Drafting a Paper

"We all keep thoughts to ourselves in a zone of privacy. The bigger that zone, the worse our writing. A rich vein of material usually hides within our protected self."

    Ralph Keyes, from The Courage to Write

Think of your first draft as a solo surveying expedition in an unfamiliar land. Every step, every word you put down on the page, is a huge discovery. By the time you reach the end of the draft, you should have a fairly accurate map of the terrain you've just covered. Imagine subsequent drafts as tours you would conduct for large groups, where your job is to get your readers to learn the landscape of your grand adventure.

Expeditions make missteps, take wrong turns, and choose the wrong trails. Keep this in mind as you write your first draft. Don't stop to worry about mistakes in spelling, grammar, or style. This draft should help you to understand how to make the points that support your thesis statement as powerfully as possible, and to present a message that is unified and coherent.

Drafting Tips

Don't wait to get started until you have every detail of your paper planned. Your plan is likely to change anyway. Just start.

Keep your tentative thesis in mind as you write, exploring every angle.

Remember that this is a first draft. There will be a second, perhaps a third or fourth. Don't try to solve every problem as you go. Just press on.

Don't worry if you stray from the notes you have gathered in the planning process. Your first draft is a part of the discovery process.

Drafting takes incredible concentration. Make sure that you have an adequate amount of time to calm your mind and focus your thoughts, and find a place to write that is void of interruptions.

When you think that you have exhausted all possibilities in your draft, push yourself farther. The first ideas of a writer are many times ideas that are readily apparent to the most casual reader. Dig deeper to discover the "rich vein of material" that reveals the true depth of your subject.

Drafting Checklist

  • I have my planning notes with me if I need to refer to them.
  • I have a tentative thesis to focus my writing.
  • I have adequate time to concentrate on writing a draft.
  • I have a comfortable, quiet place to write without interruption.
  • I am going to write with the concentration necessary to discover ideas that are beyond those that were obvious to me in the planning process.
  • When I think that I am finished writing, I will develop two additional points or ideas about my subject.

Drafting Exercise

Gather your notes from the planning process and spend the next 30 minutes writing on your topic. Don't worry about grammar Write your tentative thesis here:

Write your tentative thesis here:


Write for approximately 30 minutes without interruption. Use your thesis and your notes as your guiding force, but explore new ideas as well.

Use this draft as a first draft. Print out the draft when it is sent to you and use it as a springboard for your second draft. Repeat this exercise until you have a draft that you can revise.


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