Using Multiple Drafts to Perfect Your Essay

Most good writing occurs somewhere between the fourth and fifth draft, but that doesn’t stop many writers from believing that they can sit down and write a perfect draft on the first try. This idea makes about as much sense as the chain of logic in an early ‘90’s point-and-click adventure game, but it persists because writers are lazy. Some convince themselves they only need to write a single draft so that they can avoid working on an assignment until the last minute and others avoid actual writing by endlessly preparing to write the perfect draft, but in both cases the myth of the perfect draft is an excuse to avoid doing the real work of writing.

In general, the number of drafts a project will need depends on a variety of factors, such as the complexity of the project and the time available to complete it, but the drafting process can roughly be broken down to five necessary phases.

The first phase is the notes/outline phase. During this phase of a project, the you gather together all your notes and ideas and develop a rough map of the project from beginning to end. This draft isn’t much more than a quickly produced collection of bullet points, notes, and references that give the you a vague idea of what you’ll be writing about, but it will make organizing your ideas easier and let you spot structural weaknesses early on.

The next phase is the expansion phase. This phase involves expanding your outline into a rough draft. The most important thing to remember about this phase is that getting the writing done is more important than avoiding mistakes. The point is to develop a document that you will revise throughout the drafting process, do not get stuck endlessly revising something that isn’t finished. Make a note of any problems and then move on.

After the expansion phase comes the organization phase. At this point you will be using both your rough draft and outline to organize your writing in the most effective way possible. Isolate individual sections and consider their function in the piece as a whole. This is the phase where you will begin eliminating unnecessary sections, reconsidering the rhetorical structure of your argument, and developing your introduction and conclusion.

Next comes the detailing phase. This phase will theoretically take up most of your time and involves the largest number of drafts. At this point the general structure and ideas should be in place, so you will be free to do things like play with language, reduce awkward sentence structure, and make everything look pretty. It is the most important phase in the process and should be the focus of at least two drafts.

The final phase is the proofing phase. This is the phase that beginners often consider to be the focus of drafts and revision, but proofing is essentially grunt work. It’s making your writing look professional before you send it out into the world. The importance of proofing should not be underestimated—no one will take your writing seriously if it’s formatted wrong and riddled with typos—but it is a little like putting a suit and tie on before going to a big interview. You should do it if you want to get hired, but without developing the credentials and résumé you need for the position you probably won’t get hired no matter how good you look.

This rough guide should help you develop your own process, but the important thing to remember is to do the work. The drafting and revision processes are the most important parts of writing at a professional level, so don’t neglect them by buying into the myth of the perfect draft. Take your time and do the work. It will pay off in the end.

Taking multiple attempts at writing and editing your own essay is a great step to becoming a better writer.  Start today! Go to our Order Form to get started!



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