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5.3: Writing the Essay Draft

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    20633
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    Figure: Image from Pixabay

    Drafting is the stage of the writing process in which you develop a complete first version of a piece of writing.

    Even professional writers admit that an empty page scares them because they feel they need to come up with something fresh and original every time they open a blank document on their computers. Because you have completed the first two steps in the writing process, you have already recovered from empty page syndrome. You have hours of prewriting and planning already done. You know what will go on that blank page: what you wrote in your outline.

    Getting Started

    Your objective here is to draft the body paragraphs of your essay. Although in college you generally want to move beyond the five-paragraph essay you probably learned in high school, we will review the basics. A five-paragraph essay contains an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you are more comfortable starting on paper than on the computer, you can start on paper and then type it before you revise. You can also use a voice recorder to get yourself started, dictating a paragraph or two to get you thinking. In this lesson, Andi does all their work on the computer, but you may use pen and paper or the computer to write a rough draft.

    Making the Writing Process Work for You

    What makes viewing writing as a process so beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternative strategies and processes to the standard step-by-step view of writing while motivating you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in your writing process:

    • Begin writing with the part you know the most about. You can start with the third paragraph in your outline if ideas come easily to mind. You can start with the second paragraph or the first paragraph, too. Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader’s interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs that are between one-half and three-fourth of a page, double spaced.
    • Write one paragraph at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.
    • Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multi-page report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest. But do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write. One tip that writer Stephen King suggests in his book, On Writing, is to stop in the middle of a paragraph so you can keep going with what's already in your head at your next sitting without sitting and staring at the screen.
    • Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.
    • Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.

    Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is the most important key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, you will, for example, present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can.

    Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know very little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to be told in order to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas so they are totally clear and your communication is effective?

    Tip

    You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card or write on sticky notes that you clip or stick to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself—perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know—so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to also state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or to inform them of, or to persuade them about.

    Writing at Work

    Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like “organic romaine” and “free-range chicken” are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers’ tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.

    Exercise 1

    Using the topic for the essay that you outlined in Section 4.7, describe your purpose and your audience as specifically as you can. Use your own sheet of paper to record your responses. Then keep these responses near you during future stages of the writing process.

    My purpose: ____________________________________________

    ____________________________________________

    ____________________________________________

    My audience: ____________________________________________

    ____________________________________________

    ____________________________________________

    Setting Goals for Your First Draft

    A draft is a complete version of a piece of writing, but it is not the final version. The step in the writing process after drafting, as you may remember, is revising. During revising, you will have the opportunity to make changes to your first draft before you put the finishing touches on it during the editing and proofreading stage. A first draft gives you a working version that you can later improve.

    Writing at Work

    Workplace writing in certain environments is done by teams of writers who collaborate on the planning, writing, and revision of documents, such as long reports, technical manuals, and the results of scientific research. Collaborators do not need to be in the same room, the same building, or even the same city. Many collaborations are conducted over the Internet.

    In a perfect collaboration, each contributor has the right to add, edit, and delete text. Strong communication skills, in addition to strong writing skills, are important in this kind of writing situation because disagreements over style, content, process, emphasis, and other issues may arise.

    The collaborative software, or document management systems, that groups use to work on common projects is sometimes called groupware or workgroup support systems. New, improved programs are continually being developed.

    The reviewing tool on some word-processing programs also gives you access to a collaborative tool that many smaller workgroups use when they exchange documents. You can also use it to leave comments to yourself.

    Tip

    If you invest some time now to investigate how the reviewing tool in your word processor works, you will be able to use it with confidence during the revision stage of the writing process. Then, when you start to revise, set your reviewing tool to track any changes you make, so you will be able to tinker with text and commit only those final changes you want to keep.

    Discovering the Basic Elements of a First Draft

    If you have been using the information in this and the previous chapter step by step to help you develop an assignment, you already have both a formal topic outline and a formal sentence outline to direct your writing. Knowing what a first draft looks like will help you make the creative leap from the outline to the first draft. A first draft should include the following elements:

    • An introduction that piques the audience’s interest, tells what the essay is about, and motivates readers to keep reading;
    • A thesis statement that presents the main point, or controlling idea, of the entire piece of writing;
    • A topic sentence in each paragraph that states the main idea of the paragraph and implies how that main idea connects to the thesis statement;
    • Supporting sentences in each paragraph that develop or explain the topic sentence; these can be specific facts, examples, anecdotes, or other details that elaborate on the topic sentence; and
    • A conclusion that reinforces the thesis statement and leaves the audience with a feeling of completion.

