College Prep Writing
The Writing Process
For most of us, getting started is the most difficult step in the process of writing.
What am I going to write about? What's my reason for writing? What is the point I want to communicate? How can I prove or demonstrate my point—or support it in some way?
If you begin writing without answering those questions, you may find that your writing will not be clear or focused. It is essential to have a clear point to communicate—a main idea or thesis statement, as well as support for your point, before you begin writing.
Coming up with a topic to write about is not the hard part: A topic may be provided by a teacher who may assign a class to write on capital punishment, for example. At a workplace, a human resources manager might have the responsibility to announce to employees a change in company policy regarding flex-time working hours, and that is a topic. As a consumer, the topic of the letter you write to the Consumer Protection Agency is the complaint you want to make about a product or service.
Make a Point
Those are examples of topics, but before you start an opening paragraph, you need more than a topic. You need the point that you want to make about capital punishment, or flex-time, or a product. Is it that capital punishment should be expanded to more states? Is it that flex-time will no longer be an option at the company? Is it that you are being over-charged for your phone service? Those are the points of a class essay, a memo to employees, and a letter to the Consumer Protection Agency.
When a teacher assigns the essay topic "My First Job," you will need to decide what the point is that you want to make about your first job. Was it a valuable learning experience? The source of a personal tragedy? What is it about your first job that you want to communicate?
You will do the same thing when you plan a personal essay for a university entrance or scholarship application. The following is a broad topic offered by the 2014-15 Common Application for a university entrance application.
Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Like the topics above, your story needs to have a point.
What is the point you want to make about the topic? That is the first thing to decide when planning an essay on the topic of the university application. When you have a clear point to make about a topic, you will write a focused essay, and the essay will be easier to write than if you skip this important prewriting step.
When you have a point that you want to make, you have a good start. Next, it will be necessary to list ways that you can support your point. These may be examples, causes, or other demonstrations of your point. When you have a point and the major points to support the point you have completed the "prewriting" process.
Five-Step Writing Process
In the textbook scheme for writing, the isolation of a point and a list of supports for it is the first of five steps or stages of the writing process. Some teachers have students do "free writing" to accomplish the first, prewriting step. In free writing, students jot down every idea about a topic that comes to mind, and then go through the result, finding pieces that comprise the point and the support for it.
Another technique has students write the topic in the middle of a page, and then add related content to it, so that a diagram resembling a web or branches of a tree takes shape.
These techniques may be useful to demonstrate how ideas for writing evolve, but they often become goals in themselves, with students adding elements because they believe a teacher expects them to fill up gaps in a page.
Another way to find ideas is to change your writing environment. Many writers find that walking in nature helps to clear their minds and to get rid of extraneous thought so they can isolate their thinking and focus on what they want to communicate about a topic. Others claim that a few minutes In the shower has the same benefit. At school, students sometimes increase productivity by sitting on the floor of the gym to settle on a point or main idea and supporting ideas. Working in pairs or teams may be beneficial for some students.
Many writers find outlining the most efficient way to accomplish the prewriting step. (See also "Outlining" and "Start Writing" in the Essays section of College Prep Writing on this website.) The following outline for a brief essay begins with the central point or main idea of the essay, and that is followed by three major support points, I, II, and III.
Title: Why Do I Want to Study Nursing?
Main point or main idea: There are several factors that have influenced my decision to major in nursing.
Major support I: My mother and aunt are nurses, and their work and job satisfaction has influenced me.
Major support II: In a high school project, I traced important events in the history of nursing.
Major support III: My volunteer work at a hospital has helped me decide that a career in nursing is definitely for me.
After prewriting, the four other steps in the five-step writing process are—
2. Composing a first draft;
3. Revising the first for a second draft;
4. Editing the second draft for a third draft;
5. "Publishing" a final draft.
Writing is not always quite as neat as the five-step writing process suggests, however. It is rare that revising and editing are separate and distinct steps. Many writers will revise paragraphs and correct spelling and punctuation errors as they work on a first draft. Some writers are not satisfied with a third or fourth draft, and they continue making changes, going through up to a dozen drafts or more before publication.
The following examples represent steps two, three, four, and five of the process of writing described above. The examples represent essay writing for academic English; however, the five steps of the process of writing apply not only to essay writing. The steps should be used in all kinds of workplace and college writing.
Sample Steps Two Through Five
Drafts of a personal essay