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6 Steps to More Effective Writing

Dan Gallagher
By Dan Gallagher

Not everyone is passionate about writing. Indeed, for many students, writing assignments come with anxiety and frustration, even when the topic of the assignment is one they’re enthusiastic about. 

One reason for those feelings is viewing “writing” as a singular event, a monolithic task that produces a paper. If, instead, we view writing as a process—a series of discrete, related tasks—a great deal of the anxiety and frustration can be lessened or removed, and the final product can be significantly improved.

No universal writing process will work for every person in every situation, but we strongly encourage you to establish a process suited to how you work and to the needs of the situation. Each individual’s process will have slight differences, and every assignment will call for different considerations. Here are some tips to help you fit the following general writing-related tasks into your own process.

1.    Assignment Analysis: Define the Purpose, Style, and Format 

The first thing you need to do, whether in the classroom or the workplace, is determine what the writing needs to accomplish. What is the main point of the piece? Is the goal to describe a situation, define a problem, develop a solution, argue for a position, or some combination? In a classroom, this question will likely be answered by the assignment description, which should include terms that will define the goal. 

Once the purpose of the writing is clear, other considerations, such as the format, formality, and depth of research required, will also be easier to determine. You can find more about analyzing your assignment in Chapter 3 of the Online Guide to Writing (Guide).

2.    Research: Curate the Relevant Information

Different assignments will require different types and levels of research. Even if the piece is not a research paper per se, you might need to conduct some primary research, such as interviews with relevant people. If it is research-oriented, you might need to restrict your research to peer-reviewed academic journals. In any case, you’ll need to determine your research requirements before beginning. 

Having a strong sense of your writing goals will help determine your research needs. Consulting with your instructor can provide further clarity. Students, faculty, and staff can also use UMGC Librarians to refine your searches and evaluate your results during the research process.

3.    Outlining: Organize and Structure Your Ideas

Outlining can take a variety of forms, from formal to informal. The goal is not the outline itself, but the organization of thoughts and ideas. Whether you produce a structured list, an idea web, or just a collection of notes, there is value in considering the entirety of your written product before beginning to produce any of it. You can read more about some pre-writing techniques in Chapter 2 of the Guide. 

As you outline, you might find that you need to conduct more research to clarify your positions, and, as you research, you might need to revise your outline. This back-and-forth is part of the process, and while it might feel like moving “backward” for a moment, the results will help you significantly improve your final product.

4.    Drafting: Write the First Version

When you’ve gathered your research and determined the basic shape of your eventual product, it’s time to start drafting—the work that you might consider the heart of “writing.” Drafting is when you will begin encapsulating your ideas in sentences and paragraphs, trying to communicate with your reader to accomplish your goals. 

Sentence structure, transitions, and word choice all come into play here, as you discover how best to transmit your thoughts. Chapter 2 of the Guide can be of use at this stage as well, helping you define and refine your thesis. It’s important to note that drafting is an iterative process itself; your first draft should not be your final draft. Get used to the idea of writing multiple drafts that improve with each version and give yourself the time to produce them.

5.    Revising: Correct and Improve the First Draft 

Revising and drafting go hand-in-hand. Revising is the part of the process in which you review your work—and/or receive feedback from others—to more successfully meet your writing goals. Proofreading to address any grammar or punctuation errors is a part of revising, but only a part.  

Moreover, you’ll want to carefully consider how your intended audience will react to what you’ve written. You might need to significantly reorganize, rephrase, or otherwise change the structure of your earlier drafts. Chapter 7 of the Guide provides advice for how to assess your own writing. You’ll also want to consider any feedback your instructor or your classmates have given you.

6.    Finalizing: Polish and Finish Your Work

There is no such thing as a “perfect” piece of writing. Any piece of writing can be improved; your challenge is to decide when you’ve produced something that meets your goals and the expectations of the assignment. As you practice writing more and become more of an expert in your field of study, making that determination will become easier. 

Writing will be a significant component of both your academic and professional life, so use every tool at your disposal—including developing a process that works for you—to be as successful as possible. 

For UMGC students, faculty, and staff, getting advice from a resource like UMGC’s Effective Writing Center can help you to build the knowledge and confidence you need. You can get that advice at any stage of the process. Whether you need assistance getting started with an assignment or need someone to help you polish your work, the Effective Writing Center provides an array of resources and services to help you improve your writing.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.