    These elements follow the standard five-paragraph essay format, which you probably first encountered in high school. This basic format--introduction, body with multiple paragraphs, and conclusion--is valid for most essays you will write in college, even much longer ones. For now, however, Andi focuses on writing the three body paragraphs from their outline. Section 5.4, "Introduction and Conclusion Paragraphs" covers writing introductions and conclusions, and you will read Andi's introduction and conclusion there.

    The Role of Topic Sentences

    Topic sentences make the structure of a text and the writer’s basic arguments easy to locate and comprehend. In college writing, using a topic sentence in each paragraph of the essay is the standard rule. However, the topic sentence does not always have to be the first sentence in your paragraph even if it the first item in your formal outline (though it should be in workplace writing).

    Tip

    When you begin to draft your paragraphs, you should follow your outline fairly closely. After all, you spent valuable time developing those ideas. However, as you begin to express your ideas in complete sentences, it might strike you that the topic sentence might work better at the end of the paragraph or in the middle. Try it. Writing a draft, by its nature, is a good time for experimentation.

    The topic sentence is generally the first or final sentence in a paragraph. It's possible that it can appear in the middle, but that can be confusing for a reader. Many times it appears as the second sentence in a paragraph is a transition sentence precedes it. The assignment’s audience and purpose will often determine where a topic sentence belongs.

    Choosing where to position the topic sentence depends not only on your audience and purpose but also on whether you are including counter-arguments. The placement of a topic sentence may vary from paragraph to paragraph depending on the purpose of that particular paragraph and the relation between that purpose and the audience. Please see Section 2.6, "Rhetorical Analysis," and Section 6.1, "Strategies for Developing Paragraphs."

    Tip

    As you read critically throughout the writing process, keep topic sentences in mind. You may discover topic sentences that are not always located at the beginning of a paragraph. For example, fiction writers customarily use topic ideas, either expressed or implied, to move readers through their texts. In nonfiction writing, such as popular magazines, topic sentences are often used when the author thinks it is appropriate (based on the audience and the purpose, of course). A single topic sentence might even control the development of a number of paragraphs. For more information on topic sentences, please see Chapter 6.

    Paragraphs

    Learning how to develop a good topic sentence is the first step toward writing a solid paragraph. Once you have composed your topic sentence, you have a guideline for the rest of the paragraph. To complete the paragraph, a writer must support the topic sentence with additional information and summarize the main point with a concluding sentence. This section identifies the three major structural parts of a paragraph and covers how to develop a paragraph using transitional words and phrases.

    Identifying Parts of a Paragraph

    An effective paragraph contains three main parts: a topic sentence, the body, and the concluding sentence. A topic sentence is often the first sentence of a paragraph. This chapter has already discussed its purpose—to express a main idea combined with the writer’s attitude about the subject. The body of the paragraph usually follows, containing supporting details. Supporting sentences help explain, prove, or enhance the topic sentence. The concluding sentence is the last sentence in the paragraph. It reminds the reader of the main point by restating it in different words. Figure 5.3.1 shows one graphic organizer for paragraph structure.

    Figure 5.3.1

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    Let's look at a fairly casual example. Read the following paragraph. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

    After reading the new TV Guide this week, I had just one thought—why are we still being bombarded with reality shows? This season, the plague of reality television continues to darken our airwaves. Along with the return of viewer favorites, we are to be cursed with yet another mindless creation. Prisoner follows the daily lives of eight suburban housewives who have chosen to be put in jail for the purposes of this fake psychological experiment. A preview for the first episode shows the usual tears and tantrums associated with reality television. I dread to think what producers will come up with next season, but if any of them are reading this blog—stop it! We’ve had enough reality television to last us a lifetime!

    The first sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It tells the reader that the paragraph will be about reality television shows, and it expresses the writer’s distaste for these shows through the use of the word bombarded.

    Each of the following sentences in the paragraph supports the topic sentence by providing further information about a specific reality television show. The final sentence is the concluding sentence. It reiterates the main point that viewers are bored with reality television shows by using different words from the topic sentence.

    Paragraphs that begin with the topic sentence move from the general to the specific. They open with a general statement about a subject (reality shows) and then discuss specific examples (the reality show Prisoner). Most academic essays contain the topic sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph.

