A first draft is a rough sketch of your future piece of writing. Sometimes your first draft may become the final one due to it being rather satisfactory, but in most cases, it requires further work. A first draft is a way to elaborate on the main points of your essay stated in your outline, giving them a sample form. It may seem paradoxical, but while being one of the most important stages of the writing process, most first drafts don’t require a tremendous attention to detail.
- Take a closer look at your assignment and the topic if it was given to you by your instructor. Revise your outline as well. This is needed for your clearer understanding of the tasks you must accomplish within the draft, and to make sure you meet the requirements of the assignment.
- Sketch out the introduction of your essay. At this point, don’t get stalled on form; introductory part should inform readers about what the topic is, and state your point of view according to this topic. The introduction should also be interesting to read to capture readers’ attention, but this task has more to do with thoughtful and scrupulous writing, and thus should be left for later.
- Based on your outline, start transferring your ideas to paper. The main task here is to give them the initial form and set a general direction for their further development, and not to write a full paper.
- Chalk out the summarizing paragraph of your essay. It should not contain any new ideas, but briefly reintroduce those from the main body, and restate your thesis statement.
- Read through the draft to see if you have included the information you wanted to, but without making any further corrections, since this is a task for the second and final drafts.
Key Points to Consider
- While an outline is needed to decide on what to write, the first draft is more about answering a question: “How to write?” In the first draft, you shape your ideas out, and not simply name and list them, as you did in an outline.
- When you start writing your thoughts down, it may happen that one idea or concept sparks new connections, memories, or associations. Be attentive to such sidetracks; choose those of them that might be useful for your writing, and don’t delve in those that are undesirable in terms of the purpose of your paper (academic, showing opinion). A successful piece of writing is focused on its topic, and doesn’t include everything you have to say on a subject.
- Making notes for yourself in the margins or even in the middle of the text is a useful practice. This can save you time and keep you focused on the essence of your essay without being distracted by secondary details. For example, such notes could look like this: “As documented, the Vietnam War cost the United States about … (search for the exact sum of money and interpret it in terms of modern exchange rates) U. S. dollars.”
- When you finish crafting your first draft, it is useful to put it aside and completely quit thinking about writing for a certain period of time. Time away will allow you to have a fresh look at your draft when you decide to revise it.
Reconstructing the final draft
You may be able to move directly from your revised first draft to a final draft, but careful writers often prepare several drafts before they are satisfied with a piece. As you rewrite, you may continue to discover wordy constructions, poor connections, awkward sentences, and other issues.
Writing and editing a draft
While you can quickly handwrite research notes or an outline for your paper, you may want to use a computer to produce a first draft that’s legible and easy to edit. You can do much of your editing directly on the screen. If you think of a better way to say what you’ve just said, make the change immediately and move on. For more global editing, however, many writers like to print out sections or complete drafts, mark them up by hand, and then go back to the computer to input the changes. This method has advantages. Working on the screen limits you to a small section of text. Scrolling up and down in a long, complex document can be confusing. Another advantage of printing out your essay is that it forces you to slow down and read carefully. Because most of us can type quickly on a computer, our fingers may get ahead of our thoughts. Remember that good writing requires deliberation, evaluation, and judgment.
Spell-check, grammar-check, and search-and-replace functions
A spell‐check function is useful for catching misspelled words, typos, and accidental repetitions ( the the). But the spell‐checker won’t flag a word that is actually a word, even if it isn’t the one you intended —for example, if you inadvertently type form for from. Spell‐checking also doesn’t distinguish between words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings ( it’s/its, here/hear, their/they’re/there). Use the spell‐checker as an aid, not as a replacement for your own careful proofreading.
Grammar‐ or style‐checkers require even more caution, because grammar and style are less clear‐cut than spelling. Many writers don’t use these functions at all, and unless you already have a good grasp of grammar, these functions can be misleading. For example, grammar‐checkers may catch pronoun agreement and reference errors, but not dangling participles or faulty parallelism. Some grammar‐checkers flag possible usage problems and passive constructions, but they also flag every sentence beginning with a conjunction ( for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). The checker may also flag contractions and every sentence ending with a preposition —“errors” that current usage permits. If you use your computer’s grammar‐check function, do so critically.
A search‐and‐replace function lets you correct a particular error throughout your paper automatically. However, use caution with the Replace All command, or you could replace one error with another. It’s a good idea to evaluate every instance of a misspelled word rather than using the automatic, Replace All command.
Final draft and layout
You can use your computer’s word‐processing and layout functions to produce a professional‐looking final draft. If you are doing an assignment for a course, be sure to check with the instructor regarding the format requirements for your paper. For example, your instructor may require the following format: Times New Roman 12‐point type, double‐spaced text, 1‐inch margins, a title page, inserted page numbers, and running heads. The computer’s page‐layout functions can help you create a properly formatted paper that meets specific requirements MLA and APA style, for example.
If it’s appropriate, you can present some information in tables, charts, or graphs, and you can import graphics. Be careful not to overdo graphics, varied type fonts, colors, design elements, and formatting. Don’t confuse a good‐looking paper with a well‐written one. Although some readers may be initially impressed with a document that looks nice, special formatting and design features can’t compensate for poorly expressed ideas. Many readers are distracted by too much formatting boldface, italic type, bullets, and similar elements.