The Writing Process

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Great writers are not born writing great. They do not sit down at the computer and type a golden draft in one clean sitting. Instead, their writing is developed carefully in thought-out steps, which is commonly referred to as the writing process. This process involves thinking, outlining, drafting, revising, and polishing your work. With college writing, a lot of the work is done in the thinking (or brainstorming) and outlining phases, so the “writing” essentially begins the second you start reading the assignment guidelines. The recommended phases of the writing process are as follows:

  1. Prewriting
  2. Drafting
  3. Revising
  4. Peer Review/Response
  5. Revising
  6. Polishing


 This phase is the most important. Without it, everything falls apart. Prewriting separates great writing from average/below average writing and is necessary for every student at the college-level to practice. Prewriting is everything you do before you start writing your draft. This means understanding the assignment, thinking about your response, and, most importantly, outlining what you plan to write.

Activity: To begin prewriting, open a blank Word document and label it “Assignment X Draft.” This will be where your prewriting, and later your writing, will take place.

Understanding the Assignment

This is what separates excellent from average. Clearly understanding the assignment’s guidelines is vital to being able to fulfill them. If you miss details or assume something that’s not there, you will construct incomplete or below-average work. Though it may seem easy, this is where most students fall short. First, make sure you are reading the full assignment guidelines. Many times in Canvas, guidelines for assignments will be posted in more than one place, with a condensed or summarize version in one place and the full guidelines in another. If you feel that the guidelines are too short or lack detail, contact your instructor and ask them for more information.

After you find the proper guidelines, read through them slowly and read them multiple times. Pay attention to key words, such as “explain,” “compare,” “analyze,” or “discuss.” Your instructor chose these words carefully, so they are key to understanding what is being asked. Look for details around length, tone, content, and due date. Understanding when an assignment is due is important for planning your process of completion, so make sure you are clear on all dates and components.

Activity: Copy the sample assignment guidelines into a Word document and highlight, color-code, or bold key words or phrases. Label and reorganize the instructions so they make sense to you and clearly emphasize what is most important.


Once you understand what the assignment asks, you should start to think about it, ask yourself questions, and create notes on it. By thinking about the topic/assignment, you open up avenues for writing that may have never thought possible. Brainstorming means something different for everyone and depends largely on what helps you think about and better understand your topic/assignment.

A lot of brainstorming methods involve asking yourself questions about the topic/assignment and creating maps, lists, charts, or drawings to help answer or better understand them. The key is finding a way to think more deeply about your topic/assignment and to take notes on those thoughts. The brainstorming phase is where you should direct your thoughts and figure out what it is that you want to write about. It is where you narrow down and create your thesis (your main idea or argument).

Activity: Create a chart or list for Assignment X in your Word document. Break the assignment questions or guidelines in parts and populate your chart/list with possible answers or ideas. Narrow these down into your thesis or main idea. For example:

Should all hospitals use electronic health records?


  • They are permanent
  • Can be shared between hospitals/ healthcare organizations
  • Are easy to read (rather than people’s handwriting)
  • Are easy to store


  • Could be hacked (cyber security)
  • Need computer training/skills
  • Typing on a computer screen is impersonal


Outlining is hands-down the most important phase. It helps organize your thoughts, structure your writing, and solidify your main idea (or argument). The more time you spend outlining, the easier it will be to write and the better your writing will be. If you are concerned about your organization, “flow,” or being too scattered, this is the phase you want to focus on most. It may seem annoying or time-consuming to outline, but once you start doing it and you see the results, it will become your favorite go-to tool for writing well.

Much like brainstorming, everyone’s outlining technique may be a little different, but a simple way to organize your outline is to set it up like a skeleton or scaffolding for your paper or assignment. To complete your outline, you want to use the notes from your brainstorming and plug them into a template like the one below.

Should all hospitals use electronic health records?


