Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor
So often in high school and college writing classes, student writers are told that if they want to produce a quality paper, they need to follow the writing process. In varying publications and textbooks, the writing process is expressed as a set of steps from beginning to end that all writers follow. The way I recall being taught was to perform the following steps, one at a time, not going back, in the following order:
- Brainstorm. Specifically, I was told to list, then bubble, then outline. Each of these counted as daily grades in my high school class.
- Draft. After brainstorming in my requisite three ways, I was required to complete a rough draft. The draft had to be up to the word count required for the final draft, but it could not be as good as the final draft.
- Revise. After peer review and perhaps a conference with the teacher to go over the rough draft, it was time to make big revisions. Paragraphs needed to be cut, sources needed to be added, and topic sentences needed to be tweaked.
- Edit. After revising for focus and organization, it was time for editing. Was there any passive voice? Any comma splices? Any spelling errors? Out came the red pens and dusting off the old editing marks chart for us all to follow.
- Submit/Publish. In my high school days, this step meant making sure that the printer did not run low on ink and that there was a staple placed perfectly at the top left corner of the pages. In college, this meant that I submitted the correct file type to the correct email address with the correct identifying information in my outgoing email to the professor.
I followed this process to the letter, mainly because my grade depended on it. After moving up into my major courses during my Bachelor’s degree and entering into my Master’s program, there was no prescribed process anymore. I might need to submit a draft here and there for perusal, but the process by which I produced that draft was left entirely up to me. When I found that my process did not match the official process that I was taught, I wondered why I was still getting good feedback on my writing.
One of my professors cleared up the mystery for me. She directed the writing center, and one day she shared about post-process theory, which basically acknowledges that a writing process depends on the writer performing that process. In fact, a student’s writing process might depend on his or her identity, including factors like age, gender, or race (Braun, Patterson, & Abst, 2005).
The biggest determining factor in my writing process was my anxiety over producing the perfect paper. While everyone around me despised having three separate brainstorming activities, I enjoyed those activities more than writing the actual paper. When I plotted possible ideas, there was no obligation that I follow through with them—the point was to get ideas out on paper, in no particular order, with no red pen to come along and thrash the living daylights out of my half-formed thesis statement or under-developed paragraph. I realized in graduate school that, the more time I spent on different brainstorming techniques, the fewer drafts I had to work through in the revision stage. A brainstorming-heavy process was not seen as productive, especially to my classmates who were whittling down their fourth or fifth draft while I was sitting down to type my first.
Whenever I tutor students now, I encourage them to try a variety of steps in the writing process and find what works best for them. The most reassuring part of trying these academic acrobatics is that there is somewhat of a safety net. As long as all components of an assignment are completed in due time, there can always be a visit to the writing center to check on progress. I am proud to say that I always brought a brainstorming mess and, eventually, a draft to the writing center for feedback. Students at Kaplan have an extensive resource on the writing process that can be used in building one’s own best writing process: https://kucampus.kaplan.edu/MyStudies/AcademicSupportCenter/WritingCenter/WritingReferenceLibrary/TheWritingProcess/TheWritingProcessAnOverview.aspx
A word of caution- just as there is no “one size fits all” writing process for all writers, so is there no “one size fits all” process for one writer. Each writing situation is different and requires varying amounts of thought, research, planning, and execution along the way. I did not write my twenty-page paper on feast imagery in Shakespearean tragedy using the same process I used to write my teaching philosophy for job applications. Always consider the whole writing situation.
Braun, P., Patterson, C. & Abst, S. (2005). Talking back to tutoring manuals. Writing Lab Newsletter, 29(6), 10. Retrieved from https://writinglabnewsletter.org/archives/v29/29.6.pdf