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4.2: Steps in the Reading-Writing Process

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    Steps in the Reading-Writing Process

    At the end of Chapter 1, we touched briefly on the writing process. Here, we will go into the process in more detail, adding the relevant reading sections as well. Chances are, you have already used this process as a writer. You may also have used it for other types of creative projects, such as developing a sketch into a finished painting or composing a song. The steps listed below apply broadly to any project that involves creative thinking. You come up with ideas (often vague at first), you work to give them some structure, you make a first attempt, you figure out what needs improving, and then you refine it until you are satisfied.

    Although the following parts of the process may seem linear, you do have to start somewhere, but expect to go back and forth between the different parts of the process.

    • Reading and Responding: Here, the student reads, annotating background notes and articles relevant to the topic.
    • Prewriting: In this step, the writer generates ideas to write about, often by revisiting their annotations, and begins to develop these ideas.
    • Outlining a structure of ideas: In this step, the writer determines the overall organizational structure of the writing and creates an outline to organize ideas. Usually this step involves some additional fleshing out of the ideas generated in the first step. It's possible that this is done concurrently or after drafting.
    • Writing a rough draft: In this step, the writer uses the work completed in prewriting to develop a first draft. The draft covers the ideas the writer brainstormed and follows the organizational plan that was laid out in the first step.
    • Revising: In this step, the writer revisits the draft to review, reorganize, and reshape its content. This stage involves moderate and sometimes major changes: adding or deleting a paragraph, phrasing the main point differently, expanding an important idea, reorganizing content, and so forth.
    • Editing: In this step, the writer reviews the draft to make editorial changes to the text. Editing involves making changes to improve style, cohesion, and adherence to standard writing conventions—for instance, replacing a vague word with a more precise one or fixing errors in grammar and spelling.
    • Proofreading: Proofreading is a final check for spelling, punctuation, formatting, and grammar that should be treated separately from the editing process, which is one step before. Once proofreading is complete, the work is a finished piece and ready to share with others.

    The table below more fully characterizes these five main processes. As you can see, writing is much more than the actual physical act of sitting at the keyboard and creating a draft.

    Table 4.2.1 -- The Writing Process

    1. Considering Writing 2. Prewriting 3. Developing Thesis / Topic Sentences / Support 4. Writing the Draft 5. Revising*
    may include these components:
    • identifying purpose
    • identifying audience
    • identifying type of writing
    • identifying context of the writing
    • creating a working thesis for the idea you want to express
    may include these components:
    • journaling
    • free writing
    • brainstorming
    • mapping
    • listing
    • outlining
    • creating a working thesis
    may include these components:
    • creating a working thesis
    • developing ideas with details, examples – additional brainstorming
    • organizing supporting information into logical groups – developing topic sentences
    • researching, reading, and verifying sources
    • Note-takingF
    may include these components:
    • creating and/or revising a thesis
    • revising topic sentence
    • developing paragraphs fully with analysis
    • organizing and linking paragraphs
    • writing an introduction
    • writing a conclusion
    may include these components:
    • revising thesis for clarity, appropriateness
    • revising for unity between thesis and support
    • revising support: to add/subtract
    • revising for structure: topic sentences, paragraphs, etc.
    • revising in light of writing considerations: purpose, audience, type, context
    • revising for cohesion
    • revising for grammatical correctness
    • revising for language style
    • revising for appropriate documentation
    • revising for appropriate layout/ format

    Image from College Writing by Susan Oaks.


    One of the first things you may have noticed is the prevalence of that word “thesis.” Sometimes you start off your writing process with a main idea, argument, or insight (thesis) that you want to write about, and sometimes the main idea or thesis evolves as you move through the various stages. Know that in any course on college writing, you’ll focus consistently on the concept of “thesis” throughout the writing process.

    Although the table above implies a sequence to these processes, given that we generally read tables from left to right and from top to bottom, the sequence actually varies from writer to writer, and from writing project to writing project. Often, writing processes are depicted as in the image: a circle that can be accessed at any given point. However you choose to visualize “how writing happens,” just remember that it doesn’t happen all at once, and it certainly can happen in different ways.


    Timed Writing

    The writing process also applies to timed writing tasks, such as essay exams. Before you begin writing, read the question thoroughly and think about the main points to include in your response. Use scrap paper to sketch out a very brief outline. Keep an eye on the clock as you write your response so you will have time to review it and make any needed changes before turning in your exam.

    Contributors and Attributions

    This page last revised on June 3, 2020.

    This page titled 4.2: Steps in the Reading-Writing Process is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .