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 Writing forCollege.org

  

Inver Hills Community College

 

Home & Contents                       Basics                       College Writing                       www.OnlineGrammar.org

                  

                                   

PARTS & SECTIONS

Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar 

   www.OnlineGrammar.org
 
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 Study Questions
     

 

                                           

Chapter 3: FIRST DRAFTS

                 
20+ Ways to Start First Drafts

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Imagination

       
Emotion

 
Talking,
Voice,

& Tone

    

    
      
Time & Place

Food,
Drink, & Sound

                

    


GO TO STARTING
WITH

a Structure

    


GO TO STARTING
WITH 
Reading

GO TO
USING
Your Own Experience


GO TO STARTING
WITH
Research 


GO TO
USING
Job Experience

                     

See also "Six Student Responses about Starting to Write."

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This chapter goes into detail about how to start first drafts.  If you want an overview of starting, see "Chapter 2. How to Focus When Writing." 

There are many methods of starting, depending on your own self, your contents, the type of paper you are writing, and what you know about that type of paper.  This chapter discusses some of the most important alternatives in starting.  (If you are looking for patterns for organizing a paragraph or very short paper, go directly to Section "B. Organizing.")

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Introduction: Authentic Writing

In a sense, there are just as many ways of starting first drafts as there are people.  You must find your own method.  In addition, you often may find that different writing assignments require different starting methods: for example, if you are writing an essay based on your personal experience, you may prefer to use the traditional method of freewriting--of just letting go and writing--first.  On the other hand, if you are writing a factual report, you may choose to start with an objective outline or list.  And if you happen to be, say, an experienced news reporter or business writer, you might write only one quick draft, well organized from the start, then edit it briefly and hand it in.  

Another issue that concerns some people is creativity.  You may possibly be very creative in how you start writing, or you may be those who consider themselves very uncreative.  Either way, in most college writing assignments, creativity is of no greater (or lesser) importance than practicality, thorough thinking, good organization, and good research.  In fact, there are some college papers in which creativity may actually need to be turned off--notably papers in which you must summarize, report, or describe something strictly according to the facts.  As a result of all these factors, there is plenty of room for both creativity and its opposites in college writing.  You can start many college papers by being wildly (or almost wildly) creative or by being entirely logical and practical.  The choice is yours.  

There is, however, another need, a more essential one, that you must face when you start a new paper, and that is authenticity.  Writer authenticity simply means, "How do I write what is truest and best?"  Authenticity means being true to your own best self and abilities, being true to your content, and being true to your audience.  The opposite, a lack of authenticity, can mean faking it.  Faking it can mean trying to write something you don't believe, feel, or like; just writing whatever might be the bare minimum of what is expected, as if you were writing a grocery list hurriedly before going shopping; or not caring about or actively disrespecting your audience.  In the best writing, you have a three-way connection between three elements:  yourself, your content, and your readers.  You must make a real connection with your content, and your content should make a meaningful connection to your readers.  As a result, you and your readers make a real, authentic connection with each other.  The best writing makes a reader feel like he or she is listening to a friend or respected family member.  If you write in that same way--often by "talking" with just one typical reader as if you have something good, real, and honest to say, or even choose a friend or perhaps a brother or sister to whom you write your essay--then your writing probably will not only sound authentic but will also be authentic.   

But how do you start your writing in an authentic way?  And how can you be authentic to every reader you meet--or to teachers or supervisors you don't even know?  Part of the answer to this question is just getting more experience and learning more about the people for whom you write.  Part of the answer, though, is to learn better methods of starting and, later, of revising.  The previous chapter, "How to Focus When Writing," can help you with starting methods, as can this chapter, below.  In general, though, the most important thing to remember about starting authentically is that there are many ways of doing so.  You might choose to be authentic to your own self, your feelings, and your thoughts by simply writing as much as you know about the subject as fast as you can, or perhaps by imagining something related to the subject that is important and then writing about what you imagine.  This form of discovery is authentic because you are really trying to discover what you know, or you are trying to write it down for the sake of others.  Another form of starting out authentically is to use organizational methods such as listing, outlining, or clustering.  Such organizing is authentic if you genuinely are trying to discover what details you know or how you want to arrange them.  Yet a third way of starting to write authentically is to ask yourself who or what your audience is and what the audience wants, and then to authentically begin writing to that audience in a way you believe that the audience can be reached. 

