The Writing Process
Draft to discover: Choose a topic that interests, angers, uplifts or saddens you, and read to explore the topic. Jot down ideas and copy interesting quotations into a notebook or computer file. Draft in fragments and free-write; get your spontaneous insights onto paper. Write without censorship; the line or image that leads to the compelling formulation of your main idea is often a surprise. Don't worry about lowering your standards.
Write to focus: Meet your main idea where it arises; accept the surprise. Write to uncover a pattern and to make new connections. Begin to shape your draft responsively to the assignment, the issues under consideration in the course and your own insights. If you want to use the assignment to venture beyond the scope of the course, work in conjunction with the instructor.
Write to present convincing evidence for your claims: Reread books and articles, review your notes and select the best evidence (facts, anecdotes, statistics, quotations) to consolidate support for your ideas. Give interesting and seductive information to your reader. Document your sources; avoid plagiarism.
Rewrite to develop strengths and discard refuse: Flesh out your unique insights; elaborate and clarify what interests you most; make your analysis of key issues subtle. Don't collect excess verbiage; begin to cut and condense anything that doesn't move the paper forward.
Rewrite to organize: Think logically about revision; restructure the draft coherently within a sensible organizational scheme. Examine relations between paragraphs and make smooth connections (or transitions) between ideas.
Rewrite for the audience: Read the draft as your reader would. Imagine that you are a different person for a moment; think like a stranger and step out of your skin. If you weren't you, what wouldn't you understand about this draft and what more would you like to learn about this subject? And what might the instructor ask you to clarify, develop or condense?
Rewrite to tune the voice: Read the draft line-by-line and make the words that have to sit next to each other sound good. Eliminate uncouth words unless your aim is to be uncouth. Listen for the tone and rhythm of your prose; give your essay grace. Make thoughtful and dramatic combinations and separations between sentences; write your sentences at various lengths. Create vital prose.
Rewrite to edit: Proofread with great care for correct grammar, punctuation, spelling and documentation. Also double-check the words, sentences and paragraphs for voice and logic. Style has value.
This list of priorities is adapted from: Murray, Donald. "The Craft of Revision." 2nd ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.