    Now take a look at the following paragraph. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

    Last year, a cat traveled 130 miles to reach its family, which had moved to another state and had left their pet behind. Even though it had never been to their new home, the cat was able to track down its former owners. A dog in my neighborhood can predict when its person is about to have a seizure. It makes sure that he does not hurt himself during an epileptic fit. Compared to many animals, our own senses are almost dull.

    This is an inductive paragraph. It begins with details that lead to the point, or main idea. The last sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It draws on specific examples (a cat that tracked down its owners and a dog that can predict seizures) and then makes a general statement that draws a conclusion from these examples (animals’ senses are better than humans’). In this case, the supporting sentences are placed before the topic sentence and the concluding sentence is the same as the topic sentence.

    This technique is frequently used in persuasive writing. The writer produces detailed examples as evidence to back up his or her point, preparing the reader to accept the concluding topic sentence as the truth.

    Sometimes, the topic sentence appears in the middle of a paragraph. Read the following example. The topic sentence is underlined for you.

    For many years, I suffered from severe anxiety every time I took an exam. Hours before the exam, my heart would begin pounding, my legs would shake, and sometimes I would become physically unable to move. Last year, I was referred to a specialist and finally found a way to control my anxiety—breathing exercises. It seems so simple, but by doing just a few breathing exercises a couple of hours before an exam, I gradually got my anxiety under control. The exercises help slow my heart rate and make me feel less anxious. Better yet, they require no pills, no equipment, and very little time. It’s amazing how just breathing correctly has helped me learn to manage my anxiety symptoms.

    In this paragraph, the topic sentence expresses the main idea—that breathing exercises can help control anxiety. The preceding sentences enable the writer to build up to his main point (breathing exercises can help control anxiety) by using a personal anecdote (how he used to suffer from anxiety). The supporting sentences then expand on how breathing exercises help the writer by providing additional information. The last sentence is the concluding sentence and restates how breathing can help manage anxiety.

    Placing a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph is often used in creative writing. If you notice that you have used a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph in an academic essay, read through the paragraph carefully to make sure that it contains only one major topic. You might need to break apart two ideas and develop them separately into two different paragraphs.

    The paragraph is the main structural component of an essay as well as other forms of writing. Each paragraph of an essay adds another related main idea to support the writer’s thesis, or controlling idea. Each related main idea is supported and developed with facts, examples, and other details that explain it. By exploring and refining one main idea at a time, writers build a strong case for their thesis. For more specific help on developing body paragraphs, please see Section 6.1, "Developing Body Paragraphs."

    Paragraph Length

    How long should a paragraph be?

    One answer to this important question may be “long enough”—long enough for you to address your points and explain your main idea. To grab attention or to present succinct supporting ideas, a paragraph can be fairly short and consist of two to three sentences. A paragraph in a complex essay about some abstract point in philosophy or archaeology can be three-quarters of a page or more in length. As long as the writer maintains close focus on the topic and does not ramble, a long paragraph is acceptable -- and even encouraged-- in college-level writing. In general, try to keep the paragraphs between one-half and three-fourths of a double-spaced page.

    Tip

    Journalistic style often calls for brief two- or three-sentence paragraphs because of how people read the news, both online and in print. Blogs and other online information sources often adopt this paragraphing style, too. Readers often skim the first paragraphs of a great many articles before settling on the handful of stories they want to read in detail.

    You may find that a particular paragraph you write may be longer than one that will hold your audience’s interest. In such cases, you should divide the paragraph into two or more shorter paragraphs, adding a topic statement or some kind of transitional word or phrase at the start of the new paragraph. Transition words or phrases show the connection between the two ideas.

    In all cases, however, be guided by what you instructor wants and expects to find in your draft. Generally, instructors will expect you to develop a mature college-level style as you progress through the semester’s assignments.

    Exercise 2

    To build your sense of appropriate paragraph length, use the Internet to find examples of the following items. Copy them into a file, identify your sources, and present them to your instructor with your annotations, or notes.

    • A news article written in short paragraphs. Take notes on, or annotate, your selection with your observations about the effect of combining paragraphs that develop the same topic idea. Explain how effective those paragraphs would be.
    • A long paragraph from a scholarly work that you identify through an academic search engine. Annotate it with your observations about the author’s paragraphing style.