Of course the eventual goal is to be authentic with all three of the elements of authentic writing mentioned here: yourself, the content, and the audience.  However, you can achieve such authenticity through later drafts, as well.  The most important part of starting is to start in some way that is authentic, that really represents a true attempt at connecting--with yourself, content, or audience.  If you start this way, you are on the road to gaining authenticity in all three aspects of your writing by the time you have finished your final draft.  Here are several ways to develop an authentic start.

Other people and situations suggest a more more practical system.  For such people--or in such situations--some form of listing or outlining is more appropriate.    

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   Freewriting

When starting to write, many people prefer a creative method called "freewriting," especially as this method is often taught in elementary and secondary schools.  Freewriting usually starts after your subject already is chosen.  To freewrite, you simply write freely about your subject.  Using this method, you often can discover what you know about the subject.  How can writing about something help you discover what you already know?  Like talking out loud, writing is a form of "thinking out loud," except it is done on paper.  Many people understand the advantage of "talking something through" with a friend in order to understand more about it.  A lot of the value of such talking is simply having someone listen to you as you express your thoughts aloud.  Expressing them aloud makes them clearer.  Similarly, you often can discover better what you know and think about a subject by writing about it freely.  Writing can be just another form of thinking--much like the verbal thinking, picture thinking, and remembering that go on inside your head.  To do such thinking on paper allows you to present what you know in a more objective form--on paper or on a computer screen--so that you can begin to work with the material better

This type of first-draft writing can work in several ways.  One is that you can simply write anything at all about the subject--whatever comes to your mind.  Another is that you can write specifically of stories, examples, or other details you can use to help support what you will say in the paper.  Yet another method is to pick out one body section of the paper you will write and simply freewrite about it, then do the same with another body section, etc.  In general, if you are starting to write using this method, you do not want to write your introduction until most or all of the paper has been written.

This type of writing is appropriate especially for academic writing in general courses, especially in the liberal arts courses, when you must argue, analyze, critique, or evaluate.  It may be less useful in courses or in a professional job in which you must write for practical, information-oriented papers such as business or technical reports, proposals, and recommendations.  If you are inexperienced in writing a certain type of paper, this kind of first-draft writing may be more helpful; if you are very experienced in using the format and thinking of a certain type of paper, this method may or may not be as useful.

For a good example of a short, powerful, freewritten first draft, go to "Sample 1" in the "Writing a Story" chapter.  This example is one that could be used simply as a longer, developed story, it could be developed into--or used within--some kind of argument paper, or it even could be a rough draft for a news article.

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   Lists & Outlines

Just as freewriting (above) is a form of brainstorming, so is it possible to brainstorm when developing a list or making an outline.  Listing and outlining usually are considered very rational, logical activities.  However, they also can be used to develop a lot more ideas than your conscious mind might normally deliver.  If you wish to make the most of listing and outlining, it often is wise to develop them quickly and to include all information that occurs to you, even if at first it doesn't seem relevant.  Once you have developed a first-draft list or outline, you then can work on it to develop it further, if needed.

 

Listing

Listing is particularly useful when done quickly.  Whether you start with no subject whatsoever or with an assigned one, often the best idea is to write down everything that occurs to you as quickly as possible within a time span of a few minutes.  It is okay to try to pull your mind back to your main subject whenever it seems to be straying.  However, minds don't always work in a straightforward manner; sometimes they reveal deeper connections in surprising ways.  For this reason, even as you keep refocusing on the main subject, it may be useful to write down whatever your mind thinks of within the time limit you have given it.  

