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How to Write a Rough Draft

Last Updated: February 6, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Michelle Golden, PhD . Michelle Golden is an English teacher in Athens, Georgia. She received her MA in Language Arts Teacher Education in 2008 and received her PhD in English from Georgia State University in 2015. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 297,044 times.

Writing a rough draft is an essential part of the writing process, an opportunity to get your initial ideas and thoughts down on paper. It might be difficult to dive right into a rough draft of an essay or a creative piece, such as a novel or a short story. You should start by brainstorming ideas for the draft to get your creative juices flowing and take the time to outline your draft. You will then be better prepared to sit down and write your rough draft.

Brainstorming Ideas for the Draft

Step 1 Do a freewrite...

  • Freewrites often work best if you give yourself a time limit, such as five minutes or ten minutes. You should then try to not take your pen off the page as you write so you are forced to keep writing about the subject or topic for the set period of time.
  • For example, if you were writing an essay about the death penalty, you may use the prompt: “What are the possible issues or problems with the death penalty?” and write about it freely for ten minutes.
  • Often, freewrites are also a good way to generate content that you can use later in your rough draft. You may surprised at what you realize as you write freely about the topic.

Step 2 Make a cluster map about the topic or subject.

  • To use the clustering method, you will place a word that describes your topic or subject in the center of your paper. You will then write keywords and thoughts around the center word. Circle the center word and draw lines away from the center to other keywords and ideas. Then, circle each word as you group them around the central word.
  • For example, if you were trying to write a short story around a theme like “anger”, you will write “anger” in the middle of the page. You may then write keywords around “anger”, like “volcano”, “heat”, “my mother”, and “rage”.

Step 3 Read writing about the topic or subject.

  • If you are writing a creative piece, you may look for texts written about a certain idea or theme that you want to explore in your own writing. You could look up texts by subject matter and read through several texts to get ideas for your story.
  • You might have favorite writers that you return to often for inspiration or search for new writers who are doing interesting things with the topic. You could then borrow elements of the writer’s approach and use it in your own rough draft.
  • You can find additional resources and texts online and at your local library. Speak to the reference librarian at your local library for more information on resources and texts.

Outlining Your Draft

Step 1 Make a plot outline

  • You may use the snowflake method to create the plot outline. In this method, you will write a one line summary of your story, followed by a one paragraph summary, and then character synopses. You will also create a spreadsheet of scenes.
  • Alternatively, you can use a plot diagram. In this method, you will have six sections: the set up, the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
  • No matter which option you chose, you should make sure your outline contains at least the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution. Having these three elements set in your mind will make writing your rough draft much easier.

Step 2 Try the three act structure.

  • Act 1: In Act 1, your protagonist meets the other characters in the story. The central conflict of the story is also revealed. Your protagonist should also have a specific goal that will cause them to make a decision. For example, in Act 1, you may have your main character get bitten by a vampire after a one night stand. She may then go into hiding once she discovers she has become a vampire.
  • Act 2: In Act 2, you introduce a complication that makes the central conflict even more of an issue. The complication can also make it more difficult for your protagonist to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 2, you may have your main character realize she has a wedding to go to next week for her best friend, despite the fact she has now become a vampire. The best friend may also call to confirm she is coming, making it more difficult for your protagonist to stay in hiding.
  • Act 3: In Act 3, you present a resolution to the central conflict of the story. The resolution may have your protagonist achieve their goal or fail to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 3, you may have your protagonist show up to the wedding and try to pretend to not be a vampire. The best friend may then find out and accept your protagonist anyway. You may end your story by having your protagonist bite the groom, turning him into her vampire lover.

Step 3 Create an essay outline.

  • Section 1: Introduction, including a hook opening line, a thesis statement , and three main discussion points. Most academic essays contain at least three key discussion points.
  • Section 2: Body paragraphs, including a discussion of your three main points. You should also have supporting evidence for each main point, from outside sources and your own perspective.
  • Section 3: Conclusion, including a summary of your three main points, a restatement of your thesis, and concluding statements or thoughts.

Step 4 Have a thesis statement.

  • For example, maybe you are creating a rough draft for a paper on gluten-intolerance. A weak thesis statement for this paper would be, “There are some positives and negatives to gluten, and some people develop gluten-intolerance.” This thesis statement is vague and does not assert an argument for the paper.
  • A stronger thesis statement for the paper would be, “Due to the use of GMO wheat in food sold in North America, a rising number of Americans are experiencing gluten-intolerance and gluten-related issues.” This thesis statement is specific and presents an argument that will be discussed in the paper.

Step 5 Include a list of sources.

  • Your professor or teacher may require you to create a bibliography using MLA style or APA style. You will need to organize your sources based on either style.

Writing the Rough Draft

Step 1 Find a quiet, focused environment for writing.

  • You may also make sure the room is set to an ideal temperature for sitting down and writing. You may also put on some classical or jazz music in the background to set the scene and bring a snack to your writing area so you have something to munch on as you write.

Step 2 Start in the middle.

  • You may also write the ending of the essay or story before you write the beginning. Many writing guides advise writing your introductory paragraph last, as you will then be able to create a great introduction based on the piece as a whole.

Step 3 Do not worry about making mistakes.

  • You should also try not to read over what you are writing as you get into the flow. Do not examine every word before moving on to the next word or edit as you go. Instead, focus on moving forward with the rough draft and getting your ideas down on the page.

Step 4 Use the active voice.

  • For example, rather than write, “It was decided by my mother that I would learn violin when I was two,” go for the active voice by placing the subject of the sentence in front of the verb, “My mother decided I would learn violin when I turned two.”
  • You should also avoid using the verb “to be” in your writing, as this is often a sign of passive voice. Removing “to be” and focusing on the active voice will ensure your writing is clear and effective.

Step 5 Refer to your outline when you get stuck.

  • You may also review the brainstorming materials you created before you sat down to write, such as your clustering exercise or your freewrite. Reviewing these materials could help to guide you as you write and help you focus on finishing the rough draft.
  • You may want to take breaks if you find you are getting writer’s block. Going for a walk, taking a nap, or even doing the dishes can help you focus on something else and give your brain a rest. You can then start writing again with a fresh approach after your break.

Step 6 Read over your rough draft and revise it.

  • You should also read the rough draft out loud to yourself. Listen for any sentences that sound unclear or confusing. Highlight or underline them so you know they need to be revised. Do not be afraid to revise whole sections or lines of the rough draft. It is a draft, after all, and will only improve with revision.
  • You can also read the rough draft out loud to someone else. Be willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism on the draft from the person. Getting a different perspective on your writing will often make it that much better.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

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  • ↑ https://www.umgc.edu/current-students/learning-resources/writing-center/online-guide-to-writing/tutorial/chapter2/ch2-13
  • ↑ https://writing.ku.edu/prewriting-strategies
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
  • ↑ http://www.writerswrite.com/screenwriting/cannell/lecture4/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/essay-outline/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/rough-draft/
  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/style/ccs_activevoice/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Michelle Golden, PhD

To write a rough draft, don't worry if you make minor mistakes or write sentences that aren't perfect. You can revise them later! Also, try not to read over what you're writing as you go, which will slow you down and mess up your flow. Instead, focus on getting all of your thoughts and ideas down on paper, even if you're not sure you'll keep them in the final draft. If you get stuck, refer to your outline or sources to help you come up with new ideas. For tips on brainstorming and outlining for a rough draft, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Rough Draft for an Essay?


Table of contents

  • 1 Understanding the Purpose of a Rough Draft
  • 2.1 Before You Begin: Pre-writing
  • 2.2 Begin With a Freewriting Session 
  • 2.3 Start With A Strong Opening
  • 2.4 Speak Then Write
  • 2.5 Avoid Stopping at Hard Points
  • 2.6 Don’t Worry About Perfection
  • 2.7 Write the Body First
  • 2.8 Write Section by Section
  • 2.9 Include Citations as You Go
  • 2.10 Leave Notes for Yourself and Use Placeholders
  • 2.11 Reviewing the Draft
  • 3.1 Moving Forward: From Rough to Final Draft
  • 4 Wrapping Up on Rough Draft Writing

When writing an essay, it’s difficult to decide whether to use a rough draft first or get to the writing part right after the research. That’s one of the main reasons a rough draft may seem less effective to students, but there’s an even bigger question here: H ow to write a rough draft for an essay?

Most students need to familiarize themselves with the pre-writing and freewriting processes, so we’ll explain them all in one place through this guide.

Here are the key points you’ll learn from our article:

  • The importance of creating rough drafts before writing an essay, as it allows you to brainstorm, organize your thoughts, and refine your ideas, ultimately leading to a more coherent and well-structured final essay.
  • Main tips and steps to take for writing.
  • Valuable technique of freewriting allows your thoughts flow freely on paper, tap into creativity and generate ideas that you might not have considered otherwise.
  • Complete the process with detailed steps to achieve a flawless draft.

