Starting and Developing an Essay

The writing process consists of all the activites that go into writing what eventually becomes a final piece of work.No single process is correct; no two writers use the same method, and even individual writers may use different methods for different assignments.

The content of a paper is often based on the nature of the assignment, the assigned length (if specified), and the deadline. To clarify your assignment, you may ask yourself several questions:

  • What is your subject?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is your purpose?

Three basic stages are important to writing a paper: developing (or planning), drafting, and revising. Developing, or planning, a paper consists of discovering a subject, gathering information, focusing on a central theme, and organizing material. Drafting a piece of writing includes expressing and correcting ideas. Revising a paper pertains to rethinking and improving structure, content, and style.

Finding a Topic

Many of us feel nervous about choosing a topic for an assignment -- me included. Whether you are limited to a certain time period or subject or you are free to write about anything of interest you, you probably feel as if you do not have any ideas. Many students feel this way. However, it is usually not the case that you do not have any ideas, but rather that you feel you do not have any good ideas. (It is very hard to clear your mind to the point where you have no ideas!) Here are some ways to help you generate and limit ideas.

Know the assignment.

  1. Read the assignment closely and carefully
  2. Use the assignment to plan your paper
  3. Ask the professor for assistance
  4. Ask a Writing Center tutor for assistance

Generate ideas through freewriting

Sometimes you may not be aware of the knowledge that you have about a particular topic. So, in order to "discover" your own ideas, freewrite. Freewriting consists of sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, setting a certain time limit for yourself, and continuously writing for the duration of that time period (without stopping for spelling, grammar, or anything else).

Branching, mapping, or clustering

Some writers prefer this method of generating ideas. Although it is similar to freewriting in some ways, it is more of a visual method of arranging ideas on paper. To begin, start with a main idea in the center of the paper. As you start thinking of ideas that are related to the main point, write these new ideas down and draw a line connecting them to the main point. (When you think of an idea that is related to a secondary idea, draw a line connecting those two ideas.) Do this until you have enough ideas to write your paper or until you are out of ideas! Here is an example of mapping.

Limiting your topic

As you are discovering your topic, keep in mind the length of the paper. Focus your topic so that you can discuss your ideas in the space (pages) you are allotted. For example, if you have to write a three-page paper on anything you choose, it would not be wise to choose the Big Bang Theory. It is a very broad topic and it is hard to narrow it down because everything is interrelated. Perhaps you would like to write about cars. Again, this is too general for a three-page paper. However, with a topic like cars, you have many ways you can limit your topic. Choose a particular manufacturer, model, year, etc. (Instead of a paper on cars, you may do a three-page paper on the 1997 Ford Taurus SHO)

Remember, this page is NOT the Bible. No two people approach assignments in the same way. Use this site as a guide and you will find your own technique that will help you utilize your knowledge and writing skills!

Prepared by Jonas Callis