For a short paper, say 3-5 pages, I try to write my first draft in a single sitting. I try to write it in less than two hours. A fast draft probably won’t have all the quotes I need for a strong essay, and will certainly need editing and revision. But a fast draft means you have a starting place. You get the main points down on paper. And even for longer projects, this process of writing a fast draft will help push the whole process along.
Sit down, take a deep breath, and here’s my four steps to writing a super-fast first draft.
Note: this strategy assumes that you have a working knowledge of the topic you’ll be writing about.
The Four Steps to a Super-Fast Draft
Step One: Read the question
Really read the question. Think about what it is asking you to do. Do you need to make an argument? Summarize facts? Draw parallels between two (or more) topics?
Sometimes an essay question will provide the structure and outline for you, right there in the assignment (you should also check your original course syllabus for clues). If you are asked to draw a parallel between two books, or two historical events, or two concepts, then you know you’ll need to write an essay that briefly describes each, and then gives several examples comparing the two. There’s your essay outline, already laid out for you . If you are asked to describe an idea and make an argument about it, then you know you need to start by giving a general overview of the concept before making several specific comments on the topic.
Read the question, and you might already have a clear idea of what you need to write. Even if the question doesn’t lay things out in this specific way, you need to read the question carefully to find out what you have to do. Look for:
- Specific questions to answer
- If there are multiple parts to the question
- Specific sources/topics/ideas/events you need to include
- Length requirements
Step two: create an outline
An outline can be as simple as three ideas scribbled down that you know you need to address. It can be as complicated as a multi-page document with sections and sub-sections, bullet-points and supporting quotes.
The point of an outline is to get organized. Figure out your main ideas to be covered in the essay.
Here’s a perfectly adequate outline:
- Subject: Here’s my main point.
- Section one: Here’s one reason my point is correct.
- Section two: Here’s another, related reason my point is correct.
- Section three: Here’s a final reason my point is correct.
- Conclusion: Based on those previous arguments, here’s why my point is correct and why it matters.
This is thebasic five-paragraph essay structure, which I’ve written about previously. It works for most essays of most lengths, from a one-page high school essay to an eighty page Master’s thesis.
Your outline is there to help you figure out what you need to write about. Do you know what’s important in your argument? Can you think of three pieces of supporting evidence?
Step Three: Write it down
Take a deep breath, and take the plunge. Write the whole essay. Do it in one sitting if you can, and let go of perfection while getting as much information on the page as possible. You will edit this later—no one will ever see this first draft. Just get the bones of the essay down on paper, and then flesh out your arguments and make it a full first draft.
If you have good notes from the texts you’ve studied, include quotes and evidence in this draft. Pull out your class notes and any research you’ve done. You want this to be as complete as possible, and the more evidence you include early on the more you’ll be able to make solid arguments while also spotting weak spots in the essay.
If you have limited research to include, just write the argument and know you’ll go back and add quotes later. When I draft my essays, I often remember what the text said, but don’t want to stop the writing process to search for a quote. So I’ll write something like:
…According to Professor Smith [CHECK] in his article ____________, my main point also applied in this other situation. He writes, “ ______ [SOMETHING ABOUT THIS IN THE SECOND CHAPTER].” This supports my argument because…
The empty underlined sections make it easy for me to see where I need to add text, and I write all my “notes to self” in all capitals so I can be sure to find that information. The point is to not interrupt your flow, and to do the big first effort of getting the words on the page. Write it down, note where more information is needed, and then keep on writing it down.
Step Four: Overview
Once you’ve done your full, speed-written first draft, take a few quick moments to look over what you’ve done. Is it all there? Is it clear? What do you need to do to flesh it out/add detail/add research? As you were writing, did new arguments or sub-points occur to you? As you were drafting your conclusion, did you realize you need to re-write the introduction?
Make a few “notes to self” at the end of your draft. Before you lose all that drafting energy, make sure you’ve noted all-important areas to edit or research to expand upon.
Writing the first draft has never been so easy!
Now that you have completed your research in an organised way and have written a final draft of your essay plan, writing the first draft of your essay will be easier than it ever has been before. All of the following decisions about your essay have already been made:
- What your answer to the essay question is
- What main points you will discuss in order to support your argument
- The order in which to discuss your main points
- How long to spend discussing each main point
- What information each paragraph will contain (i.e. what information you will use to discuss each of your main points)
- What references you will use to support your argument
Thus, there is no reason for you to feel lost or stare at your computer screen not knowing what to write. If you are stuck for any reason, the best thing to do is to keep writing. You can always improve something once you have written it down. If you have not written anything, not much can be done until you do. Don’t forget that our essay editors are here to help you to improve your essay through professional editing. You just need to write your first draft and submit it to us for editing.