We know that you may be in the temptation of finding someone to edit your work or simply hold back from creating a draft because of the time it takes. That’s why our expert PapersOwl team decided to help, so let’s start by elaborating on why a rough draft can be so important when writing a good essay.

Understanding the Purpose of a Rough Draft

Before we get into the matter of how to write draft outlines, let’s take a moment to explain its purpose. To most students, these can serve as a great first attempt or take on the subject, which lays out the structure and tone of the essay’s rough draft.

Creating a rough draft includes writing the introduction heading, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Precisely, it usually includes a single body heading which will become a foundation for all the body headings in the essay.

Writing the rough draft outline can help create key ideas that you’ll be further exploring in the essay, and it’s a perfect way of properly structuring the essay. Before writing it, you’ll need to do proper research and take a few other steps to prepare for writing the final form. We’ll discuss all these steps in detail to get you in the right direction when it comes to writing a helpful draft that will truly make writing easier.

To answer the question of how to write rough draft pieces, we’ll give you specific steps to take, from creating a first draft to its final form.

Practical Tips On Writing Your Own Rough Draft

Creating your own draft outline may seem challenging if you have never done it before, but if you follow a few simple rules, it becomes much easier. You can follow the listed steps for fast and efficient writing: 

Before You Begin: Pre-writing

Your first try to write a rough draft should start with some brainstorming. The best piece of advice is to thoroughly research the subject before you start writing your essay draft to create a good outline.

It means creating a basic structure of the draft, and after that, it becomes easy to make the necessary changes if edits are needed.

Begin With a Freewriting Session 

This one goes hand in hand with the pre-writing, since freewriting includes laying down all of your new ideas on paper. Here, you should pay less attention to the structure and the tone, simply write whatever comes to your mind about the topic.

Not only would you overcome writer’s block this way, but it also makes a great source for creating a draft or even a thesis statement later on. From all the ideas you write down in this stage, you can select the most prominent ones and create a proper format.

Start With A Strong Opening

The first draft should have a strong introduction that both introduces the main statement and topic but is also catchy enough. Here are some steps to creating a perfect opening line and intro for your rough draft example:

  • The beginning should have a hook that grabs the reader’s attention and introduces the topic in the introductory paragraph.
  • Provide context and background information for every point to help the target audience understand the subject when you write.
  • Introduce the main thesis of the paper.
  • Keep the intro paragraph concise and focused on the main topic.

Speak Then Write

Most students think you should start with the outline first, but the best first step is to speak before writing. This also refers to reading enough material on the subject to gain insight into the topic and get inspiration for a thesis statement.

You can speak aloud to prepare a rough draft in your head before putting it all down on paper. You can explore the main points this way and then proceed by freewriting before you start creating a draft layout.

Avoid Stopping at Hard Points

One thing that can prevent you from creating first drafts is stopping at hard points. We recommend that you make a note if you hit any sort of obstacle or if you don’t have enough inspiration for a certain section.

This way, you can keep the flow going to maintain your rhythm and confidence, and you won’t lose that inspirational moment. Creating a note can also help make you think about a certain session and come back to it to revise and make it better.

Don’t Worry About Perfection

To write a perfect draft, you must wonder what is a rough draft first. The thing is, most students spend too much time writing the first draft of an essay when it should be quick and simple. You must keep in mind that the final version can be drastically different from your first take.

Because of this, we recommend that you stop focusing on word count, headings, and other formatting guidelines at first. Just try to do some freewriting and brainstorm to lay down the ideas on which the draft will be based. You can then align the content with structural elements and create a final draft as the end result.

Write the Body First

This one depends on your writing style, but some writers find it easier to write the body of their essay or article before the introduction and conclusion. This allows them to define their arguments before framing them.

Rough draft writing should be about just that – creating the main arguments and exploring the main ideas that the final work will be based on. You can start with the middle, and we even advise you to write the conclusion first and leave the intro section for last. This will help you get into the tone and main ideas so you can come up with the perfect opening line in the same way.

Write Section by Section

Now that you know a bit more about starting your draft, you can create the first rough draft, one section at a time. After you write down the first few topic ideas, you move on by creating a body heading.

You can use the material you’ve prepared before that, only this time you can pay attention to details depending on if it’s the MLA or  APA research paper outline , style, word limits, formatting, and so on.

Don’t interrupt your own flow of thoughts by skipping between the sections. Write the body heading first, then the conclusion, and finally, move on to the introduction. Writing a draft this way helps create a perfect outline for each section that fits together as a whole.

Include Citations as You Go

The best way to go about writing the rough draft for a scholarly paper is to include citations along the way. There’s no need to overdo it here, you should just include a few citations of credible sources, possibly the ones you’ve used for inspiration and research before writing.

This may not even be as important for official reasons as it is to give you an idea of citations you’ll use in the final draft and to categorize your sources.

Leave Notes for Yourself and Use Placeholders

As you move your way from the first draft to the final one, you can leave a note as a reminder to yourself to come back to a certain section.

You can also leave a note for a certain section that you’ll return to later on if you run into writer’s block. You can use placeholders for formatting as well to make it easier to organize the text.

Reviewing the Draft

One of the most important steps for creating rough drafts is checking and revising if needed. Our recommended method is to read it around, as this can help figure out if certain sentences don’t read as well as you intended them to. We also recommend that you let someone else read it to give you a critique or feedback, which you can build on to make the essay’s first draft sound the best it possibly can.

Polish Your Essay to Perfection

If you need an expert’s hand to help with challenging sections of your essay, you can use the “ do my homework online ” service provided by our team. We can help you reduce stress if you are in a jam and get the work done by professional academic writers at your service through an example of a draft essay.

Of course, we’ll encourage you to complete your essay without any help as well, so let’s discuss the main steps of polishing your work.

First, confirm that everything while writing a rough draft is written right and prepare for the final draft. You have to ensure that your final essay draft is flawless! Here are some tips to get a perfect, polished essay after writing a rough draft.

  • Take a break : Step away from your essay for a little while before you put words in their final form. This can help you approach the essay with fresh eyes and catch mistakes you might have missed before while writing. Make sure that all of your ideas are in logical order. 
  • Focus on the thesis statement : Make sure your beginning is flawless by focusing on the  thesis statement . Look at the big picture and ensure it’s clear, concise, and supports the essay’s main argument in the body sections. If necessary, revise and refine the thesis statement for a compelling introduction. 
  • Edit for structure and organization : Review the outline, word choices, and organization of the essay. Ensure that each paragraph flows logically and introduces new ideas. Ensure at least three paragraphs and direct quotes are in your final draft.
  • Check for coherence : Make sure your essay is coherent and that each sentence and paragraph connects to the essay’s overall argument. Eliminate tangents or off-topic discussions, and make sure you are writing in your own style. Avoid passive voice when you write, and ensure you write the essay in active voice.
  • Review for clarity and precision : Ensure your writing is clear and precise and in an active voice. Avoid jargon or overly complex language; use specific and descriptive words to convey your ideas when writing. Make sure to use quotation marks where required. 
  • Proofread for grammar and spelling : Edit your essay for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Read the rough draft carefully, and consider using a grammar and spelling checker.
  • Get feedback : Share your essay with a friend, teacher, or peer for feedback after writing. Consider their suggestions and make necessary revisions.
  • Read it aloud : Read your work aloud to yourself to ensure that the outline flow well with the ideas and that each sentence makes sense. This can help you catch errors and identify areas that need improvement initially. 
  • Follow the guidelines : Finally, ensure that your essay meets all the guidelines and requirements of the assignment in the final draft that’s written.

Tip: As writers do, make sure to add outside sources to support your ideas wherever required.

Working on a paper and drafting an essay can be challenging, especially if you have too much workload. In that case, you can get our services and be worry-free. We  assist students worldwide in writing essays in APA style, MLA style, or any other format on any subject. We work 24/7 and will prepare your rough draft or the whole paper without any excuses!

Moving Forward: From Rough to Final Draft

When it comes to the matter of rough draft vs final draft, it’s important to know that the initial form can always be further improved. Now that you have all it takes to write the first draft of an essay, you can keep improving and revising it to get the final shape and form you’ll be using to assist in your writing.

At this point, you should once again check the readability and flow, check for new ideas, or revise the content. Once the wiring is in its final shape, you can edit minor structural details and pay attention to spelling and the rough draft format. If you need assistance and the question “Can I  pay someone to edit my paper ” goes through your mind, our team is always available to help.