    Starting Your First Draft

    Now we are finally ready to look over Andi's shoulder as they begin to write their essay about digital technology and the confusing choices that consumers face. Follow along with your own outline, with its thesis statement and topic sentences, and the notes you wrote earlier in this lesson on your purpose and audience. Reviewing these will put both you and Andi in the proper mind-set to start.

    The following is Mariah’s thesis statement:

    Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing.

    Here are the notes that Andi wrote to themselves to characterize their purpose and audience.

    be71bce741f9a3d8c17b072a14d01109.jpg
    Figure: Andi chose to begin by writing a quick introduction based on their thesis statement, knowing they would improve it during the revision process. Right now, this will just give them a starting point.

    Andi then looked at their key sentence outline because it includes the topic sentences. The following is the portion of their outline for the first body paragraph. The Roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and Arabic numerals label subpoints.

    a5e1f572d0bc0f8816100959811a272c.jpg
    Figure: Andi then began to expand the ideas in the outline into a paragraph. Notice how the outline helped guarantee that all their sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

    6c9c0f85d75fedf2b2f9fa6be13b504e.jpg

    Tip

    If you write your first draft on the computer, consider creating a new file folder for each course with a set of subfolders inside the course folders for each assignment you are given. Label the folders clearly with the course names, and label each assignment folder and word processing document with a title that you will easily recognize. The assignment name is a good choice for the document. Then use that subfolder to store all the drafts you create. When you start each new draft, do not just write over the last one. Instead, save the draft with a new tag after the title—draft 1, draft 2, and so on—so that you will have a complete history of drafts in case your instructor wishes you to submit them. Also, it can be a good idea to use a program, such as Google docs, that stores your files in the cloud. That way, you will still have access to your documents in case something happens to your computer. However, because these many times overwrite your previous work, and the internet or WiFi could have problems, it's also good to save each draft with a separate number on it both in the cloud and on your personal computer.

    In your documents, observe any formatting requirements (such as MLA formatting) for margins, headers, placement of page numbers, and other layout matters—that your instructor requires.

    Continuing the First Draft

    Andi continued writing her essay, moving to the second and third body paragraphs. They had supporting details but no numbered subpoints in ther outline, so they had to consult the prewriting notes for specific information to include.

    Tip

    If you decide to take a break between finishing your first body paragraph and starting the next one, do not start writing immediately when you return to your work. Put yourself back in context and in the mood by rereading what you have already written. If you stop writing in the middle of writing the paragraph, she could have jotted down some quick notes to herself about what she would write next.

    Preceding each body paragraph that Andi wrote is the appropriate section of their sentence outline. Notice how they expanded Roman numeral III from the outline into a first draft of the second body paragraph. As you read, ask yourself how closely they stayed on purpose and how well they paid attention to the needs of the audience.

    cc6ecc22cf120f4dc54cae7f65a8510c.jpg
    Figure: 29fbcd739fc604f9e612b7da1577a314.jpg

    Andi then began the third and final body paragraph using Roman numeral IV from her outline.

    6e2b6bef4265aea8e141525c46601787.jpg
    Figure: fee60fb64ee68df4e9b0ab7e94d6845f.jpg

    Exercise 3

    Reread body paragraphs two and three of the essay that Andi is writing. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

    1. In body paragraph two, Andi decided to develop the paragraph as a nonfiction narrative. Do you agree with their decision? Explain. How else could they have chosen to develop the paragraph? Why is that better?
    2. Compare the writing styles of paragraphs two and three. What evidence do you have that Andi was getting tired or running out of steam? What advice would you give them? Why?
    3. Choose one of these two body paragraphs. Write a version of your own that you think better fits Andi's audience and purpose.

    Writing a Title

    A writer’s best choice for a title is one that alludes to the main point of the entire essay. Do not make your title the type of assignment your teacher assigned. Like the headline in a newspaper or the big, bold title in a magazine, an essay’s title gives the audience a first peek at the content. If readers like the title, they are likely to keep reading.

    After carefully crafting each paragraph of their essay, based on the outline, Andi finished the draft and even included a brief concluding paragraph. They then decided, as the final touch for the writing session, to add an engaging title.

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    Contributors and Attributions

    Adapted from Writing for Success. Provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0.

    This page most recently updated on June 4, 2020.


    This page titled 5.3: Writing the Essay Draft 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) .