Sometimes, writing can feel like a chore. But there's no reason for it to be.
The reason writing can feel like a chore is that you don't have a step-by-step process. When there is no logical order to your own writing, it can feel like waiting for inspiration to strike - disconcerting when you have deadlines to meet.
However, what trips many people up is they have no structure or process. They subconsciously attempt two or more steps of the writing process simultaneously - a recipe for disaster.
In this guide, I'll walk you through the eight stages of the writing process and how to separate them from each other for optimal results. This is guaranteed to make your writing more effective and enjoyable!
Make your writing more effective and enjoyable with these steps!
Step 1: Start with brainstorming
The first step in the writing process is brainstorming. Start writing down any ideas that come to you. It's very important not to edit or censor your thoughts.
You may have heard the phrase, "The only stupid question is the question that is never asked." This attitude is used in brainstorming sessions in forward-thinking businesses because self-censoring or self-editing could mean great questions or ideas are left unsaid.
Fostering an environment where nothing is wrong and everyone feels encouraged to say whatever is on their mind means these businesses get the best ideas for products, services, improvements, etc.
You need to adopt the same approach. There is no stupid idea, thought, or question at this stage of the writing process. Make a note of whatever comes to mind.
If you find your mind is quicker than you can type or write (it often is) and you're worried you'll lose some thoughts before jotting down, use voice-activated note-taking apps or transcription apps, such as Otter.ai.
Step 2: Organize the topics your brainstormed (pre-writing)
The next step in the writing process is about organizing your ideas into a logical order. The human brain does not think linearly. It tends to 'spark' in different directions. It's why mind mapping was invented, as it mimics how a human brain thinks.
However, when it comes to writing, no matter how short or long a piece is, you need to organize it sequentially so it's easy for readers to follow.
Go through your list of brainstormed topics and work out the order they would naturally come in your piece.
Step 3: Research your topics
This step in the writing process is about gathering information from various sources. This information-gathering stage is sometimes called pre-writing, and it helps you narrow down the list of topics you brainstormed before moving forward with drafting your writing.
To be successful at this stage, consider these questions: What exactly do I want my readers to know? Who are my intended audience members? How can I best communicate my ideas in my writing so they're understandable and helpful?
If there's a specific question at hand (e.g., "Why do people use social media?"), it may also be helpful to find out where other writers have looked into similar topics so they can give their take on them (e.g., "What does Sally say about Facebook?").
This type of research is called secondary research because it involves looking into other people’s work instead of primary sources such as original documents or interviews with experts who have knowledge about what we’re studying.
It's also important not to forget the breadth of sources available. Some helpful examples are:
academic journals (which contain peer-reviewed articles written by experts)
websites maintained by organizations dedicated specifically to scientific inquiry (like NASA)
newspaper articles written by journalists working at respected news outlets like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.
The point is there's no shortage of information at your fingertips. The opposite is true. With super fast internet, we have a world of information, almost too much information.
The trick is to allot a certain amount of time to research. Otherwise, you risk 'going down the rabbit hole,' losing hours (very easily done) without you accomplishing much writing.
Spend a few minutes researching each topic you brainstormed to see if it's worthwhile to include, and if so, gather information about that topic.
Step 4: Plan your structure and outline
Not that you've removed irrelevant topics and fleshed out the remaining topics, the next step in the writing process is to create an outline of your content.
An outline lets readers follow along with what you're saying while they read, which makes your writing easier to read and more enjoyable for them (and keeps them from getting lost).
It also gives you a clear idea of what topics need more explanation or support so that later on, you know where improvements are needed when it's time for revision.
A great structure for any length of writing to follow is:
Introduce your 'why' of your piece. Why are you here? What are you going to talk about? For example, "As Gen Z spends up to 6 hours a day on TikTok, is this video-sharing site a creative outlet or damaging mental health?
It's all about 'setting out your stall' - grabbing your readers' attention by telling them exactly what you'll be discussing and why (and perhaps even the benefits for them)- important if you're writing something that may induce a sale).
You've already organized your topics previously. This is where you list these topics into discrete categories.
For example, in our Tiktok piece, the first category could be TikTok usage statistics, TikTok history, TikTok revenue, etc.
The second category could be stories and quotes from people who use TikTok and love it for allowing a creative outlet, finding new friends and a sense of community, learning new ideas, positive statistics, etc.
The third category could be mental health statistics regarding social media and young people, stories and quotes from people adversely affected by TikTok, etc. And so on.
There's nothing worse than a piece of writing that ends abruptly (think about how you feel when a film ends like this).
Summarise the main points of your writing.
Depending on the topic and who you're writing for, you may write the conclusion with a neutral tone so the reader can make up their mind.
Or you could write a conclusion that leaves no doubt about which side you're on. Follow your client or publisher's guideline. Sometimes strong opinions are welcome. Other times, neutrality is key.
Keep in mind that even though an outline seems set in stone at this point, it will probably change throughout the writing process as new ideas occur or as one topic becomes irrelevant after another develops further during drafting or revision (which we'll cover later).