Wrapping Up on Rough Draft Writing

Creating an example of a draft essay or your first draft is tougher than it looks, but it can be done by following the right steps. In our opinion, a rough draft can significantly help as a base for your paper, and if done right, you will have a complete outline for it with only a few body sections to add.

Make sure to keep in mind the rough draft meaning when writing – it’s not about making a perfect outline from the first draft; it’s about setting up the main ideas as a base to build an essay upon.

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A rough draft is an initial version of a piece of writing that serves as a starting point for further revision. When writing a draft, you don't need to focus too much on grammar, style, or perfect structure. The purpose of a rough draft is to get thoughts down on paper and prepare a foundation for the final version of your writing.

An excellent essay is not written in one go; it has many rough drafts behind it. What's a secret to writing a powerful sketch? In fact, there is no secret. It's just a matter of knowing how to organize your ideas correctly. Read on and you’ll find out how to sketch your perfect final piece and get essay help .

What Is Rough Draft: Meaning

The rough draft is your very first attempt to put text on paper. It is expected to be basic, imperfect, and incomplete. But at the same time, it is a piece of essential information for the final version. Don't be afraid to make grammatical mistakes, incorrect words, or confusing structure.  The idea is writing down all your thoughts in an outline. And you can correct errors at the very end.

What Is the Purpose of Rough Draft?

What is the focus and purpose of writing a rough draft? Drafts help you catch an idea and finish your essay on time. This is precisely a tool that is needed when fearing blank slate. It should not be perfect; it just should be as it is.  Its ultimate goal is getting your ideas across and giving yourself a boost to start writing. Preparing your work becomes much easier after you have your first sketch. But just writing an essay without it can take a lot of time. Using an outline, you can see what is missing and what can be changed. According to professional college essay writing service , flaws or plot holes can be avoided even before  material is written.

Rough Draft: What to Include

What should be included in your first draft? Draft helps you with an initial version of your final paper. So it should contain all sections that a usual essay has. However, this sketch is for you only, and no one will read it. Therefore, no one will mind if you modify it for yourself. You can skip some sections. But keep in mind that in your final work, everything should be according to  instructions.  If you are interested in what should be in your finished version of an essay, we suggest that you look through our article or order essay from experts.

How to Write Rough Draft: 5 Main Steps

Now let's take a look at how to write a rough draft. This is often the most extended and most laborious part of essay writing preparation.  The purpose is to complete actual content writing. We have prepared a guide, thanks to which you can organize your ideas in just 5 steps!

Step 1: Brainstorming Ideas for the Draft

Brainstorming is the beginning step in writing a draft. This is very important for identifying  ideas and content that you want to build your copy around.  Don't worry about structure or spelling. Just write whatever comes to mind. Do not neglect this step whether you are writing a thesis paper or a fiction book. Take a piece of paper or create a new word document on your computer. At the top, write your main topic. Then set a timer for 10 minutes and start writing whatever comes to mind. There is no need to reread what you have printed or to correct something. Just keep on writing. Then, underline or highlight phrases and sentences that could be used for a story. As you go through the following steps, you may have more ideas. But always start by jotting down as many ideas as possible.

Step 2: Do Prewriting

To start your rough draft essay, ask yourself six important questions. Take a new sheet of paper or create a new word document. Write the main story topic at top. Then answer 6 main questions in free-write form:

How to write rough draft: 6 main questions

Now reread your answers. Perhaps you answered some questions with several sentences and left some unanswered. That may be the basis for your essay.

Step 3: Create an Outline

After brainstorming and attempts at writing first words, here comes a rough draft outline! It helps structure your content and put all of your previous work in logical form. Consider outline as a general plan for your broad sketch. This is just a picture of how everything will develop.

Step 4: Start Where You Want

How to start a rough draft? Don't be afraid to start your draft in the middle. This is especially useful if you keep thinking of a great first paragraph. Maybe you will begin with body paragraph parts. Starting in the middle will help you find proper words. You can also write conclusions first. Complete your introductory paragraph last. Then your introduction will be based on the context of your entire composition.

Step 5: Read Over and Revise Rough Draft

The final step of an essay rough draft is editing. This phase helps to polish all shortcomings and inaccuracies that you left while writing. Next, you need to thoroughly read a text. Edit any grammatical and spelling mistakes to get a final look. Well, that's all, done! Speaking about essay revision , we have a useful blog with all the necessary tips. Follow all the steps we advise.

How Long Should a Rough Draft Be?

Rough draft length should not differ much from final work's length. You can rewrite your drafts multiple times. This will help you choose the most suitable material from all options. This process gives you the ability to select from more comfortable material. Don't be afraid to change your ideas, because, in the end, you will still only leave the most suitable option.

How to Create Rough Draft: Helpful Tips

So, you start creating your first rough draft paper. Now we'll quickly give you the most critical advice when writing draft:

  • Allow yourself to write imperfectly! As we said, your goal is to present all ideas. Don't worry about making mistakes. Don't expect perfection the first time.
  • Focus on setting your raw ideas. Follow your plan. Don't be afraid to include new ideas. Draft can be your inspiration!
  • Don't concentrate on finding the right word. Don't check your grammar for correctness. Instead, focus on the big picture.

Rough Draft Example

It is hard to provide only one essay rough draft example. Sketches can include so many different aspects. Let's quickly take a look at what they could be:

  • It can be written entirely but with confusing ideas.
  • It can be written in slang or shorthand, with hints to add content later.
  • It can be written barely, but it outlines the central vision.
  • It may be a masterpiece that looks like the final product. But some fragments of information may be irrelevant.

If you worry how your plan should look like, here is also a system called TEER:

  • Thesis Here you state the idea and get attention.
  • Example Provide life support for your view.
  • Evidence Here you scientifically prove your thesis.
  • Relevance statement Wrap up your essay with a description of why it is significant.

Rough Draft: Bottom Line

A rough draft is a sketch of your future essay.  It is critical for writing a successful paper. We've described how to write a draft in 5 steps together with tips and examples. So you are ready to try writing the best draft for your academic work. 


Yes, draft is essential in writing an essay. But you don't have to worry about it at all. Just say ‘ write my college essay ’ and order the whole academic paper from us. Our professional writers will do everything quickly and at the highest level.


Daniel Howard is an Essay Writing guru. He helps students create essays that will strike a chord with the readers.

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How to Write a Rough Draft for an Essay

March 29, 2024

Embarking on the journey to write a rough draft for an essay is not just a task but a pivotal step in effective writing. This guide is designed to be your companion in this endeavor, aiming to illuminate the path with clarity and precision. We will provide valuable insights and practical tips that will help you navigate the complexities of essay writing. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or taking your first steps in essay composition, understanding the importance of a rough draft is crucial.

It serves as the foundation upon which your ideas, arguments, and insights take shape and evolve. Remember, a well-constructed rough draft is more than just a preliminary version of your essay; it’s the backbone that supports and guides the development of a compelling, cohesive, and persuasive final piece. Our goal is to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed to craft a draft that effectively sets the stage for a powerful and impactful essay.

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What is a Rough Draft?

A rough draft is an initial version of your essay. It’s not about perfection, but about getting your ideas on paper. Think of it as a sketch, where you outline your thoughts, arguments, and evidence, setting a foundation for refinement. In a rough draft, your focus should be on developing a coherent structure and fleshing out your arguments. It’s where you connect your ideas, arrange them logically, and ensure they support your thesis. Don’t worry about getting everything right at this stage; the goal is to lay down a solid framework. You can revise and polish your work in subsequent drafts.

This stage is also an excellent opportunity to experiment with different perspectives and approaches. Think of the rough draft as a creative space where your ideas can evolve and grow before they are finely tuned into the final version. Remember, the key is progress, not perfection.

What to Include in a Rough Draft?

In your rough draft, emphasize the connection between your thesis statement and the supporting arguments. Each argument should be backed by relevant evidence, such as data, examples, or quotations. This stage is not just about listing your ideas; it’s about weaving them into a coherent narrative. The introduction should present your thesis and set the tone and context of your essay. The body is where you delve into the details, presenting and elaborating on each argument in its own paragraph, ensuring each point logically leads to the next.

The conclusion then serves as a mirror, reflecting on your thesis and the journey of your arguments, summarizing the key points without introducing new information. While attention to grammar and style is secondary at this stage, maintaining a clear and logical flow is paramount. Remember, a rough draft is your roadmap for further refinement, laying the groundwork for a polished, compelling final piece.

Preparing for the Rough Draft

Preparation is key. Understand your topic, know your audience, and define your thesis. These steps provide a clear direction, making the drafting process smoother and more focused.

Gathering and Organizing Your Research

When gathering and organizing your research, focus on the diversity and relevance of sources. Seek books, academic journals, reputable websites, and expert interviews that offer varied perspectives on your topic. As you take notes, categorize them in a way that aligns with different aspects of your thesis. This helps in creating a well-rounded argument. Utilizing tools like digital bibliographies or note-taking apps can streamline this process. It’s crucial to keep track of your sources for proper citation and to avoid plagiarism.

