The importance of reflecting on your writing process

You submitted your essay. Whew. How did it go?

Ask yourself: How efficient were my reading strategies? Did I spend too much time on general materials? Did I miss an important source?
How useful were my notes? Did they cover much more material than I needed? Did they leave out essential details about sources? Were they easy to reorganize into a structure for the essay?
Was the time I spent on thinking and planning well spent? Should I have spent more or less time on this stage? How representative of the final essay was my original outline plan?
Did I start the writing stage too soon or too late?
Are there ways I might have cut down on the redrafting and editing stages, or should I have allowed more time for these?

In general, these questions will lead you to reflecting on your writing process in order to improve it. Everyone’s writing process is different. You have to figure out what suits you best. If writing the essay the night before it’s due does not work for you, then change your process.

Here are some examples of other students’ writing processes:

David: First I begin to read through my notes to get the ideas clear in my head. But this doesn’t last long. I get bored going over the same old ground. So, even though I haven’t sorted out my ideas, I start writing anyway. It’s only after I’ve written a few paragraphs that I know clearly what I want to write. Sometimes it’s more than that. Longer. It can take hours. But gradually the argument comes clear as I write. When I’ve got it straight, I go back … Well, it depends. Sometimes I start again with it all clear, and sometimes I continue on to the end. Anyway I find I’m revising as I go because I know what I want to say.

Anna: I write on coffee. I read over all my notes and then have a cup of coffee or take the dog for a walk. This lets the ideas bubble away at the back of my mind. Then I try and block out on a piece of paper the main points I want to make. I also put down the quotes and references I know for sure I want to use. I mean I put the ideas in the order I think I’ll write them in. This is my outline I write from, you know, developing the ideas as I go but still coming back to the outline to check where I’m heading. Between coffee. I stop at each of the main sections and think again about where I’m going next.

Ben: Well, I’m not so keen on working it out as you go along. I spend a lot of time thinking out the argument before I wrote a word. I make an outline. No, I make a series of outlines, building up the detail each time. And making the structure clearer. Then when I write, I try and get the first paragraph just right before I go on. Sometimes I work away at it for hours. Not just the same paragraph, but three or four different tries at it, till I think I’ve got it perfect. Or as good as I can. I do the same with each paragraph. I don’t like thinking that when I get to the end I’ll have to do the whole thing again. So I revise as I go. That’s not always true, though. Sometimes I have to go back to the first paragraph because the argument changed a bit along the way. Mostly I try to keep the argument in line on the way through.

Clanchy, J & Ballard, B 1997, Essay Writing for Students: A Practical Guide, Addison Wesley Longman, Melboune.

All three processes were different, and yet all three connected planning and writing in a fluid way. Your own writing process will be unique to you, but try to be flexible with your planning and writing.

Study Skills Support is for undergraduate students studying in the Faculty of Arts.

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