The Process of Writing

The Three Basic Stages

Most teachers divide the process of writing an essay into three stages: Prewriting, Writing, and Revising. In Prewriting, you think about your subject and purpose and organize those thoughts onto paper. At the end of the prewriting stage, you should know what you want to say and how you want to organize your points. During the Writing stage, you put down those points, including a brief introduction and conclusion. After you've finished writing, you should have some time left for Revising. In this stage, you read your essay to see if it covered the basic points thoroughly, provided good support, gave the reader a sense of direction or organization, and avoided grammatical errors.

To keep these steps and their importance in mind, you may want to think of writing as like taking a trip. First, you plan your trip (read travel magazines, make reservations, etc.). Then you make the actual trip (get on the plane, see the sights, take pictures). Finally, you review the trip after you get home (develop the pictures, change your currency back to dollars, think about what you liked and disliked, start dreaming about next year's trip). You can take a trip without planning, but you're likely to have problems (the wrong clothes, no hotel room); nor would you want to plan and never go on the trip. And if you don't think about the trip afterwards, you won't savor it as much (and you may make some of the same mistakes again).

When writers skip the Prewriting stage, they typically start too abruptly, don't know where they're going or if they're getting off the subject, write too generally, write an essay that's too short (i.e. underdeveloped), and don't know when or how to conclude. Writers who skip the Revision stage may turn in essays that areunorganized, unsupported, or illogical, that omit points the writer had in mind, or that contain serious grammatical errors that the writer could have corrected. Writers who don't revise regularly tend to make the same mistakes in the next essay and never seem to get a mental picture of what a good essay is like.

The Separate Steps

Each of these stages may contain many steps, not all of which may be necessary in all cases. The list below attempts to describe as many steps or strategies as possible, and it assumes that the writer has several days to complete all the steps.


"If you don't know where you're going, that's where you'll end up."