Organizing your research methodically bolsters the credibility of your essay and makes the writing process more efficient. By having a clear and comprehensive grasp of your research material, you can seamlessly integrate facts and viewpoints to write a rough draft for an essay, ensuring a robust and persuasive argument.

Writing the Introduction of Your Essay

Writing the introduction of your essay is a critical step in engaging your audience from the outset. Start with a hook that captivates the reader’s interest – this could be a striking statistic, a thought-provoking question, a relevant quote, or a brief anecdote that ties into your main topic. Next, clearly and succinctly present your thesis statement. This is the heart of your essay, outlining your central argument or perspective. Then, briefly outline the structure of your essay. This preview should include the main points or arguments you plan to cover, arranged logically.

Key elements to include in your introduction are:

  • The Hook: Engage the reader and pique their curiosity.
  • Background Information: Provide context to your topic, making it accessible to the reader.
  • Thesis Statement: Clearly state your main argument or the purpose of the essay.
  • Outline of Main Points: Give a snapshot of the structure of your essay to orient the reader.

Remember, a compelling introduction draws the reader in and sets the tone for the rest of your essay, laying a foundation for a coherent and persuasive argument.

Developing the Body Paragraphs

In developing the body paragraphs of your essay, focus on clarity and depth. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that clearly states the main idea or point you will discuss. This sentence is a mini-thesis for the paragraph and should tie back to your thesis statement. After introducing the main idea, present your supporting evidence, which could include data, quotations, examples, or research findings. Ensure that your evidence is relevant and effectively illustrates your point.

Once you’ve provided evidence, analyzing and interpreting it is essential. Explain how this evidence supports your main idea and relates to your thesis. This analysis demonstrates your critical thinking skills and helps the reader see the connections between your evidence and your argument.

Remember these key components for each body paragraph:

  • Topic Sentence: Introduce the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Supporting Evidence: Include facts, quotes, and data that back up your point.
  • Analysis: Explain the significance of your evidence and how it supports your main idea.
  • Transition: Smoothly connect to the next paragraph or idea.

By methodically constructing each body paragraph with these elements, you ensure that your essay is informative and cohesive, guiding the reader through your arguments with clarity and purpose.

Crafting a Strong Conclusion

A strong conclusion is vital to write a rough draft for an essay effectively. This final section should not merely restate the points you’ve already made. Instead, it should revisit your thesis statement in the context of the evidence and arguments you’ve presented throughout the essay. Reflect on how your insights have developed or been reinforced, providing a deeper understanding of your thesis. Then, leave the reader with something to ponder, be it a thought-provoking question, a call to action, or a potential implication of your findings.

This approach not only reinforces the main arguments of your essay but also encourages further thought or discussion. A powerful conclusion serves as the final stitch in the tapestry of your essay, tying all the pieces together and providing a sense of completeness and closure to your work. As you write the rough draft of your essay, consider how each part of your argument builds towards this concluding section, ensuring that it resonates with your reader and effectively encapsulates the essence of your thesis.

Enhancing Your Argument

To enhance your argument, focus on depth, perspective, and persuasiveness. Start by reviewing your thesis and supporting arguments, ensuring they are robust and well-reasoned. Incorporate diverse perspectives to add depth and demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Use logical reasoning and sound evidence to strengthen your argument, making it more compelling. It’s also beneficial to anticipate and address potential counterarguments within your essay. This shows critical thinking and fortifies your position.

Additionally, using persuasive language and rhetorical techniques can make your argument more convincing. However, ensure that your persuasion is grounded in facts and logic, not just emotional appeal. Refining your argument involves a careful balance of evidence, reasoning, and persuasive writing skills, all aimed at presenting a convincing and well-supported case.

Editing and Proofreading

Editing and proofreading are crucial steps in finalizing your rough draft. Begin by reading your essay for overall clarity and coherence. Check if the essay flows logically from the introduction through the body to the conclusion. Pay attention to the structure of each paragraph; each should have a clear main idea and contribute to the overall argument. Then, focus on sentence-level clarity.

This involves correcting grammatical errors, clarifying ambiguous statements, and refining awkward phrasing. Be meticulous about word choice, ensuring each word adds value to your argument. Proofreading is the final step, where you look for and correct surface spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors. It’s often helpful to read your essay aloud or have someone else review it, as fresh eyes can catch errors you might have overlooked. You transform your rough draft into a polished, coherent, and grammatically accurate essay through careful editing and proofreading.

Once your rough draft is complete, stepping away for a while is a crucial point to write a rough draft for an essay. This break allows you to return with a fresh perspective, which is essential for effective revision. When you revisit your draft, focus first on the overall structure. Check that your arguments flow logically and that each paragraph transitions smoothly to the next. Ensure that your thesis statement is clearly articulated and that each section of your essay reinforces it.

During revision, scrutinize each sentence for clarity and precision. Remove any ambiguities or complex jargon that might confuse the reader. Moreover, aim for conciseness by eliminating redundant words or phrases. Every sentence should serve a purpose, whether advancing your argument, providing evidence, or elaborating on a point.

Here are the key steps to follow in the revision process:

  • Structural Review: Ensure logical flow and effective organization.
  • Clarity Check: Simplify complex language and clarify any ambiguities.
  • Conciseness: Remove unnecessary words or redundant phrases.
  • Argument Strengthening: Make sure each part of your essay contributes to your thesis.

Remember, good writing is re-writing. Be prepared to revise multiple times, making your essay cohesive and compelling. This process is where your rough draft transforms into a refined, impactful work.

Reflecting on the Writing Process

After completing the next steps in your essay, take a moment to reflect on the writing process. This reflection is an opportunity to consider what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown as a writer. Assess the strategies that worked well, such as your approach to organizing research or developing arguments, and note areas for improvement. Reflecting on challenges you encountered and how you overcame them can provide valuable insights for future writing endeavors.

Additionally, consider how your understanding of the topic has evolved through the research and writing process. This reflection not only aids in personal growth but also enhances your skills for future academic or professional writing tasks. It’s a chance to appreciate your journey from the initial idea to the final draft, recognizing the effort and dedication involved in crafting a well-thought-out essay.

Final Words

To write a rough draft for an essay is indeed to embark on a creative and intellectual journey, one that challenges and hones your writing skills. This guide has served as your compass, offering direction and insight to help you navigate the intricacies of crafting a rough draft. From gathering and organizing your research to developing your arguments and refining your writing, each step is crucial in forming the foundation of a persuasive and well-argued essay.

As you embrace this process, allow your ideas to flourish on paper, knowing that each word you write brings you closer to expressing your thoughts in their most impactful form. Remember, the rough draft is not the end, but a significant milestone in your academic or personal expression journey. The skills you develop and the insights you gain will improve your current essay and be invaluable in your future writing endeavors.

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Putting Pen to Paper: How to Write a Rough Draft

You have done the research and written the outline of your paper. You are ahead of the deadline, and you want to stay that way. You turn on your computer, poise your fingers over the keyboard, and begin your rough draft. But what exactly is a rough draft? And just why do you need to write one in the first place?

Have you ever assembled a puzzle? Most of us begin by dumping all the puzzle pieces out of the box and then grouping the pieces by color and shape. It is likely that the jumble of puzzle pieces in no way resembles the picture on the puzzle box. But looking at the pieces, you can get an idea of how they will all fit together.

Writing a rough draft is similar to building a puzzle. Your outline and your research are a collection of ideas similar to that jumble of puzzle pieces. When you write your rough draft, you begin organizing how these ideas go together. Just as grouping similar puzzle pieces can give you an idea of what the final puzzle will look like, grouping your ideas in a rough draft gives you an idea of what your final draft will look like.

Getting a Rough Idea

You may think that rough drafts are not important. You have done the research, and you know what you want to say, so what is wrong with just writing? Nothing! In fact, that’s exactly how to write a rough draft. A rough draft is a means of getting started on your essay. When you start a rough draft, you are no longer just thinking about writing or planning on writing—you are doing it! Writing your rough draft helps you get your information and thoughts on paper. Once you have your rough draft, you can edit and polish ad nauseum until you have your wonderful final draft. But before that, you need to start somewhere.

Writing a rough draft also helps build discipline. While you may have managed to write an essay off the cuff in the past, it was bound to be a stressful experience. Who would want to do that again? Writing a rough draft helps you get your ideas on paper. You can always fix the spelling and grammar, refine your word choices, and add your own style and panache later. For now, sitting down and writing helps discipline your mind.

