Writing Process

Spider web with the words writing process in the middle. The stages of the writing process are listed clockwise on the edges of the web: prewrite, research (optional), draft, review, revise, edit, and publish

Writing well takes time. Writing well does not mean just sitting down and beginning to write sentences until you reach the page limit. Starting writing the night before your assignment is due doesn’t give you the time to make the writing say what you really want it say! Before writing, you need to understand what it is you’re actually doing—what is the subject and purpose and who are you writing to— then you need to come up with ideas.

While all writers have their own routines and processes for writing, researchers have found that successful writers follow some variation of the steps below, usually working on the project over several days, even weeks. We refer to these steps as the writing process.

The Writing Process is like an interconnected web rather than a line or circle because the steps are recursive—you can return to any point in the process multiple times over the course of a writing project. For example, you may review and revise multiple times, you may need to do more research or prewrite for more ideas after your first or second draft.


  • Understand your assignment
    • Why are you writing – what’s the purpose? (for example, analysis, argument, narrative, description)
    • Who are you writing to (the audience)?
    • Are there other requirements (for example, a particular topic or genre)?
  • Make a plan for getting it done by the due date
  • Come up with ideas
    • Brainstorm or List ideas as they come to you
    • Cluster (mind map or bubble chart)
    • Freewrite
    • Talk to someone
  • Choose a topic based on your purpose and audience
  • Organize your ideas (using an outline or graphic organizer)

Research (optional)

  • If needed, research your topic at the library and online


  • The first draft is for you—say what you want to say to your audience
  • Starting from your idea map or an outline, get your thoughts down fairly quickly
  • Put your draft aside for a time, then read it aloud—what changes are needed to make it clear?


  • Ask someone to read your draft and give you feedback
  • Make changes based on your reviewer’s feedback and your own review


Revision means seeing again. It focuses on the “big picture” elements of your paper. The following tasks might comprise your revision: adding text, removing text, restructuring paragraphs, reordering sections of argument, changing the argument. You can use the following questions to facilitate revising:

  • What is your paper’s central thesis?
  • Are all the elements of your paper focused on that thesis? What’s on-topic or off-topic?
  • Do the sections follow in a clear order? Is it organized in a logical way that is easy to follow?
  • Do transitions lead your reader from idea to idea?
  • Is each point thoroughly developed? Do they need more details? Examples?
  • Are the points, details, examples redundant? Do they reiterate too much?
  • What paragraphs are shorter than usual? Longer?
  • How is your tone? Consider what you want your reader to do or feel (for example, will your reader be interested? persuaded? moved? enjoy your humor?)


Editing is part of proofreading—carefully reviewing the surface elements of your paper for correctness and clarity. This step might change individual sentences, individual words, or grammar. Through editing, you ensure your writing is in a final and presentable form. You can use the following questions to facilitate editing:

  • What common errors do you know you make? Lengthy sentences? Comma errors? Spelling errors?
  • If you read your paper aloud, where does your reading stumble? Where does it sound forced and unnatural/?
  • If you are unsure about a punctuation choice, why did you use that specific punctuation mark? Why a comma? Review any rules you are unsure of.
  • Is each sentence clear and concise?
  • Are you using any unnecessarily complex words or sentence structures?


  • Read carefully and check for correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Is the paper formatted according to the assignment requirements?


  • Print out a new copy, give it one final review, then turn in the hard copy or upload your file, as requested by the instructor
  • Remember that these steps are recursive—you can return to any step as needed as you write.

Howe Center for Writing Excellence logo