Thesis (main idea):

 Body Paragraph 1

 Body Paragraph 2

 Body Paragraph 3


Sample Outline

See how the brainstorming notes (positives and negatives) are used to create the thesis, body paragraphs, and counterpoint:

Should all hospitals use electronic health records?


Thesis (main idea): Every hospital should use electronic health records because they are permanent and can be shared between hospitals/organizations easily.

Body Paragraph 1

 Idea 1

  • Idea: Electronic health records should be used because they are permanent.
  • Support: Use example from Smith to support this

Body Paragraph 2

Idea 2

  • Idea: Electronic health records should be used because they can be shared between hospitals/organizations easily.
  • Support: Use example from lecture notes in module X to support this

Body Paragraph 3


  • Idea: Electronic health records can be hacked and have cyber security issues.
  • Support: Use example from article X to show this


  • Even though electronic health records pose some security risks, every hospital should use them because they are permanent and they can be shared easily between hospitals.

Action: Create an outline for Assignment X in your Word document. Use the model above as a template.


 This is where the writing begins, but slowly and without the pressure of a final draft. Put your ideas down in a way that fits your pre-writing outline or overall structure. Don’t focus so much on grammar, punctuation, or sentence-level errors; the main concern should be organizing your ideas and getting them down so they match your outline.

As you begin drafting, remember that a draft, by its very nature, is a work-in-progress. You will need many revisions before your draft is ready to be handed in, so don’t expect it to be a clean, polished piece of writing. The first draft is going to be a rough, elementary version of final product. Be patient with your first (or second or third) draft. Remember that you can come back to it as many times as you need to rewrite, restructure, and revise.

Activity: Copy and paste your outline into a new space on your Assignment X document. Use the outline as a template and start filling it in with the necessary details of your paper. See an example below:

Body Paragraph 1

·      Idea: Electronic health records should be used because they are permanent.

·      Support: Use example from Smith to support this

Electronic health records should be used because they are permanent. Unlike paper records, electronic health records do not wear or break down over time. They are stored on computers and servers, so their data remains intact despite the years that pass or what happens to the provider. Smith1 mentions that over time, many hospitals or organizations that use paper records lose track of them or find that they are destroyed because of fire or flooding. Electronic health records, on the other hand, are disaster-proof and will last as long as the servers that store them are operational.


This is where the magic happens. Go through your writing slowly, take notes, shift around phrases or ideas, check for clarity and organization, and note any inconsistencies in citation or structure. Here you make the changes that really focus and clarify your writing. Print your paper out if you can and revise it with pen or pencil in hand. Think about how it all fits together.

Activity: Print out Assignment X and carefully read each paragraph. In pen, write a short (one sentence) summary for each paragraph. Does each paragraph talk about one major idea? Is it clear what that idea is? Pay attention to sentences that seem unnecessary or don’t fit in each paragraph/section. Notate what should be added, taken out, or moved around.

Peer Review or Response

If possible, having someone else look at your work is a helpful way to get objective feedback. This person shouldn’t rewrite the paper, but give general feedback about structural changes, organization of ideas, strength of argument, or coherence. Use them as a secondary lens or perspective for comprehension. If time allows, ask your peers or the HCI writing specialist to help review/respond to your work.

More Revision

How much revising you do will depend on the length and value of an assignment, but you should always make room for as much revision as possible. Being able to revise multiple times will elevate your writing in ways you never thought possible. Remember that no paper will ever be “perfect,” so embrace revision as a tool for improvement rather than perfection! You may need to revise an assignment over and over before you’re satisfied, so be patient and ask for help.


Once you’re satisfied with your final draft (or it’s getting close to the due date), it’s time to polish up those sentence-level errors and get your piece ready for a viewing audience. I recommend printing your paper out and reading it aloud. Reading aloud to yourself may feel strange, but it helps your brain better find mistakes on the page. Reading to a roommate, family member, or friend also does the trick.

Last Updated September 27, 2017