How to Write a Rough Draft

  • The first step in writing a rough draft is just to get started. Collect your research notes and your outline (you did do the research and prepare the outline, didn’t you?).
  • Follow your outline to help you prepare your introductory paragraph. This is where you should catch your reader’s attention with an interesting first sentence, but don’t worry if you can’t think of one yet. Inspiration may hit you at a later stage—that’s the wonder of writing a rough draft! Make sure that you introduce your topic and write your thesis statement . This will help you with the structure of your paper.
  • Write the body of your essay. Remember that you will need, at very least, three paragraphs containing evidence that supports your thesis statement. At this point, don’t worry too much about making sure you have transitions between the paragraphs. Improving flow is something you can do in a later draft.
  • Write your conclusion. This paragraph provides you with the opportunity to summarize your research and show how it supports your thesis statement. You should also restate your thesis statement.

Surviving the Rough Times

There are some things you can do to make sure that you don’t have a rough time writing your rough draft. These tips will help make the writing process a bit easier:

  • Write in the active voice.
  • Don’t stress out over every word. Just let your ideas spill onto the paper. If you can’t think of an appropriate word, just type the first word that pops into your head, and return to it later.
  • Make sure your introduction not only introduces your topic but also provides some background information on the topic.
  • Write a topic sentence for each of your body paragraphs. This sentence indicates the direction for each paragraph and will help you remain on subject.
  • If you can, write some transition ideas in each of your body paragraphs so that they link together, but don’t agonize over them. It’s okay if you can’t think of these transitions at this stage.
  • Look for any paragraphs where you feel that your proof is weak or you need more information to bolster your argument. You may need to go back and do more research to fill in any holes.
  • Once you have completed your rough draft, take a break. You deserve it!

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Rough Draft: What Is It and How to Write One

rough draft of novels

Writing a rough draft is an essential part of the writing process and is an opportunity to write your first ideas and thoughts on paper. It can be challenging to dive directly into a rough draft of an essay or creative work (such as a novel or short story). You need to start by brainstorming your ideas and letting your creative juices flow. Then you take the time to outline your draft. Once you’ve done this, you are ready to sit down and write a draft.

Writing an Initial Draft

pen and paper for writing

Every writer’s process is different, but there are several ways to reduce the difficulty of jumping into the first rough draft of a novel:

Allow Ideas to Flow Freely.

Rough drafts are where your most crazy ideas come to light. Don’t be shy about changing content or perspective, and don’t hesitate to come up with ideas worth exploring. This stage of your writing is for your eyes only, so you don’t have to feel awkward about what you’re putting on the paper.

By giving yourself a deadline to complete a particular exercise or section. You will become more ambitious about your time, and less willing to waste it around sorting out the details. Promise to complete a certain number of pages or write a certain number of hours per day. Routines keep your writing consistent, so you don’t lose momentum and lag behind.

Give an Overview

Take time before writing the rough draft to create an outline that initiates the formation of the initial structure of the scene. Placing all the pieces before assembling gives you the clearest idea of ​​how to organize your novel as well as identifying the missing (and useless) pieces.

Create in Advance

Pre-writing helps you get started and can include writing procedures and performing exercises. For example, writing freely allows the writer to write undisturbed – quickly writing down ideas without following a strict form – which allows the stimulation of creativity when suffering from the writer’s block.

Forget to Edit

When spitting out story details, you don’t have to worry about grammatical mistakes such as punctuation, passive voices, sentence completion, and inconsistent tenses. Leave the entire editing process until after your finish your rough draft. As long as you convey your thoughts in a way that you can understand, what you write in your draft lies between you and your vision. You can worry about well-written sentences in the second or third draft.

Start Wherever You Like

You want to start with the most exciting points for you. Every story starts from the beginning and doesn’t have to go step by step. If you are excited about the story’s climax before the beginning or end of the story, write it down first. You don’t want to get stuck in the details of a story that isn’t ready to be established yet. Writing a novel is a lengthy process, and you want to keep enjoying it for as long as possible.

Take a Break  

The last thing you need to do is burn out before completing your first draft. Sometimes taking a break is precisely what your writing process needs to get away from writing and come back with a fresh mind later.


Do not start the next draft until the current draft is complete. The sooner you refine it, the better. Sticking to your goals and spending time with you work will eventually produce a viable page which you can start engraving into the final draft of your novel.

How to Get T hrough the Writing Process

type writer

There are a few things you can do to avoid the hassle of writing a rough draft.  It will help in making the writing process a little easier.

  • Do not stress about the words. Put your ideas on paper. If you can’t think of a suitable word, enter the first word that comes to your mind and come back later.
  • If possible, write some migration ideas in each body paragraph to connect, but again don’t worry about them. It’s okay if you can’t think about these transitions at this stage.
  • In addition to introducing the given circumstances in the beginning chapter, be sure to provide background information about the characters and world of your novel.
  • Look for paragraphs or sections that appear to have weak imagery. Identify those that require more information to either further the plot or character development of your story. 
  • Write a topic statement or goal for each chapter of section of the novel. This sentence shows the direction of each chapter and helps you stay in line with your plot outline.
  • Write with an active voice.
  • Take a break when the rough draft is complete. You deserve it.

Written by Anonymous Gooroo Blogger.

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo, a tutoring membership that matches students to tutors perfect for them based on their unique learning needs. Gooroo offers Math, English, SAT, Coding, Spanish tutoring, and more.

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What is a rough draft?

A rough draft is a version of your paper that is complete but not polished . It's a good idea to write an outline before starting your rough draft, to help organize your ideas and arguments.

Here are the steps you can take to write your  rough draft :

  • Choose a topic
  • Identify the issues related to your topic
  • Locate books, articles, and reports that give you background information and more
  • Create and state your  thesis
  • Organize your thoughts and  notes
  • Make an  outline
  • Find more information , this time find content that supports your points
  • Write your  introduction
  • Write the body of the paper
  • Write the  conclusion  of the paper

The purpose of a rough draft is to allow you to write your paper in the form described above and then edit it or revise it to improve your work. Getting feedback on your draft allows you to create a better paper and to become a stronger writer.

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8.3 Drafting

Learning objectives.

  • Identify drafting strategies that improve writing.
  • Use drafting strategies to prepare the first draft of an essay.

Drafting is the stage of the writing process in which you develop a complete first version of a piece of writing.

Even professional writers admit that an empty page scares them because they feel they need to come up with something fresh and original every time they open a blank document on their computers. Because you have completed the first two steps in the writing process, you have already recovered from empty page syndrome. You have hours of prewriting and planning already done. You know what will go on that blank page: what you wrote in your outline.

Getting Started: Strategies For Drafting

Your objective for this portion of Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” is to draft the body paragraphs of a standard five-paragraph essay. A five-paragraph essay contains an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you are more comfortable starting on paper than on the computer, you can start on paper and then type it before you revise. You can also use a voice recorder to get yourself started, dictating a paragraph or two to get you thinking. In this lesson, Mariah does all her work on the computer, but you may use pen and paper or the computer to write a rough draft.

Making the Writing Process Work for You

What makes the writing process so beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternatives to standard practices while motivating you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in the writing process:

  • Begin writing with the part you know the most about. You can start with the third paragraph in your outline if ideas come easily to mind. You can start with the second paragraph or the first paragraph, too. Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader’s interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than the length of an entire double-spaced page.
  • Write one paragraph at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.
  • Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multipage report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest. But do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write.
  • Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.
  • Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.

Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is the most important key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, for example, you will present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can.

Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know very little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to be told in order to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas so they are totally clear and your communication is effective?

You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card that you clip to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself—perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know—so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to also state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or to inform them of, or to persuade them about.

Writing at Work

Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like “organic romaine” and “free-range chicken” are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers’ tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.

Using the topic for the essay that you outlined in Section 8.2 “Outlining” , describe your purpose and your audience as specifically as you can. Use your own sheet of paper to record your responses. Then keep these responses near you during future stages of the writing process.

My purpose: ____________________________________________


My audience: ____________________________________________

Setting Goals for Your First Draft

A draft is a complete version of a piece of writing, but it is not the final version. The step in the writing process after drafting, as you may remember, is revising. During revising, you will have the opportunity to make changes to your first draft before you put the finishing touches on it during the editing and proofreading stage. A first draft gives you a working version that you can later improve.

Workplace writing in certain environments is done by teams of writers who collaborate on the planning, writing, and revising of documents, such as long reports, technical manuals, and the results of scientific research. Collaborators do not need to be in the same room, the same building, or even the same city. Many collaborations are conducted over the Internet.

In a perfect collaboration, each contributor has the right to add, edit, and delete text. Strong communication skills, in addition to strong writing skills, are important in this kind of writing situation because disagreements over style, content, process, emphasis, and other issues may arise.

