Starting your essay from scratch: Notes on the writing process

It’s important to understand the background efforts that lay the foundation for a polished academic essay. We rarely, if ever, see what an academic essay looks like before it takes its final, polished form, so it’s tempting to think good writers just spit out fully formed essays, a writer’s ideas taking precise form with each keystroke. Of course, this not at all how good essays are produced.

Most good writers go through several drafts before their documents are finished, and much work is done before the writing even begins. The problem with giving advice on these early stages of the writing process, though, is that each writer’s process is personal and unique. On a general level, it’s practical and wise to go through a certain thought process when commencing work on an essay, but I can only offer a series of common suggestions for you here.

This advice should be helpful, and you can certainly follow it step-by-step, but you will need to adapt my advice to suit the way that you, individually, write and think.

Usually, before a single good word of an essay is ever written, a writer:

      1. considers who the audience is,
      2. determines the constraints,
      3. generates some rough ideas,
      4. conducts some preliminary research,
      5. and outlines the essay.

When work on the first draft of the essay does at long last begin, it is often marked by revisions to the outline and pauses for more background research. And writer’s don’t always begin writing their first draft working on the introduction or first paragraph of the essay.

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Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

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