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A Structured Writing Process

Everyone has their own approach to writing. Some writers are very methodical throughout the entire writing process while others write freely and revise their way to the final draft. For proposals and admissions essays, a structured writing process draws from the strengths of both approaches. It starts with a creative focus and concludes with deliberate writing and revision. First, with the requirements and prompt in mind, the writer lets him or herself write and think freely. Second, the writer reviews his or her own notes and ideas to identify a cohesive focal point. Next, the writer distills the ideas into a concrete thesis and engages peers, friends, family, and instructors to develop and strengthen the arguments. Finally, the writer lays out the elements that support the thesis and backs it with specific examples or anecdotes.

Creative Stage. In this stage, the writer thinks and writes freely but not chaotically. It starts with a careful review of the requirements laid out by the college or university. The writer actively reads the essay prompts and thinks deeply about what the school is asking and why they are asking it. Then, by jotting down notes, diagramming, or thinking out loud, the writer generates ideas. It is important to keep notes or a record of any oral idea development because it will be used in the next stage.

Structural Stage. In this second stage, the writer briefly separates himself or herself from the creative thinking. For example, he or she might take a few days to clear his or her mind. Then, after the writer is refreshed, he or she plays detective and carefully reviews the notes, diagrams, and free writes from the creative stage. The writer should see themes emerging (e.g., becoming an adult, conquering adversity, learning one’s own identity). If nothing emerges, this means that the creative stage is not complete. In this case, the writer might continue to free write and diagram until something concrete coalesces.

Deliberative Stage. In this last stage of writing, the writer distills the themes and ideas into a thesis statement, and he or she “bounces” it off of friends, family, classmates, and instructors. By doing this, the writer is “crowd-sourcing” and taking note of questions, comments, and thoughts that others share about the thesis and associated ideas. Using this feedback, the writer revises the thesis to make it clearer, stronger, or more sophisticated. Once the thesis is finalized, the writer creates a road map of subordinate arguments under the thesis. Then, he or she complies “evidence” to prove each argument. The last step requires more methodical and slower writing. After several cycles of writing and revising—depending on the strength of the writer—the writer arrives at a polished final draft.

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