The collaborative software, or document management systems, that groups use to work on common projects is sometimes called groupware or workgroup support systems.

The reviewing tool on some word-processing programs also gives you access to a collaborative tool that many smaller workgroups use when they exchange documents. You can also use it to leave comments to yourself.

If you invest some time now to investigate how the reviewing tool in your word processor works, you will be able to use it with confidence during the revision stage of the writing process. Then, when you start to revise, set your reviewing tool to track any changes you make, so you will be able to tinker with text and commit only those final changes you want to keep.

Discovering the Basic Elements of a First Draft

If you have been using the information in this chapter step by step to help you develop an assignment, you already have both a formal topic outline and a formal sentence outline to direct your writing. Knowing what a first draft looks like will help you make the creative leap from the outline to the first draft. A first draft should include the following elements:

  • An introduction that piques the audience’s interest, tells what the essay is about, and motivates readers to keep reading.
  • A thesis statement that presents the main point, or controlling idea, of the entire piece of writing.
  • A topic sentence in each paragraph that states the main idea of the paragraph and implies how that main idea connects to the thesis statement.
  • Supporting sentences in each paragraph that develop or explain the topic sentence. These can be specific facts, examples, anecdotes, or other details that elaborate on the topic sentence.
  • A conclusion that reinforces the thesis statement and leaves the audience with a feeling of completion.

These elements follow the standard five-paragraph essay format, which you probably first encountered in high school. This basic format is valid for most essays you will write in college, even much longer ones. For now, however, Mariah focuses on writing the three body paragraphs from her outline. Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” covers writing introductions and conclusions, and you will read Mariah’s introduction and conclusion in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” .

The Role of Topic Sentences

Topic sentences make the structure of a text and the writer’s basic arguments easy to locate and comprehend. In college writing, using a topic sentence in each paragraph of the essay is the standard rule. However, the topic sentence does not always have to be the first sentence in your paragraph even if it the first item in your formal outline.

When you begin to draft your paragraphs, you should follow your outline fairly closely. After all, you spent valuable time developing those ideas. However, as you begin to express your ideas in complete sentences, it might strike you that the topic sentence might work better at the end of the paragraph or in the middle. Try it. Writing a draft, by its nature, is a good time for experimentation.

The topic sentence can be the first, middle, or final sentence in a paragraph. The assignment’s audience and purpose will often determine where a topic sentence belongs. When the purpose of the assignment is to persuade, for example, the topic sentence should be the first sentence in a paragraph. In a persuasive essay, the writer’s point of view should be clearly expressed at the beginning of each paragraph.

Choosing where to position the topic sentence depends not only on your audience and purpose but also on the essay’s arrangement, or order. When you organize information according to order of importance, the topic sentence may be the final sentence in a paragraph. All the supporting sentences build up to the topic sentence. Chronological order may also position the topic sentence as the final sentence because the controlling idea of the paragraph may make the most sense at the end of a sequence.

When you organize information according to spatial order, a topic sentence may appear as the middle sentence in a paragraph. An essay arranged by spatial order often contains paragraphs that begin with descriptions. A reader may first need a visual in his or her mind before understanding the development of the paragraph. When the topic sentence is in the middle, it unites the details that come before it with the ones that come after it.

As you read critically throughout the writing process, keep topic sentences in mind. You may discover topic sentences that are not always located at the beginning of a paragraph. For example, fiction writers customarily use topic ideas, either expressed or implied, to move readers through their texts. In nonfiction writing, such as popular magazines, topic sentences are often used when the author thinks it is appropriate (based on the audience and the purpose, of course). A single topic sentence might even control the development of a number of paragraphs. For more information on topic sentences, please see Chapter 6 “Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content” .

Developing topic sentences and thinking about their placement in a paragraph will prepare you to write the rest of the paragraph.

The paragraph is the main structural component of an essay as well as other forms of writing. Each paragraph of an essay adds another related main idea to support the writer’s thesis, or controlling idea. Each related main idea is supported and developed with facts, examples, and other details that explain it. By exploring and refining one main idea at a time, writers build a strong case for their thesis.

Paragraph Length

How long should a paragraph be?

One answer to this important question may be “long enough”—long enough for you to address your points and explain your main idea. To grab attention or to present succinct supporting ideas, a paragraph can be fairly short and consist of two to three sentences. A paragraph in a complex essay about some abstract point in philosophy or archaeology can be three-quarters of a page or more in length. As long as the writer maintains close focus on the topic and does not ramble, a long paragraph is acceptable in college-level writing. In general, try to keep the paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than one full page of double-spaced text.

Journalistic style often calls for brief two- or three-sentence paragraphs because of how people read the news, both online and in print. Blogs and other online information sources often adopt this paragraphing style, too. Readers often skim the first paragraphs of a great many articles before settling on the handful of stories they want to read in detail.

You may find that a particular paragraph you write may be longer than one that will hold your audience’s interest. In such cases, you should divide the paragraph into two or more shorter paragraphs, adding a topic statement or some kind of transitional word or phrase at the start of the new paragraph. Transition words or phrases show the connection between the two ideas.

In all cases, however, be guided by what you instructor wants and expects to find in your draft. Many instructors will expect you to develop a mature college-level style as you progress through the semester’s assignments.

To build your sense of appropriate paragraph length, use the Internet to find examples of the following items. Copy them into a file, identify your sources, and present them to your instructor with your annotations, or notes.

  • A news article written in short paragraphs. Take notes on, or annotate, your selection with your observations about the effect of combining paragraphs that develop the same topic idea. Explain how effective those paragraphs would be.
  • A long paragraph from a scholarly work that you identify through an academic search engine. Annotate it with your observations about the author’s paragraphing style.

Starting Your First Draft

Now we are finally ready to look over Mariah’s shoulder as she begins to write her essay about digital technology and the confusing choices that consumers face. As she does, you should have in front of you your outline, with its thesis statement and topic sentences, and the notes you wrote earlier in this lesson on your purpose and audience. Reviewing these will put both you and Mariah in the proper mind-set to start.

The following is Mariah’s thesis statement.

Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology ,but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing

Here are the notes that Mariah wrote to herself to characterize her purpose and audience.

Mariah's notes to herself

Mariah chose to begin by writing a quick introduction based on her thesis statement. She knew that she would want to improve her introduction significantly when she revised. Right now, she just wanted to give herself a starting point. You will read her introduction again in Section 8.4 “Revising and Editing” when she revises it.

Remember Mariah’s other options. She could have started directly with any of the body paragraphs.

You will learn more about writing attention-getting introductions and effective conclusions in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” .

With her thesis statement and her purpose and audience notes in front of her, Mariah then looked at her sentence outline. She chose to use that outline because it includes the topic sentences. The following is the portion of her outline for the first body paragraph. The roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and arabic numerals label subpoints.

The roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and arabic numerals label subpoints.

Mariah then began to expand the ideas in her outline into a paragraph. Notice how the outline helped her guarantee that all her sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

Outlines help guarantee that all sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

If you write your first draft on the computer, consider creating a new file folder for each course with a set of subfolders inside the course folders for each assignment you are given. Label the folders clearly with the course names, and label each assignment folder and word processing document with a title that you will easily recognize. The assignment name is a good choice for the document. Then use that subfolder to store all the drafts you create. When you start each new draft, do not just write over the last one. Instead, save the draft with a new tag after the title—draft 1, draft 2, and so on—so that you will have a complete history of drafts in case your instructor wishes you to submit them.

In your documents, observe any formatting requirements—for margins, headers, placement of page numbers, and other layout matters—that your instructor requires.

Study how Mariah made the transition from her sentence outline to her first draft. First, copy her outline onto your own sheet of paper. Leave a few spaces between each part of the outline. Then copy sentences from Mariah’s paragraph to align each sentence with its corresponding entry in her outline.

Continuing the First Draft

Mariah continued writing her essay, moving to the second and third body paragraphs. She had supporting details but no numbered subpoints in her outline, so she had to consult her prewriting notes for specific information to include.

If you decide to take a break between finishing your first body paragraph and starting the next one, do not start writing immediately when you return to your work. Put yourself back in context and in the mood by rereading what you have already written. This is what Mariah did. If she had stopped writing in the middle of writing the paragraph, she could have jotted down some quick notes to herself about what she would write next.

Preceding each body paragraph that Mariah wrote is the appropriate section of her sentence outline. Notice how she expanded roman numeral III from her outline into a first draft of the second body paragraph. As you read, ask yourself how closely she stayed on purpose and how well she paid attention to the needs of her audience.

Outline excerpt

Mariah then began her third and final body paragraph using roman numeral IV from her outline.

