Your paper is almost due.  You’ve done a fair amount of research and have generated a flexible outline or idea clusters.  It is now time to begin writing your first draft.  Instead of a final product, your goal is to capture your thoughts on paper.  Starting to write is often the most difficult because you are not sure whether you have gathered adequate information.  I suggest that anything counts, so let’s get started.

The Process for Writing the First Draft of Your Paper

  1. Identify the time of day and the length of time that work best for you.  I write best at night after my daughter goes to sleep.  You might prefer to write first thing in the morning or during your lunch break.  Also consider the length of time you have at each session.   Set a kitchen timer in short increments to give you an extra burst of focused energy to make you write.
  2. Gather all your resources at your work station.  This includes your computer, notes, books, and supplies.  Imagine that you will be tied to your seat once you get started and won’t be able to retrieve items during your work session.
  3. Free yourself from interruptions.  This means that you should turn off your phone, email applications and Internet connection, if possible.  You might have a water bottle, but refrain from bringing food, which is a distraction.  Eat during a break.
  4. Begin writing as quickly as you can without stopping.  Focus on the purpose of your paper and assignment, but at this stage, give yourself permission to be imperfect.  Use the technique of “powering through” and capturing your thoughts on paper without worrying about incomplete thoughts, poor grammar, or repetition.  It is ok to have blanks or “insert reference here” notations.  However, even though you are working quickly, do take care when inserting references, if any.  Maintain accuracy when using information from other sources.  Plus, you don’t want to plagiarize.
  5. If you get stuck with your introduction, skip to another section. Remember, when you are writing your first draft, you do not have to write in order.  You can always use your computer’s cut and paste function to organize your paper later.
  6. Be sure to save and back up your paper often.  If you can, use the auto-save function on your computer.  Although writing your first draft is very early in the process, take the time to email the document to yourself or save it on a flash drive.  After you have done a substantial amount of work, print out a hard copy for yourself.

Other Tips

  • If you are crafting an academic paper, you will need to provide evidence to support your assertions.  Use the appropriate verbs for attributions.
  • When taking notes that are verbatim, surround the quote with a single Q or some other symbol and the author/page number.  For example, author name, p. 123 QThe quote goes here.Q   That way you can decide as you write whether you want to use a direct quote or paraphrase the information.
  • Use single line spacing.   Not only will more fit on your computer screen, the length of your paper will seem to “grow” when you apply double line spacing.
  • Remember, you are not creating a masterpiece at this stage.  Writing your first draft is just that.  It is an initial rough start that you can edit and shape.
  • Let your draft sit for a couple of days if you have that luxury or at least an hour or two.  It is likely that during this time you will develop ideas to add or passages to change.
  • Work with a writing partner if you can.  This is might be a friend or a classmate.  Look for someone who can read your paper and give you additional ideas for improvement.
  • Get out your list on transitional words or phrases that will help to guide your reader from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph.  For example, if you want to show a sequence, you would mark the start of your sentence with words like first, second, then, next, finally, now, later, before, after, while, until, or simultaneously.  If you were showing a comparison, you would use words like similarly, likewise, in comparison, or as.

Ideally, you have started writing your first draft with adequate time to go back and to edit.  Crafting something of which you can be proud requires a lot of editing. 

But by capturing your thoughts on paper, you’ll have begun the momentum to a great product.  It’s a slippery slope when procrastination kicks in, so get started simply by writing your first draft!