Here, for example, is a list I brainstormed in about three minutes with almost no planning.  In the early part of it, there are some items that seem out of place, even silly:  "rabbits," "Easter," and "holidays."  At first I thought these ideas were really off the wall, especially mixed with talk of war and the economy.  However, I decided to keep them in the list, just in case something developed from them.  Once my list was done, I suddenly realized that rabbits might be an interesting symbol for what President Bush is trying to do in Iraq right now: as he deals with all the difficulties of occupying Iraq (as I write this, the occupation is only several months old), he must sometimes feel something like a magician trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat--a magician who has (or must use) many tricks up his sleeve, as the saying goes.  An interesting argument or two could be developed from this symbol.

A Brainstorm List

ASSIGNMENT: "Argue about a current event." 

war

Iraq

rabbits

Easter

holidays

current holiday

economy

George W. Bush

Congress

Medicare

health of seniors

senior citizens' rights

health insurance

prescription drugs

attacks on soldiers

revolutionaries vs. thieves in Iraq

problems with theft in U.S.

violence in the cities

Europe vs. U.S. in violence, theft

European views of U.S.

European views of Iraqi War

United Nations

California dumps old governor

California elects another movie star

Did Pres. Ronald Reagan really believe 
   AIDS is divine retribution?

AIDS cases rise among gays

AIDS in Africa rising

In further looking at the example list above, you can see another reason why it can be good to make such a list: doing so allows you to see a greater number of possible subjects.  Often, in fact, people find that their best subject for writing is not their first or even their second, but one that occurs to them further down in a list.     Listing often makes better ideas apparent.  On my own list, above, my favorites tend to be mostly on the right-hand side--ideas I listed later after getting initial thoughts out of the way.

Another reason for listing is well exemplified by my list, above, even though I had no intention of trying to show it.  When I make lists--like the one above--I tend to write down general (and a few off-the-wall) ideas first, and then gradually become more specific.  Many people do this: they tend to think of ever more narrow subjects as their lists get longer.  Such narrowing usually is good.  A narrow topic is more interesting to readers than a very general one.  In addition, a general topic may have so many ideas in it that it becomes too much to discuss in a short paper, whereas a narrow topic fits much more easily into a short paper.

An additional reason for developing a long, brainstormed list is, as shown in the above (again, without my planning it) that such listing sometimes is the start of a rough-draft outline.  That is, many people find themselves writing down not just one idea but several that can be grouped together.  For example, from my list you can make groups in several ways.  Such grouping also is a form of what sometimes is called "clustering" (described in detail in another part of this page, below).  Here is one way to break my list into groups:

Grouping or Clustering Ideas in a List

ASSIGNMENT: "Argue about a current event."    

war

Iraq

------------
rabbits

Easter

holidays

current holiday

----------

economy

----------

George W. Bush

----------

Congress

Medicare

health of seniors

senior citizens' rights

health insurance

prescription drugs

attacks on soldiers

revolutionaries vs. thieves in Iraq

----------

problems with theft in U.S.

violence in the cities

Europe vs. U.S. in violence, theft

----------

European views of U.S.

European views of Iraqi War

United Nations

----------

California dumps old governor

California elects another movie star

Did Pres. Ronald Reagan really believe 
   AIDS is divine retribution?

----------

AIDS cases rise among gays

AIDS in Africa rising

If, for example, I were to choose the subject of Congress and the health of seniors, I then could use all five of the subjects listed above (from "Congress" through "prescription drugs" as either the main subject of, or topics in, my paper.

How would I actually choose a subject from my list above?  For starters, I would try to develop a paper that lies within the realm of my own capabilities--a subject about which I already know something and have both time and, if needed, research resources.  Second, I would try to choose a subject that would be unique and specific enough so as not to bore either my instructor or myself.  Finally, I would consider whether to be careful of strongly disagreeing with my instructor--unless he or she welcomes such disagreement--or upsetting him or her.  Though students should be free to choose subjects and the way they handle them, instructors can be just as human and varied in how they react to subjects as are other people.  