Outline excerpt

Reread body paragraphs two and three of the essay that Mariah is writing. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

  • In body paragraph two, Mariah decided to develop her paragraph as a nonfiction narrative. Do you agree with her decision? Explain. How else could she have chosen to develop the paragraph? Why is that better?
  • Compare the writing styles of paragraphs two and three. What evidence do you have that Mariah was getting tired or running out of steam? What advice would you give her? Why?
  • Choose one of these two body paragraphs. Write a version of your own that you think better fits Mariah’s audience and purpose.

Writing a Title

A writer’s best choice for a title is one that alludes to the main point of the entire essay. Like the headline in a newspaper or the big, bold title in a magazine, an essay’s title gives the audience a first peek at the content. If readers like the title, they are likely to keep reading.

Following her outline carefully, Mariah crafted each paragraph of her essay. Moving step by step in the writing process, Mariah finished the draft and even included a brief concluding paragraph (you will read her conclusion in Chapter 9 “Writing Essays: From Start to Finish” ). She then decided, as the final touch for her writing session, to add an engaging title.

Thesis Statement: Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing. Working Title: Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?

Writing Your Own First Draft

Now you may begin your own first draft, if you have not already done so. Follow the suggestions and the guidelines presented in this section.

Key Takeaways

  • Make the writing process work for you. Use any and all of the strategies that help you move forward in the writing process.
  • Always be aware of your purpose for writing and the needs of your audience. Cater to those needs in every sensible way.
  • Remember to include all the key structural parts of an essay: a thesis statement that is part of your introductory paragraph, three or more body paragraphs as described in your outline, and a concluding paragraph. Then add an engaging title to draw in readers.
  • Write paragraphs of an appropriate length for your writing assignment. Paragraphs in college-level writing can be a page long, as long as they cover the main topics in your outline.
  • Use your topic outline or your sentence outline to guide the development of your paragraphs and the elaboration of your ideas. Each main idea, indicated by a roman numeral in your outline, becomes the topic of a new paragraph. Develop it with the supporting details and the subpoints of those details that you included in your outline.
  • Generally speaking, write your introduction and conclusion last, after you have fleshed out the body paragraphs.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.


How to Write a Research Paper

  • Step 1. Choose a Topic
  • Step 2. Start Brainstorming
  • Step 3. Start Your (Initial) Research
  • Step 4. Narrow Your Topic
  • Step 5. Research, Research, Research!
  • Step 6. Write an Outline
  • Step 7. Citations & References
  • Step 8. Annotated Bibliography (optional?)
  • Step 9. Write a Rough Draft
  • Step 10. Edit
  • Step 11. Rewrite (Repeatable)
  • Step 12. Final Draft
  • Additional Sites
  • Citing Sources [opens a new window] This link opens in a new window

Need assistance? Get in touch!

Email: [email protected]

Phone: 931-540-2560

Lazy college senior meme. Rough Draft? Final draft

Write a Rough Draft

Many students hear "rough draft" and they think "final draft." Let me assure you, this is not a good idea. A rough draft is you putting ideas to paper in a semi-logical order that might actually get a D.

A rough draft gives you the opportunity to screw up and fix it before you hand in a paper that sucks. Take that opportunity. The fact that your paper sucks at this point is a good thing. It puts less pressure on you, and you can just let ideas flow. Use it to make your paper better. This means yes, you will actually have to write a rough draft .

But instead of being upset about it, use it as a springboard to a better paper. The rough draft could show you where some holes exist in your research. Just because you're writing a rough draft doesn't mean you're done researching !

  • << Previous: Step 8. Annotated Bibliography (optional?)
  • Next: Step 10. Edit >>
  • Last Updated: Dec 7, 2023 11:04 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.columbiastate.edu/research_paper

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12.1: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

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Learning Objectives

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

writing at work

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13 .

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see Chapter 13 .

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Revising Drafts

Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost. —William Zinsser

What this handout is about

This handout will motivate you to revise your drafts and give you strategies to revise effectively.

What does it mean to revise?

Revision literally means to “see again,” to look at something from a fresh, critical perspective. It is an ongoing process of rethinking the paper: reconsidering your arguments, reviewing your evidence, refining your purpose, reorganizing your presentation, reviving stale prose.

But I thought revision was just fixing the commas and spelling

Nope. That’s called proofreading. It’s an important step before turning your paper in, but if your ideas are predictable, your thesis is weak, and your organization is a mess, then proofreading will just be putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. When you finish revising, that’s the time to proofread. For more information on the subject, see our handout on proofreading .

How about if I just reword things: look for better words, avoid repetition, etc.? Is that revision?

Well, that’s a part of revision called editing. It’s another important final step in polishing your work. But if you haven’t thought through your ideas, then rephrasing them won’t make any difference.

Why is revision important?

Writing is a process of discovery, and you don’t always produce your best stuff when you first get started. So revision is a chance for you to look critically at what you have written to see:

  • if it’s really worth saying,
  • if it says what you wanted to say, and
  • if a reader will understand what you’re saying.

The process

What steps should i use when i begin to revise.

Here are several things to do. But don’t try them all at one time. Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session:

  • Wait awhile after you’ve finished a draft before looking at it again. The Roman poet Horace thought one should wait nine years, but that’s a bit much. A day—a few hours even—will work. When you do return to the draft, be honest with yourself, and don’t be lazy. Ask yourself what you really think about the paper.
  • As The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers puts it, “THINK BIG, don’t tinker” (61). At this stage, you should be concerned with the large issues in the paper, not the commas.
  • Check the focus of the paper: Is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the topic too big or too narrow? Do you stay on track through the entire paper?
  • Think honestly about your thesis: Do you still agree with it? Should it be modified in light of something you discovered as you wrote the paper? Does it make a sophisticated, provocative point, or does it just say what anyone could say if given the same topic? Does your thesis generalize instead of taking a specific position? Should it be changed altogether? For more information visit our handout on thesis statements .
  • Think about your purpose in writing: Does your introduction state clearly what you intend to do? Will your aims be clear to your readers?

What are some other steps I should consider in later stages of the revision process?

  • Examine the balance within your paper: Are some parts out of proportion with others? Do you spend too much time on one trivial point and neglect a more important point? Do you give lots of detail early on and then let your points get thinner by the end?
  • Check that you have kept your promises to your readers: Does your paper follow through on what the thesis promises? Do you support all the claims in your thesis? Are the tone and formality of the language appropriate for your audience?
  • Check the organization: Does your paper follow a pattern that makes sense? Do the transitions move your readers smoothly from one point to the next? Do the topic sentences of each paragraph appropriately introduce what that paragraph is about? Would your paper work better if you moved some things around? For more information visit our handout on reorganizing drafts.
  • Check your information: Are all your facts accurate? Are any of your statements misleading? Have you provided enough detail to satisfy readers’ curiosity? Have you cited all your information appropriately?
  • Check your conclusion: Does the last paragraph tie the paper together smoothly and end on a stimulating note, or does the paper just die a slow, redundant, lame, or abrupt death?

Whoa! I thought I could just revise in a few minutes

Sorry. You may want to start working on your next paper early so that you have plenty of time for revising. That way you can give yourself some time to come back to look at what you’ve written with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s amazing how something that sounded brilliant the moment you wrote it can prove to be less-than-brilliant when you give it a chance to incubate.

But I don’t want to rewrite my whole paper!

Revision doesn’t necessarily mean rewriting the whole paper. Sometimes it means revising the thesis to match what you’ve discovered while writing. Sometimes it means coming up with stronger arguments to defend your position, or coming up with more vivid examples to illustrate your points. Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch. Better that than having the teacher trash your final paper.

But I work so hard on what I write that I can’t afford to throw any of it away

If you want to be a polished writer, then you will eventually find out that you can’t afford NOT to throw stuff away. As writers, we often produce lots of material that needs to be tossed. The idea or metaphor or paragraph that I think is most wonderful and brilliant is often the very thing that confuses my reader or ruins the tone of my piece or interrupts the flow of my argument.Writers must be willing to sacrifice their favorite bits of writing for the good of the piece as a whole. In order to trim things down, though, you first have to have plenty of material on the page. One trick is not to hinder yourself while you are composing the first draft because the more you produce, the more you will have to work with when cutting time comes.

But sometimes I revise as I go

That’s OK. Since writing is a circular process, you don’t do everything in some specific order. Sometimes you write something and then tinker with it before moving on. But be warned: there are two potential problems with revising as you go. One is that if you revise only as you go along, you never get to think of the big picture. The key is still to give yourself enough time to look at the essay as a whole once you’ve finished. Another danger to revising as you go is that you may short-circuit your creativity. If you spend too much time tinkering with what is on the page, you may lose some of what hasn’t yet made it to the page. Here’s a tip: Don’t proofread as you go. You may waste time correcting the commas in a sentence that may end up being cut anyway.

How do I go about the process of revising? Any tips?

