Do You Have a Writing Process?

Discovering your unique writing process is not only important for professional writers. Students will write papers for years to come, so why not make it easier? While the process of writing contains distinct steps, some students miss that they can be customized in a multitude of ways; and none is more correct than the other. Read on to see how many choices you have in the first step of the writing process.

When starting an essay, decisions must be made first on topic and content. When it comes to this design phase, there are tons of choices on how to begin. This process may take a while, so I encourage you to try out different tools until you find one or two that work best.


Idea Creation

Coming up with ideas for an essay is the most difficult part for some students. However, don’t get discouraged if you’ve struggled in the past; you might not be using the right tool. Idea mapping or brainstorming is one way to put ideas on paper. This is great for students who are more visual, since it allows you to place ideas anywhere on a page that makes sense. A word processing program allows other students a way of organizing information in lists. Whether it’s in order of how you’re thinking or order of importance it doesn’t matter. If you’re having a hard time getting started, consider asking questions. Find out what is at the heart of your topic by asking as many questions as possible. Free writing is a relaxing activity and can be fantastic for idea creation. Finally, if you can’t decide on a topic, consider moving forward with two options. As you collect evidence, it will become clear which topic is stronger.

Evidence Collection

Collect anything that could be useful. It’s easier to trash information than attempt to find something you vaguely remember seeing. Prepare ahead of time by taking good lecture notes, noting important points in textbooks and novels, and reviewing concepts on a regular basis. If you have to use Wikipedia, use it early. It’s a good place to get an overview of a topic, and a jumping off point for further research. Go old school and try out a library; at least you know the vast majority of sources there are accurate and relevant. Cut out the junk and use Google Scholar to focus only on applicable articles. If your school has access to online databases like JSTOR, use them. If doing mostly online research, utilize bookmarks or print out information you find. You could also cut and paste into a word processing program or something similar. Most importantly, when you do find something useful, save it and make a note somewhere about why it’s relevant to your topic. It can be incredibly frustrating to need a source while writing, only to forget where it is or how it relates to your topic.


We all organize in different ways. However, the tool used by all writers should be an outline. As a writer, you choose how you format your outline, what order you create it and how detailed it is. This process can be completed with a word processing program or with pencil and paper. Are you getting tired of using your standard outline? Check out the Online Writing Lab for other ways of organizing your thoughts.

A less structured approach, like a scratch outline, is usually sufficient if you want to keep things simple. Yours truly has been known to print and cut out each topic and source (evidence) as a slip of paper. I lay them out on a table so I can see the “big picture,” which helps me to ultimately organize how I want to use them in the essay. Once you discover your writing process, the whole thing will seem to fly by. This won’t only help you now, but later as you take more rigorous classes or have to battle deadlines at work.

Keep writing, Los Angeles!

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