This can be frustrating if it means going back and changing everything again—but don't worry! If necessary, we'll show how easy it is once everything you’ve written everything out. Just keep going until then.
Use numbers/bullets instead of long sentences when describing each paragraph. This makes it easier for readers to scan quickly since they don't need all those details immediately but want some sense of what topics you’re discussing within each section before diving deeper into reading specific paragraphs themselves.
This can also help with keeping track of what you've said in the outline if you need to look back on it later (which we highly recommend doing). Finally, using numbers/bullets instead of long sentences will keep your paragraphs shorter and easier for readers to understand.
Step 5: Write the first draft first (don't stop to edit)
The next step in the writing process is to begin writing your first draft. This means you don’t stop for editing or proofreading during this process. Instead, you should write as quickly as possible without stopping for a set period (sometimes called free writing)
The good news is that because you've followed the above steps, you won't experience what many amateur writers experience, which is racing to get down their ideas and thoughts before they slip away!
Because you’ve brainstormed, organized, researched and outlined, you're at a stage where ideas won't escape you.
However, you still want to write the first draft quickly. If it helps, consider it a ‘rough draft,’ not the final version you will submit.
You don't want to edit because it slows down the writing process. Avoiding editing will help keep your mind focused on what matters most - developing an argument and conveying it effectively through language use (i.e., word choice). Editing is a step further down the line. Keep the different stages separate.
At this drafting stage, focus on getting your main idea across clearly rather than worrying about spelling or grammatical errors or ensuring every detail is correct.
It's also important not to worry about the quality of your writing when beginning the first draft. This will only slow progress toward completing the assignment in time for submission requirements.
Focus instead on developing one strong idea per paragraph that relates directly back to your overall topic sentence (which should come right after introductions).
Step 6: Take a break, redraft and revise
Congratulations! You've written your first draft. The next step in the writing process? Set your document aside and let your brain rest for a bit. You'll be re-reading it with fresh eyes later, so don't worry if you can't think of anything else to add at this point.
You'll also want to reread your first draft with an eye toward larger issues, such as structure and argument (does your writing make sense?) or style (is any of your writing unclear?). Once you've done that, check in with yourself.
Does it feel like a strong and cohesive piece? Is there any additional evidence that you could add for support? If so, write those down before adding them to your writing later in this process.
Now, go through each paragraph individually and make revisions based on what needs improvement from an organizational standpoint, stylistic clarity and other problems identified during the editing tasks above.
You might also want to start thinking about what else you could add to your writing, such as figures, tables and other visual aids.
While these can certainly be useful for some readers, they aren't necessary for all audiences—especially if the point you are trying to make doesn't rely on any data presented visually or otherwise.
So only use them if they add something to your writing or make your writing clearer and more readily understood.
If you're unsure whether your writing needs figures and tables, try reading it aloud. If it sounds choppy or confusing (or if you have to pause during the reading), then you may need to add some visual aids.
Step 7: Edit for sentence structure and clarity
The next step of the writing process is editing. This is the process of making sure that your assignment has all the necessary parts:
Have you included all the information required for your assignment?
Does a separate title page, abstract, and reference sheet follow a format acceptable to your client or publisher?
Have citations been used correctly?
Editing looks at sentence structure and clarity. Proofreading focuses on grammar errors, removing typos and adherence to a style guide.
We recommend editing first, then proofreading last because this allows for more flexibility when going through the editing process – if something needs changing after careful proofreading, you can do it without having to re-edit the whole thing again!
The proofreading stage is a final check that your essay is ready to be handed in. You can do this yourself or ask someone else to look at it.
Step 8: Proofread your final draft
Now that you've made the big changes (editing), we need to focus on proofreading. In this section, we'll talk about what small errors to look for and how software can help with proofreading.
Before you send your work out into the world, it's important to check for those pesky little errors that can make your readers cringe. These include things like sentence fragments and sentence structure issues.
Small mistakes like these are easy enough to fix by hand, but if they pile up or are too numerous, they will impede readability and make people question whether they can trust your writing as a whole.
Luckily there are plenty of tools out there that can help with proofreading edits. Grammarly is one option that works well on both web browsers and word-processing software like Google Docs. It does a great job of editing and proofreading and making sure your writing is grammatically correct.
Pro Writing Aid also does a good job of flagging common mistakes. Microsoft Office lets you automatically underline spelling mistakes in red so that no one has any excuse not to fix them immediately before hitting publish.
The most important thing when proofreading is to read your work out loud. This helps you catch any errors that might not be obvious when reading silently in your head.
If you get stuck on a sentence or paragraph, try reading it backward or changing the tense of verbs. This can often help you access new meaning in old text.
Once you've completed this final step, you have your final draft ready to submit.
You have your eight steps! Make sure you follow them whether you're writing a shorts social media post or a huge dissertation. These steps work, period. Let us know how you get on!