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National College of Ireland


Academic Writing Skills Guide: Writing Drafts

Why Write Drafts?

Writing is an evolving process that takes time, very few people are capable of writing a really good version of anything on their first attempt. The first draft of an assignment should never be the one that is submitted for marking. It is important to allow enough time to draft, revise, edit and proofread your writing; this means that you need to begin your assignments well in advance of the deadlines. Starting to write early will also help cut down on anxiety and procrastination and give you time to develop and improve your assignment. 

Often it is not until you try to communicate an argument that you find where gaps exist in your knowledge so it is useful to go into the writing process expecting to redraft your writing and make revisions. Revising and editing your writing as you develop your ideas is a positive not a negative process: the more revisions, the better your assignment will become. It is normal to feel the need to redraft your assignment several times to refine your structure, argument and use of evidence.

Redrafting is an important part of good academic writing, as it helps you better engage with your topic. It can help you to notice gaps in your reading and research and strengthen your argument with further evidence, improve your academic language and refine your overall structure. The aim of redrafting is to improve the overall presentation, comprehension and coherency of your assignment.

Writing the First Draft

The first draft is about having a go at answering the question(s) which will be followed by further research, redrafting, revising and editing. This is where you begin to express your ideas by sketching out the main points of your argument using evidence from good quality academic sources and putting them together under different section headings. Concentrate on getting your main ideas down first.

This draft is only rough and it will need revision. It is more important at this stage to get your thoughts down on paper; you do not have to get it all right, you just have to get something written. Good planning and notes come in useful here as they provide the basis for getting started. In early drafts, it is helpful to focus more on what you are saying than on how you are saying it – grammar, punctuation and spelling can all be checked at the end of the process.

Also, at this stage, avoid revising and editing as you go along and worrying about the exact choice of words as you write. Your first draft is not supposed to be perfect; it is expected to be a work in progress. Adopting this mentality allows you to make mistakes and eliminate them as you revise your drafts. Nevertheless, do try and write your initial draft following the sections and structure of your provisional plan while being prepared to add new ideas where appropriate.

Often you will start writing the main body first as you will not be able to fully write the introduction and conclusion until you know what the main section looks like. You do not have to write your entire first draft in one sitting, remember to take a break or aim to write a certain number of words per day. If you find yourself getting stuck in the middle of a particular section, stop writing. Make a brief note about what needs to go next and come back to it.

Reviewing Your Drafts

Your first draft will not be your final draft so you will inevitably have to remove, change, or expand upon particular elements. Think of your first draft as raw material that you will refine through editing and redrafting. Once you have a first draft, you can work on improving it. You should continue to do this until you are happy with your work. Aim for several drafts of your writing until you reach the final version.

Tips for Redrafting:

  • Look again to assess how closely your first draft has followed the assignment brief and guidelines. In this context, take a detailed look at what you have written and revise and edit it for content, structure, style, evidence and referencing.
  • First drafts of work are often too long, so you will need to consider what parts to keep and what parts to take out.
  • At any stage of the redrafting process, stop periodically and review your assignment - review each draft with some of the check points outlined below in mind until you reach a satisfactory version when you can begin the final revising and editing and proofreading process. 
  • Having reached your final draft, this is the proofreading stage when you check carefully for errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling which is the final refinement of your writing.
  • Save each draft as a separate file with an updated title and save it in more than one place; then you can see how your assignment develops and improves. It also allows you to return to a previous version of the assignment if you change your mind on something.
  • Ideally, you should leave a day or two between finishing each draft and revising it, just so you are looking at it with fresh eyes and a clear perspective.
Have you provided convincing evidence to support your ideas? Have you acknowledged opposing views?
Are there any redundant (unnecessary) word and phrases that do not add to the meaning of the text and which have no purpose?
Do all your points and ideas relate clearly to the assignment title and your main argument?
Do you have repetitions?
Have you presented a coherent, logical argument/structure? Do you have weak sections or arguments that do not really work or have enough evidence?
Have you answered all parts of the question? Have you followed the assignment guidelines and criteria?
Have you critically analysed and evaluated the information you have included from your sources?
Have you included all relevant material from your notes?
Is the outline of your assignment logical? Will your structure make sense to the reader? Review the content and order of the main points of each paragraph.
Is there anything here that is not essential? Do you have sections that do not really contribute to answering the brief? If you deleted them, would it have any effect on your overall discussion?
What is your main argument? Is it clear to someone reading the assignment?

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