When assigned to write a paper, many student writers begin their process with their first draft, hope to do a thorough revision, and turn in the final draft for a grade. However, the process of writing a quality college-level essay may take many more revisions than students are prepared for. How many drafts are enough? How many are too many – or is it even possible to have too many drafts?
Students who aren’t familiar with the “writing is a process” model think it possible (and maybe it was in high school) to crank out a quality paper at 2:00am the night before a due date. This effort might get a strong writer a passing grade, but most of us need several drafts to produce the quality of writing needed for more complicated college writing assignments. I have never been able to sit in front of a blank computer screen and churn out anything worth reading on the first try. In fact, it might take me 5, 6, or 10 revisions before a piece is ready to be read by an audience.
The word “essay” derives from the French essayer, “to try” or “to attempt.” First drafts will often be an intro that leads to nothing, a conclusion with no beginning, or a middle with no engine or caboose, or simply some scribbled notes. First drafts are just that – a first attempt. Too many beginning writers believe it possible to compose a full first draft – an essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion – do a little tweaking, and call it done. But does this produce the best possible finished product? Probably not.
If the thought of writing several drafts feels overwhelming, consider breaking the drafting process down into manageable parts. Hopefully, you have an outline of where you want to go with your paper. Consider drafting the introduction first, and take a step back from the essay. Let the paper simmer for a few hours or a day, thinking about how you want to proceed. Come back at another time to flesh out the body paragraphs. Stop and take another step back. Coming to each writing session with a set of fresh eyes (not to mention a fresh brain!) will help you see more clearly.
In these initial draft stages, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many concerns, such as worrying about grammar and punctuation at this point. Trying to correct as you go will only slow your writing process down. Save this for the final stages of the revision process. Once your first draft is complete, revisit the body paragraphs to consider global concerns, such as if the essay has a thesis, maintains focus, and is organized logically. How many revisions will this take? That’s anybody’s guess. Maybe 3. Maybe 10. Don’t worry so much about the number of revisions it will take. Each draft will get you one step closer to the finished product.
Share your writing process with us.
How many times do you revise a piece?
When do you know it’s done?