Delineating the Details of Your First Draft
After you have your ideas in some form (an outline or a cluster or a list — whichever kind of prewriting you chose), it's time to take those ideas and write your first draft. (Did you notice the adjective
Start by taking a look at your ideas — whether they're complete sentences or just random words and phrases — and organize them into groups. Decide which ideas are more important than others and which give details or examples of the main ideas. Keep in mind that you might not use all of your initial ideas. If something in your original list or cluster seems superfluous or if it goes in a separate direction from the rest of your piece, just cross it out; you can always include it later if you change your mind.
Once you get your information organized, begin writing in complete sentences and paragraphs.
In this phase, some writers prefer to begin thinking about mechanics, usage, and spelling, and others prefer to worry about the fine-tuning later. Do whatever works for you. Right now your main concerns are (1) your purpose in writing, (2) the audience for whom you're writing, and (3) the format or type of writing that's required.
And Your Point Is? Defining Your Purpose
Writing usually proves a point, answers a question, gives instructions, provides reflection, or presents entertainment. Before you begin writing, decide what your particular purpose for this piece is (this may have been decided for you by your teacher or supervisor) and keep this purpose in mind as you write.
Is this piece one of the following:
narrative (telling a story)
expository (explaining or giving information)
descriptive (providing a written picture of someone, someplace, or something)
informative or explanatory (giving data or some other type of information)
expressive (detailing your thoughts or emotions)
persuasive or argumentative (attempting to influence others to come around to your way of thinking)
analytical (examining material presented to you)
Remember that you can improve most academic-related nonfiction (such as descriptive, narrative, expository, persuasive, or analytical writing) by using lots of specific examples or supporting details. Take a look at this sentence, written for an essay about an ideal vacation spot:
That sentence doesn't exactly make you want to pack your bags, does it? However, with a few details added, it becomes a workable sentence:
Now you have examples of why England is so enticing (the three regions) as well as specific details about those areas, and all of this gives readers a much clearer picture of why you want to travel there.
Not only is it important that you know your purpose, you must also communicate your purpose to your reader — preferably in your first few sentences. For example, if you had read the revised sentence about visiting England, you'd expect that the rest of the work would be about what a fascinating place England is to visit. In other words, from reading the first sentence you'd expect that the author's purpose was to inform you about England's various charms or to persuade you to visit England on your next vacation.
This sentence is your thesis sentence (thesis statement). If you use a thesis statement, your readers should be able to easily identify it. Also, they should know after reading it what's in store in the rest of the piece.
If your writing format requires a thesis statement, here's an additional point to keep in mind: Every sentence of your work has to be connected to the thesis statement in some way. When writers, especially student writers, are giving examples, they often find themselves drifting away from the thesis. After you've finished your work, look at each separate sentence or idea and ask yourself if it's somehow related to your thesis statement. If it isn't, cross it out.
Keeping a large copy of your thesis statement on a piece of paper close to your desk may also be useful. Referring to this copy will help you stay focused on your purpose and stick to your main idea.
Even for writing that doesn't require a thesis statement, you might find that writing a one-sentence statement of your purpose helps center your thoughts. You won't necessarily include this in the final version of your work, but referring to it will keep you from straying from your main point(s).
Playing to the House: Anticipating Your Audience
Picture a group of comedians performing in a retirement village. Then picture the same group appearing on late-night TV. Because of the difference in the two audiences, the comedians would probably use different material and they'd probably present it in a different way.
What's that got to do with you? Just like a performer, you need to be aware of your audience, the person or group for whom you're writing. If the piece is for yourself, then you can approach your subject matter any way you want. However, if it's for a specific person or group, you should keep certain things in mind, like the tone, vocabulary level, subject matter, and style that's appropriate for your audience.
If you're writing a letter of complaint, for instance, you might use a far more aggressive tone — and maybe even a different level of vocabulary — than if you're writing for yourself, your business, or your instructor. Also, depending on what you're writing, your style could be formal, informal, or even very casual. A good idea is to put yourself in your reader's place and ask yourself what style of writing you'd expect to read.
In considering your audience, think about these questions:
Does the age of your audience dictate you should write on a particular level? (Usually it doesn't, unless you're writing for children.)
Will your audience expect extra information in your work, like quotations, citations, tables, or graphs? (These might be needed in an academic or business paper.)
Are you writing for people from a specific location? Do you need to explain any geographic considerations or cultural differences?
Are your readers people of a specific gender, or do they have a particular political or religious preference? If this is the case, be sure to keep this in mind and don't step on toes — unless, of course, your purpose is to be argumentative.
What's the occupation of your audience? For instance, are you writing for your teacher, your supervisor, the readers of the local newspaper, the quality control department of your company?
What need does your audience have for what you're writing? Will the information clarify the purpose of a particular meeting? help you get a good grade? decrease civic problems? track a lost package?
What information does your audience already have? (There's no use in defining terms that your audience would be familiar with.)
What might your audience not be aware of? For example, they may not be aware of the plot of a literary work that you're critiquing, may not know the names of participants at a work meeting, may not be informed about why the city would be wasting money on a proposed project, may not know when a package was ordered and to whom it was to be shipped.
As you write, keep in mind that you don't want to insult your audience by either using inappropriate humor or being patronizing or pretentious, so adjust your tone and your vocabulary accordingly.
Remember that conveying sarcasm and irony is very difficult in any type of writing, and neither of those has a place in most academic or business writing.
Writing à la Mode: Adhering to a Particular Style
The next part of your work is deciding the style or format to use. If you have an assignment from school or work, the style may have been decided for you. For example, for school you might be assigned to write a three-page essay critiquing a recent tax proposal, or at your business you may need to write a summary of the main points of a meeting you attended.
If a particular style is required, adhere to it. Generally speaking, teachers and supervisors don't appreciate it if you create a style on your own; they expect you to present material in the way they have directed. If you're uncertain about how to write in a particular style or format, look at successful past material and model your work after it.
If, for instance, you're told to write the definitive essay about the pros and cons of front-wheel drive, and the format you're to use is a five-paragraph essay, your essay shouldn't exceed five paragraphs, even if you find it next to impossible to squeeze in all your ideas. Or if your boss says that your analysis of a new product should contain bulleted lists rather than complete sentences, use the bulleted lists, odd as you may think they look.
Also, don't forget the minor details of a mandatory format. For instance, check to see if you're required to use a title, page numbers, headings, citations and other references, and a table of contents. If these are required, find out if they must be written in a specific way.
More information on purpose, audience, and style is available at these Web sites:
You may not like the format that's required, or you may not think it allows you to express yourself in the best way. Use it anyway. Later on, you'll have plenty of time to write the way you want to — when a grade or salary isn't at stake.