Given those three guidelines, I suspect my choice would be to incorporate a number of my ideas above by using the interesting symbol of the rabbit being pulled out of a hat and the idea of a magician needing "tricks up the sleeve."  I might apply this not just to the President, but also to Congress, or even to the United Nations or Europe (though I suspect I would narrow it to just one).  Then I might briefly mention or describe how so many things were in a difficult phase of change politically or culturally right now for the President, and how he was faced with some difficult decisions that, as he begins approaching the next Presidential election, are crucial to how his presidency is viewed.  I would throw in some comments along these lines that I have seen recently in newspapers (which is where my own experience and reading would have helped me choose this subject), and in this way I would offer the instructor a rather fresh, somewhat unique approach to current events.  And I would thank myself for sticking those ideas into my list that I initially had considered useless--"rabbits," "Easter," and "holidays"--one of which proved to be my best idea of all.

     

Outlining     

You probably learned how to do a traditional outline in your pre-college school years.  Like listing above, outlining is a very logical, rational method of working--one that is much more formal than listing--but it also can be developed in a brainstorming mode, by writing it quickly.  A traditional outline is a list broken into sections, subsections, sub-subsections, etc.  It is a method of organizing a paper.  Experienced writers who know their subject, their audience, and the type of delivery method they will use (an argument, a report, a proposal, etc.) often start with some kind of outline, either a formal one as below or a semiformal one that is half listing and half outlining.  Either works.  A well planned outline is something like an architect's drawing of a house before it is built: he draws the walls, floors, and ceilings, entrances and exits, and even, sometimes, in a drawing for an ad, where some of the furniture might be placed.   

There also is a small minority of people who work well with an outline in almost any situation.  Such students tend to be naturally good at organizing their thoughts on paper and find they like to know the organization of their delivery before they actually brainstorm the individual paragraphs.

The more common use for outlining is the development of a second or third draft.  Once you have actually done some freewriting and have quite a bit of your thoughts already on the page, you may find that an outline helps you experiment with different ways to organize the materials.  When I was in college, I used to try two or occasionally even three different outlines of my materials for a paper--that is, I would try two or three different ways of organizing my materials in different orders and even, sometimes, slightly different arguments.  Even when I made only one outline, I found doing so very helpful if I wasn't sure how I wanted to put together my thoughts into a clear, concise pattern that would make sense to my teachers.

The outline example below is for a paper with three main topic sections: a pro, a con, and a compromise.  Both columns below are for exactly the same topics and subtopics; however, the one of the left uses only brief words or phrases while the column on the right is called a "sentence outline" because it uses complete sentences.  If you like outlining, you may use either form, below.  You also can start with a word/phrase outline and then develop it into a sentence outline.  The advantage of having a sentence outline is that you can use each sentence to begin a new major topic section, a subsection, or a paragraph.  The main topic sentences--for the three main topic sections--are colored green.

Traditional Outline Using Two Different Forms

Fast Foods, Healthy Foods, and a Compromise--Word/Phrase Outline

   I. Fast foods good
      A. Taste good
           1. salt
               a. regular salt
                    i. what research says
                   ii. when I use it
               b. MSG popular
                    i. how used
                   ii. when I use it

           2. sugar
               a. cane sugar
               b. other sugars    
           3. fat
               a. taste
               b. winter need
      B. Fill  you up
           1. satisfaction
           2. feeling of fullness
      C. Energy high
           1. Immediate energy
           2. Breaks low states

  II. Healthy foods good
      A. etc. 

III. Compromise
      A. etc.

 

                  

Fast Foods, Healthy Foods, and a Compromise--Topic-Sentence Outline

   I. Some people argue that fast foods are acceptable.
      A. First, fast foods are okay because they taste good.
           1. One reason is the salt they contain.
               a. One type of salt is table salt.
                    i. Research says it heightens taste.
                   ii. I experience a burst of flavor.
               b. MSG also is popular in restaurants.
                    i. Cooks only need a small amount.
                   ii. It makes Chinese food taste better to me.