When you write your first draft using your essay plan as a guide and including all the information you have organised in your research document, pay attention to the following things:
- Make sure you choose the best examples from your research to use
- Make sure you use topic sentences to link each new topic back to the question and ensure your essay flows well
- Ensure that you write in a formal academic style
- Ensure that you format your essay correctly, according to the guidelines for your particular course (for example, line spacing, font and page margins)
- Make sure you include your in-text references or footnotes as you are writing; do not leave these until the end. Since you will be using information from your research document that provides you with the references to use, this should not be a problem
While of course you need to write your essay to the best of your ability, our professional academic editors, when editing your document, will check over these things for you and make corrections or suggestions for improvements if necessary. Our comprehensive editing service includes correcting and improving your formatting and referencing, as well as dealing with all issues related to language and style.
Academic Writing: Some general guidelines
- Have you ever been told that your writing style is not academic or that it is too informal?
- Have you ever felt unclear on how to write an academic essay?
- Are you unsure what rules to follow, what you can do and what you should not do?
This guide contains some general rules and guidelines for academic writing. You will develop your own writing style or ‘voice’ over time, and the more academic sources you read, the clearer it will become to you what academic writing is and how your essays should sound. However, it is important to learn certain academic conventions as soon as you can and this guide will help you to do that. If in doubt about any of these guidelines, always check with your tutor or lecturer as different disciplines and courses sometimes have different approaches or expectations. Ensuring that your essay is written in a formal academic style and tone is something that our academic editors can assist you with when you submit your essay to us for editing.
Academic writing needs to be formal and impersonal. This means that your writing should be clear, concise and professional. It needs to follow certain rules (such as those outlined below) in order to ensure that it meets academic standards.
Supported by evidence
The most significant difference between academic and non-academic writing is that academic writing puts forward arguments and ideas that are supported by evidence, most often in the form of citing other research or studies. Learning how to reference correctly is an important part of ensuring that your arguments and ideas are always supported by evidence. You must remember that you cannot make a claim or assertion in an academic essay without supporting it. Please see our referencing guides for examples of the most common referencing styles and information on how to use them correctly.
The use of the first person
Although there are exceptions, (for example, if you are discussing a field trip that you personally took in order to conduct research or interviews that you carried out), normally academic writing does not make use of the first person. This means you would not use ‘I’ in your essays. Therefore, instead of writing ‘I will argue’, you might write ‘this essay will argue’. The first reason for this is that academic writing must be formal and impersonal.
Consider the difference between these two sentences:
- ‘In this essay, I will discuss the reasons why Critical Thinking is important to the role of Registered Nurses, including its role in improving the accuracy of diagnoses.’
- ‘Critical Thinking is important to the role of Registered Nurses because it improves the accuracy of diagnoses.’
Not only is the second sentence more formal because it does not make use of the personal ‘I’, but it is also more direct and thus sounds clearer, more concise, and more academic. Instead of stating that a point will be made, as in the first sentence, the second sentence simply makes the point directly.
The second reason why the use of the first person is discouraged is that it is often redundant (unnecessary). Consider the difference between these two sentences:
- ‘I believe that Critical Thinking is relevant to the role of Registered Nurses.’
- ‘Critical Thinking is relevant to the role of Registered Nurses.’
It is unnecessary to state ‘I believe’. The reader knows that the statement is what the author believes, because the author is writing it in their essay. Further, which sentence sounds more convincing? The second sentence sounds more convincing because it is direct and straight to the point.
Grammar, spelling and punctuation
Correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are very important in academic writing. In order to write formally and to a high academic standard, your writing must be accurate. Writing an essay that contains correct grammar, spelling and punctuation can make a significant difference to your final grade. Accurate writing affects not only your marks for presentation. If your grammar and sentence structure is so unclear that your tutor or lecturer cannot understand the point you are trying to make, for example, you could lose marks overall. Handing in an essay that is well written, accurate and highly polished can improve your grades. In order to ensure that you are submitting work of the highest possible standard, it is strongly recommended that you have your work edited by a professional academic editor.
It is important to remember that you cannot rely on the spell-check or grammar-check on Microsoft Word. There are many reasons for this; for example, the spell-check will not detect your mistake if you type ‘four’ instead of ‘for’. In addition, the grammar-check will often provide incorrect suggestions. This is because Microsoft Word is a computer programme and it cannot understand what you are trying to say. While it can be a useful tool, you must remember that it cannot substitute for checking your own work carefully or having it edited by an experienced essay editor.
There are a significant number of rules to follow when writing academic essays, assignments, theses or dissertations. In order to ensure that you have followed all those rules correctly, and in order to ensure that your writing is polished, clear and concise, and free of grammatical and other errors, it is recommended you hire a professional academic editor. This is the final step of academic essay writing, and it will be discussed in the next article. Please ensure that you read all six articles in the series How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time.
Other parts in this series;
Back to Top