Friday, March 10, 2017

Engaging with the Writing Process

Over the past few weeks, several advanced grad students have contacted us in the Thesis Office to check on requirements and deadlines they need to meet now that they’ve passed exams and are moving on to the thesis or dissertation.  Congratulations to all who’ve reached that point!  Heading toward completion naturally entails reengagements with the writing process, a process that involves five stages: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading.  Each stage deals with important but discrete sets of activities, and it’s worthwhile reviewing them.  Noting how writers move back and forth between the stages can help you set goals and prioritize tasks as you work on the different parts of your project.

Stages of the Writing Process

Prewriting:  Many activities before (and even after) you sit down with pen and paper or face keyboard and screen are parts of prewriting.  Prewriting is likely one of the longest stages of a thesis or dissertation project.  Ideas for your project likely begin to form as you take courses, complete other program requirements, and prepare for your qualifying exam(s).  For some writers, ideas have been forming over a period of many years.  As you turn to the writing project itself, prewriting involves focused idea-generating activities like listing, clustering, freewriting, and outlining.  

Drafting:  Composing with a plan.  The word plan distinguishes drafting from activities that belong to the stage before or after it.  When you’re producing text from a plan based on outlines, notes, or texts you generated while prewriting, you’re drafting.  If instead you’re staring at a blank page and don’t quite know how to move forward, you’re still in the prior stage and need to engage in prewriting activities until you can form a plan for your draft.  On the other hand, if you’ve drafted a considerable amount of planned text and feel it’s time to make changes to it, you’re progressing to the next stage.

Revising:  Literally, looking back at an accomplished draft.  But more than just looking back, revising involves rethinking and changing the “big picture” of what you’ve drafted: reorganizing sentences or paragraphs, deleting passages, or adding new content.

Editing:  Making changes to textual details.  The phrase textual details anchors the answer to the question “What’s the difference between revising and editing?”  But in truth, revising and editing often overlap.  The nature of the changes you’re making helps distinguish the two stages.  If you’re reordering sections of a draft, adding substantial amounts of text to it, or cutting out large portions, you’re still involved in revising.  If instead you’re more concerned with word choices or word forms, fact checking, and confirming that your in-text citations match your end references, you’re editing.
Proofreading:  The final stage.  Proof is a publishing term for a nearly-finished piece that needs final checking before going to the printer and out for public viewing.  Final checking involves careful, methodical, line-by-line reading and correcting of textual mistakes to ensure accurate punctuation, spelling, and formatting throughout the document.

Embrace Each Stage: Advice for All Seasons

As you progress through your project, a sound piece of broad advice to take on board: embrace each stage of the writing process in nearly equal measure.  Prewriting is needed to get you started in the right direction, and drafting is essential.  But revising, editing, and proofreading are also vital to a successful finished product and deserve plenty of attention and care.  If you seek help or guidance during any of these stages, but particularly with prewriting and drafting, remember that the University Writing Center is a fantastic resource.  If you have questions or concerns with revising, editing, or proofreading, be sure to contact us here in the Thesis Office.

Good luck in all stages, happy spring break, happy writing!     


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