  • Work from a printed copy; it’s easier on the eyes. Also, problems that seem invisible on the screen somehow tend to show up better on paper.
  • Another tip is to read the paper out loud. That’s one way to see how well things flow.
  • Remember all those questions listed above? Don’t try to tackle all of them in one draft. Pick a few “agendas” for each draft so that you won’t go mad trying to see, all at once, if you’ve done everything.
  • Ask lots of questions and don’t flinch from answering them truthfully. For example, ask if there are opposing viewpoints that you haven’t considered yet.

Whenever I revise, I just make things worse. I do my best work without revising

That’s a common misconception that sometimes arises from fear, sometimes from laziness. The truth is, though, that except for those rare moments of inspiration or genius when the perfect ideas expressed in the perfect words in the perfect order flow gracefully and effortlessly from the mind, all experienced writers revise their work. I wrote six drafts of this handout. Hemingway rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. If you’re still not convinced, re-read some of your old papers. How do they sound now? What would you revise if you had a chance?

What can get in the way of good revision strategies?

Don’t fall in love with what you have written. If you do, you will be hesitant to change it even if you know it’s not great. Start out with a working thesis, and don’t act like you’re married to it. Instead, act like you’re dating it, seeing if you’re compatible, finding out what it’s like from day to day. If a better thesis comes along, let go of the old one. Also, don’t think of revision as just rewording. It is a chance to look at the entire paper, not just isolated words and sentences.

What happens if I find that I no longer agree with my own point?

If you take revision seriously, sometimes the process will lead you to questions you cannot answer, objections or exceptions to your thesis, cases that don’t fit, loose ends or contradictions that just won’t go away. If this happens (and it will if you think long enough), then you have several choices. You could choose to ignore the loose ends and hope your reader doesn’t notice them, but that’s risky. You could change your thesis completely to fit your new understanding of the issue, or you could adjust your thesis slightly to accommodate the new ideas. Or you could simply acknowledge the contradictions and show why your main point still holds up in spite of them. Most readers know there are no easy answers, so they may be annoyed if you give them a thesis and try to claim that it is always true with no exceptions no matter what.

How do I get really good at revising?

The same way you get really good at golf, piano, or a video game—do it often. Take revision seriously, be disciplined, and set high standards for yourself. Here are three more tips:

  • The more you produce, the more you can cut.
  • The more you can imagine yourself as a reader looking at this for the first time, the easier it will be to spot potential problems.
  • The more you demand of yourself in terms of clarity and elegance, the more clear and elegant your writing will be.

How do I revise at the sentence level?

Read your paper out loud, sentence by sentence, and follow Peter Elbow’s advice: “Look for places where you stumble or get lost in the middle of a sentence. These are obvious awkwardness’s that need fixing. Look for places where you get distracted or even bored—where you cannot concentrate. These are places where you probably lost focus or concentration in your writing. Cut through the extra words or vagueness or digression; get back to the energy. Listen even for the tiniest jerk or stumble in your reading, the tiniest lessening of your energy or focus or concentration as you say the words . . . A sentence should be alive” (Writing with Power 135).

Practical advice for ensuring that your sentences are alive:

  • Use forceful verbs—replace long verb phrases with a more specific verb. For example, replace “She argues for the importance of the idea” with “She defends the idea.”
  • Look for places where you’ve used the same word or phrase twice or more in consecutive sentences and look for alternative ways to say the same thing OR for ways to combine the two sentences.
  • Cut as many prepositional phrases as you can without losing your meaning. For instance, the following sentence, “There are several examples of the issue of integrity in Huck Finn,” would be much better this way, “Huck Finn repeatedly addresses the issue of integrity.”
  • Check your sentence variety. If more than two sentences in a row start the same way (with a subject followed by a verb, for example), then try using a different sentence pattern.
  • Aim for precision in word choice. Don’t settle for the best word you can think of at the moment—use a thesaurus (along with a dictionary) to search for the word that says exactly what you want to say.
  • Look for sentences that start with “It is” or “There are” and see if you can revise them to be more active and engaging.
  • For more information, please visit our handouts on word choice and style .

How can technology help?

Need some help revising? Take advantage of the revision and versioning features available in modern word processors.

Track your changes. Most word processors and writing tools include a feature that allows you to keep your changes visible until you’re ready to accept them. Using “Track Changes” mode in Word or “Suggesting” mode in Google Docs, for example, allows you to make changes without committing to them.

Compare drafts. Tools that allow you to compare multiple drafts give you the chance to visually track changes over time. Try “File History” or “Compare Documents” modes in Google Doc, Word, and Scrivener to retrieve old drafts, identify changes you’ve made over time, or help you keep a bigger picture in mind as you revise.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.

Elbow, Peter. 1998. Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process . New York: Oxford University Press.

Lanham, Richard A. 2006. Revising Prose , 5th ed. New York: Pearson Longman.

Lunsford, Andrea A. 2015. The St. Martin’s Handbook , 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Ruszkiewicz, John J., Christy Friend, Daniel Seward, and Maxine Hairston. 2010. The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers , 9th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.

Zinsser, William. 2001. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction , 6th ed. New York: Quill.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


  1. How To Write A Rough Draft Essay

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  1. How to Write a Rough Draft: 14 Steps (with Pictures)

    1. Make a plot outline. If you are writing a creative piece, such as a novel or a short story, you should sit down and create a plot outline. This can be a basic outline and does not need to be very detailed. Having a plot outline to refer to can help you get organized for the rough draft.

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  3. 12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas. Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research. At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting.

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  6. How to Write a Rough Draft for Your Essay: Essential Steps and Tips

    Let's delve into why a rough draft is crucial for crafting a good essay. Understanding the Purpose of a Rough Draft. Before discussing how to outline a draft, it's essential to understand its purpose. For most students, a rough draft serves as the initial attempt at structuring and setting the tone for the essay. Creating a rough draft involves ...

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  8. How to Write a Rough Draft for an Essay

    A rough draft is an initial version of your essay. It's not about perfection, but about getting your ideas on paper. Think of it as a sketch, where you outline your thoughts, arguments, and evidence, setting a foundation for refinement. In a rough draft, your focus should be on developing a coherent structure and fleshing out your arguments.

  9. Putting Pen to Paper: How to Write a Rough Draft

    A rough draft is a means of getting started on your essay. When you start a rough draft, you are no longer just thinking about writing or planning on writing—you are doing it! Writing your rough draft helps you get your information and thoughts on paper. Once you have your rough draft, you can edit and polish ad nauseum until you have your ...

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    These results were "noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)" whose average weight loss was only "7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period" (Heinz). From this, it can be concluded that "low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.".

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    words. Be specific: Words like things, very, stuff, and interesting are vague. Search for words or sentences in your essay that could be replaced with more specific words. You also may want to add more specific details to strengthen your argument. For example, "Barbies are bad for people" might be revised to "Barbies are harmful to young ...

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    Exercise 1. Using the topic for the essay that you outlined in Section 8.2 "Outlining", describe your purpose and your audience as specifically as you can. Use your own sheet of paper to record your responses. Then keep these responses near you during future stages of the writing process.

  15. How to Write an Essay Outline

    Expository essay outline. Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages. Provide background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press. Present the thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation.

  16. Step 9. Write a Rough Draft

    A rough draft gives you the opportunity to screw up and fix it before you hand in a paper that sucks. Take that opportunity. The fact that your paper sucks at this point is a good thing. It puts less pressure on you, and you can just let ideas flow. Use it to make your paper better. This means yes, you will actually have to write a rough draft.

  17. College Essay Writing Techniques: How to Write a Rough Draft

    So you just can't shake the voice in your head telling you to write your college admissions essay about your grandma. We get it, grandparents are awesome! They know so much about you! And you've gained so much wisdom from your relationship with them! Writing a great personal statement or supplemental essay about them, however, is tricky.

  18. 12.1: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas. Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research. At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting.

  19. Revising Drafts

    Sometimes it means shifting the order of your paper to help the reader follow your argument, or to change the emphasis of your points. Sometimes it means adding or deleting material for balance or emphasis. And then, sadly, sometimes revision does mean trashing your first draft and starting from scratch.

  20. Interactive 4B The Rough Draft EN1150 Flashcards

    Terms in this set (15) A rough draft is. a first attempt at writing a finished copy. Once you have finished writing your rough draft, the next step is. revision. A complete rough draft includes : The first version of your introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion developed from your outline. The goal of writing a rough draft is to________.

  21. Rough Draft Essay 3 (docx)

    According to Pellegrini the critics of recess should understand the benefits of recess and acknowledge its role in children's development, educators and policymakers can create a more balanced and effective approach to education that will benefit the cognitive abilities of younger children. References 1. Pellegrini, Anthony D. (2008).