           2. Another reason fast foods taste good is sugar.
               a. First is cane sugar.
               b. Other caloric sugars can be even stronger.    
           3. A third reason is the fat in fast foods.
               a. The fat contributes a pleasant taste.
               b. Our bodies seek it when winter comes.
      B. Second, fast foods are okay because they fill you.
           1. They are dense and heavy.
           2. This leaves you feeling satisfied emotionally.
      C. Third, they give you an energy high.
           1. They start by providing immediate energy.
           2. This energy can help you feel better quickly. 

  II. Others argue that we should only eat healthy foods. 
      A. etc. 

III. Still others argue that a compromise is possible.
      A. etc.

Notice that part of the outline is in blue.  That is because only the blue part of the example is completely extended like a normal outline.  Full outlining using all the outline numbering and lettering possible will result, by the time you are done, in quite a bit of detail--half or more of your paper may be finished.  Full outline numbering, for example, might look something like this for just "I. A.": 

   
   I. 
      A. 
           1. 
               a. 
                     i. 
                     ii. 
               b. 
                     i. 
                     ii. 
                     iii. 
                     iv. 
           2. 
               a. 
                     i. 
               b. 
                     i. 
                     ii.
                     iii. 
           3. 
               a. 
                     i. 
                     ii. 
               b. 
                     i. 
                     ii. 
                     iii. 
      B. etc....
   

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Visual Clusters (Visual Diagramming) & UNO

Note: To go directly to UNO (Universal Organizer), click here: UNO.

Visual clusters, clustering, or using a "tree" is a method that appeals to some people for getting their initial ideas and thoughts on paper.  It is a visually graphic version of outlining or listing.  One method of clustering can be developed from another form of brainstorming--listing (see above).  

A second method of clustering involves creating an ever-widening series of ideas from just one or a few that you write in the center of a page.  One excellent system for doing this is called "UNO" or "UNiversal Organizer" by Paul Borzo of Metropolitan State University.  You use it by starting in the center with a subject word or phrase, develop a few topic sentences in the circle around the center, and gradually develop more and more sub-topics and sub-sub-topics moving outward with each increasingly larger circle.  Click here to see a printable PDF file of  UNO.

Other people who like clustering prefer to use it throughout their brainstorming, from start to finish.  In this kind of clustering, there are no columns or circles.  Instead, you simply throw the ideas onto paper in any space you want, not worrying about their arrangement or, if you wish simply arranging them by feel.  All you need to do is allow a little bit (or a lot) of space between them so that later, you will be able to draw arrows connecting ideas.  (Some people also prefer to work with larger-than-normal sheets of paper, or a blackboard.)

For example, imagine you are assigned the topic of writing a paper proving Santa Claus exists.  Here are some ideas, jotted down at random, for such a paper: 

          
Many people
believe in Santa.                               

Spirits may                                      
really exist.

    We are all           When people believe, it
    Santa Claus.         makes something true in
                         a way.                    
                                                  
If everyone
                                                   imagines
     A real St. Nick                               something,
     once existed.            Life is empty        it is true
                              without heroes.      in a sense.

              
             
             

The next step is where this method, "clustering," gets it name: use arrows or coloring to arrange or classify your ideas into three or four groups or "clusters."  Marking the connections is similar to connecting the dots of a puzzle picture.  You may develop your clusters in any way you choose, as long as your method seems reasonably logical and makes your subject easier to explain or show to readers.  Here is, for example, one way of clustering the above ideas about Santa Claus being real: 

              
     
Many people
     believe in him.                        Spirits may
                   \                        really exist.
                    \                             /
     We are all      \When people believe, it    /
     Santa Claus.__   makes something true in__ /
                   \  a way.                   X   If everyone
                    \ ________________________/ \__imagines
     A real St. Nick_X                             something,
     once existed.    \___ Life is empty           it is true
                           without heroes.         in a sense.
           
