I have written a dissertation, a master’s thesis, hundreds of research papers, book reviews, stories, and more reports for work that I can count. And they all have one thing in common. The first draft of every single one of them was horrible.
My writing process goes something like this:
- Brainstorm–I come up with the idea for whatever it is I need to write. Usually, I can’t get going until I have some picture in my head. It can be a specific scene if it’s fiction. For professional or academic writing, I need some basic structure in my head before I can get started.
- Research–For me, this is the fun part. I love finding out new things. As I research, I will have insights about where things need to go in my draft and how wonderful the end result will be.
- First Draft–This is where all those great ideas have to be placed on paper. And nothing sounds as good as it did in my head. My experience tells me to keep going, but my gut tells me to quit, never write again, and hide my face from people for eternity.
- Edit. This is a prolonged process for me. I go through multiple bouts of editing. So you might think of this step as being ‘edit, repeat, edit, repeat.’ And it doesn’t all happen at a computer or with the print-out of the draft. I’ll be taking a walk and realize that the third paragraph will make a much better beginning than the one I have. One of the quotations doesn’t work well, and I find another one. Usually, I don’t see all the changes I need to make on any read-through. One change will lead to a different way of thinking, and that leads to more changes. I’m also able to see where I have poor word choices, repetitions, and just plain old, clunky sentences.
- Proofread. This is the point where I check spelling, punctuation, etc. I really don’t see the need to worry about these things until I’m sure the words are the ones I want in the order I want. The only exception is that I complete my Works Cited as I go. I don’t have the patience to make all those entries at one time.
This is the basic process, but obviously, each project varies in the time each step takes. Most work assignments don’t take as much editing because there’s a basic form that has to be used. Meanwhile, there are some creative projects that are still not ready to be called ‘final’ after ten or even twenty edits. But at some point, the process has to end because a deadline looms.
The major point here is that beginning researchers often spend too much time on the front end of the project and end up turning in what is essentially a first draft. And that is almost never a good idea. So always give yourself enough time to edit. Always.