4    Rewrite your thesis statement whenever you can make it a better guide for writing and revising your essay.

Remember that your trial thesis statement is a guide or a yardstick to help you see where your essay is going.  It is a mirror that you can hold up to your essay to show what you are really saying.  It is not an external standard that somebody is imposing on you; it is your decision about what you want to say.  But one of the greatest dangers in trying to write an essay is that you change your mind without realizing it, that you lose track of what you started to say and end up saying something else, without being aware of it.  That is why your thesis statement is so important.  It's fine, it's usually good, when you decide to change direction or emphasis  if you know what you're changing and how.  But if you don't notice, it almost always leads to problems, as when your essay starts out promising one thing and ends by delivering something else.  So keep comparing your thesis with your essay.  When you have finished your first draft, re-read your thesis statement and ask if that is still what you are saying.  If it isn't, revise the thesis.  It is not unusual to rewrite your thesis statement a dozen times in the course of revising your essay.

1.5.5    Write your first draft in the way that is easiest and most comfortable for you.

If you are an experienced typist, you will probably type your first draft.  But if it is easier for you to write in longhand, do that.  In writing your first draft, you want to write as quickly and easily as you can, concentrating just on the words but not on the way of producing the words.  So go with whatever comes easiest.  You will be revising this work.  Many writers find that after writing a draft on longhand the process of entering it into the word processor gives them a chance to easily revise and correct the errors in the original.  Do whatever you're most comfortable with.  Do not try to make the first draft the final draft.  Assume you will revise, and you can be much more loose and free in writing your first draft, and you can do it much more quickly.

Copyright © 2000 by John Tagg

Palomar College

A first draft is a rough sketch of your future piece of writing. Sometimes your first draft may become the final one due to it being rather satisfactory, but in most cases, it requires further work. A first draft is a way to elaborate on the main points of your essay stated in your outline, giving them a sample form. It may seem paradoxical, but while being one of the most important stages of the writing process, most first drafts don’t require a tremendous attention to detail.

Steps for Writing a First Draft of an Essay

  1. Take a closer look at your assignment and the topic if it was given to you by your instructor. Revise your outline as well. This is needed for your clearer understanding of the tasks you must accomplish within the draft, and to make sure you meet the requirements of the assignment.
  2. Sketch out the introduction of your essay. At this point, don’t get stalled on form; introductory part should inform readers about what the topic is, and state your point of view according to this topic. The introduction should also be interesting to read to capture readers’ attention, but this task has more to do with thoughtful and scrupulous writing, and thus should be left for later.
  3. Based on your outline, start transferring your ideas to paper. The main task here is to give them the initial form and set a general direction for their further development, and not to write a full paper.
  4. Chalk out the summarizing paragraph of your essay. It should not contain any new ideas, but briefly reintroduce those from the main body, and restate your thesis statement.
  5. Read through the draft to see if you have included the information you wanted to, but without making any further corrections, since this is a task for the second and final drafts.

Key Points to Consider

  1. While an outline is needed to decide on what to write, the first draft is more about answering a question: “How to write?” In the first draft, you shape your ideas out, and not simply name and list them, as you did in an outline.
  2. When you start writing your thoughts down, it may happen that one idea or concept sparks new connections, memories, or associations. Be attentive to such sidetracks; choose those of them that might be useful for your writing, and don’t delve in those that are undesirable in terms of the purpose of your paper (academic, showing opinion). A successful piece of writing is focused on its topic, and doesn’t include everything you have to say on a subject.
  3. Making notes for yourself in the margins or even in the middle of the text is a useful practice. This can save you time and keep you focused on the essence of your essay without being distracted by secondary details. For example, such notes could look like this: “As documented, the Vietnam War cost the United States about … (search for the exact sum of money and interpret it in terms of modern exchange rates) U. S. dollars.”
  4. When you finish crafting your first draft, it is useful to put it aside and completely quit thinking about writing for a certain period of time. Time away will allow you to have a fresh look at your draft when you decide to revise it.

Do and Don’t

  • Do revise your first draft if it looks too long. Indeed, if your first draft is lengthy—which is actually a rough sketch—imagine how long your paper will become if you expand on each idea chalked out and fill it with factual data.
  • Do reread the draft several times and return to the requirements of your assignment and topic if you feel you are getting stalled. Use brainstorming techniques to get out of writer’s block.
  • Do leave empty space in the text when writing. It may happen that you come across certain details that are necessary for your essay, but can be left out at the moment. To avoid being distracted by thoughts that are not connected with your focus, leave blank space in their place—you will be able to return to them later.
  • Do set a time limit for yourself. A reasonable deadline will help you work more intensely and make everything in time, and at the same time you will avoid overworking and intellectual exhaustion.
  • Do write the first draft as rapidly as you can. This point refers to the procedure of writing itself. When you stop to think over a certain phrase, you will most likely dig into details, analysis, and comparisons; you will start seeking for the best option for this particular phrase, thus forgetting about the rest of the draft.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to punctuation, grammar, spelling, word choice, style of writing, and other minor peculiarities which completely don’t matter in the first draft; your thoughts on the subject is what matters at this point.
  • Don’t write your thoughts down in details. Usually it is enough to write down a couple of concise sentences to be able to return to a certain idea later without losing the discourse.
  • Don’t consider crafting a first draft of an essay as unnecessary. Even if you have an outline written, a draft is still necessary; while an outline helps you to figure out what to write about, the first draft can help you understand how to write. The first draft helps you to shape out your thoughts, and thus is a crucial part of the essay writing process.
  • Don’t wait for a special occasion to come for inspiration to draft your essay. You may feel discouraged, but treat it as “do or die.” Otherwise, you will constantly find justifications for doing nothing.

Common Mistakes When Writing a First Draft of an Essay

– Editing and revising a draft in process of writing. If you stop after each sentence to think it over, you will most likely lose your flow; besides, many people have an internal editor or critic who can’t stand it if the material is written imperfectly. Therefore, first you should deal with the whole draft, and only after that proofread and edit it.

– Paying too much attention to secondary arguments, factual material, and other minor peculiarities. The main goal of the first draft is to sketch out your main ideas; you can fill it with details later. If you think you will forget about an important fact or remark, make brief notes in margins.

– Ignoring the role of a first draft in the essay writing process. Though it may seem you are wasting time working on a draft, you are working on the essay itself. You need to understand how your outline works in full written form.

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