The writing process: Second drafts complete arguments

Work on a second draft may present your last opportunity to substantially change your argument without great cost.  By now, you’ve invested ample time and effort into your argument, but still, much intellectual capital remains to be invested in the revision process.  You need to ensure that this investment is sound before making it.

In other words, it can be difficult to evaluate your argument until you’ve made it; once you’ve executed your argument in the first draft—and before further work on your essay—your primary task is to evaluate the argument as it stands.  You need to know if the argument works as well as you envisioned in your outline.  Whereas everything up until the end of the first draft is about transforming ideas into workable arguments, a second draft fortifies and completes these arguments by identifying gaps in their logic, places in which the arguments are weak, and supporting claims that require further research, for example.

After any problems have been identified, work on a second draft often involves substantial change to the content of the essay, so although you may alter the essay’s organization (as you do when revising), we can think of the second draft’s emphasis as falling on writing rather than revision.

Concerns to address in the second draft

These are all important in working your second draft of an essay, but I’ve listed them here in an approximate order of importance.

  1. Priority reassessment. Arguments have a way of changing while they are being transformed from a relatively abstract essay plan into a full-fledged essay—it’s the difference between theory and execution.  Hence, as odd as it sounds, the first thing you should do in working on your second draft is double-check that (i) you’re still doing what you’ve been asked to do and (ii) that you’re doing what you envisioned when you began your first draft. Make changes to the essay as necessary. If your argument has become something different than what you envisioned, you might try to realign it with your original plan (if you can). So long as the new argument is suitable for the assignment and you’re aware it has evolved, however, a change in argument is not necessarily a setback.
  2. Unjustified assumptions. Be critical of your argument, and try to identify any assumptions you’ve made that might require justification—remember, you need to decide from your reader’s perspective (not yours) whether or not your argument makes unjustifiable assumptions.  Anywhere you’ve made an unjustifiable assumption, either eliminate the assumption or provide some support for it.
  3. Logical coherence. Find any places in which the essay seems not to make necessary connections between claims.  Your argument always has to show how your supporting claims are linked both to each other and to the larger claims that they establish.  Where these links are unclear, or where these links are simply missing, they will need to be made.
  4. Insufficiently fortified arguments. Most first drafts have a few of these: arguments that work and have support, but do not have the support they need in order to be convincing.  Look at all of your arguments and consider whether a reasonable but skeptical reader could be unsatisfied with the rationale you’ve given for any claim.  If your reasonable skeptic would object that you haven’t given enough evidence for your claim, you should provide more, substantial evidence.
  5. Areas requiring further research. Identify any claims or points that you are unsure of or that your audience might have reason to be unsure of, and do some additional research.  This return to the research stage of the writing process allows you to both reassure your reader and provide more specific and authoritative arguments.
  6. Possible reorganizations. Don’t marry your first draft’s organization: feel good about reorganizing your ideas.  It is very simple to put things back into the original order if you don’t like a new one.  Ask whether any sections feel out of place, whether you split up your discussion of a certain idea or topic without clear reason, and whether your ideas could be better organized, even if the organization is at present satisfactory.  If it feels out of place, move it and re-evaluate.  If your ideas are split up without reason, collect them into a single discussion.
  7. Subtraction and addition of ideas. Often you will find that a handful of old ideas don’t fit as well as you thought they would.  These should be cut or condensed.  You will probably also find that in writing your first draft, new and well-suited ideas have occurred to you.  Now is the time to develop these ideas in the essay.

In short, if the argument needs to be truncated, bolstered, or otherwise modified after the first draft, the second draft is where this change should happen.  Once the argument itself is finalized in the second draft, it’s time to focus on the revision process.

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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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