             

At this point, you now have not only the assigned thesis--Santa Claus is real--but also three body sections for proving it.  In what order should you place them in your paper?  Again, the choice is yours.  Often there is a very logical way of doing so that appears fairly quickly.  However, it often happens that there is no particular logical order for organizing them.  In that case, you can simply adopt an old trick used by magazine and news writers: the inverted pyramid of journalism.  To use it, simply decide which idea is your most important or interesting and place it first, place the second most important or interesting second, etc.:

_________________________
\                       /
           \best supporting group/     Div. 1
\-------------------/
             \ 2nd best group  /       Div. 2
\---------------/
               \  3rd best   /         Div. 3
\-----------/
\         /
                   \
 (4th) /           (Div. 4)
\  
    /
\    /
\
  /
\
/
    

The reason for doing this is partly to encourage readers to continue reading, but also to make the strongest case possible for your argument.  Here is how you might number the order of the clusters from the above example:  

             
    
Many people
     believe in him.                               Spirits may
                   \                               really exist

                    \          #2                 /
     We are all      \When people believe, it    /
     Santa Claus.__   makes something true in__ /
                   \  a way.                   X   If everyone
                    \ _________#1_____________/ \__imagines
     A real St. Nick_X                             something,
     once existed.    \#3_ Life is empty           it is true
                           without heroes.         in a sense.

              

The next step is to summarize each of these clusters in one strong supporting sentence.  Here, as a result, is the thesis sentence and the summarizing supporting sentences of the example clusters:

"Santa Claus exists.  Here are three reasons why."

#1:  "First, the spirit of the original Santa Claus may exist."

#2:  "Second, the power of many people imagining Santa Claus may make him real."

#3:  "Last, we all can act like Santa Claus to make the world a better place."

As you can see, the three summarizing supporting sentences above are a little different from the original ideas from each sentence's cluster.  However, each supporting sentence is one way of summarizing the intent or idea behind each cluster.  Sometimes honing these ideas to just one main supporting sentence can be difficult.  Again, allow yourself to work on these more in the revising stage once you have written more about them and have a better understanding of what you are able to say.  

Another way to use clustering diagrams is UNO by Paul Borzo.  To see more about UNO and find printable pages for using UNO, go to UNO.

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   Audience & Style

Audience means your readers.  Style means the special way you form words, phrases, and sentences to reach your readers: for example, one style might be scientific, logical, objective, even coldly so; another style might be personal, friendly, warm, even emotional.  Some writers prefer to not worry about audience and style when writing a first draft.  However, other writers find that knowing the audience or the style at the beginning can help in writing a first draft.  These writers find that being aware of the audience or that starting with a specific style acts as a thinking tool to help them better explore their subject.  Which kind of first-draft writer are you?  

Audience

From the first day you started writing in school, you had an audience, even if you didn't think about "audience" consciously.  That audience usually was your teacher.  Sometimes it may have been your peers--other students--but even then, usually, you were writing a paper that was supposed to please your teacher, so your teacher was your primary audience.  However, in the future (or in the present if you already are in the work world), you will need to write for one--and often several--different kinds of audiences.  Some of your audiences will be differing people who are your professional peers and immediate supervisors, in groups and individually.  Other audiences may be higher-level supervisory personnel, and still others may be the clients your workplace serves.  How do you bridge the gap between having one audience--your teacher--in elementary and high school, and a series of differing professional audiences in your professional life?

College often is the place where you first are required to bridge this gap.  Partly this happens because you change teachers so often, and you gradually become aware (if you haven't already done so in high school) that each teacher may have slightly different expectations when it comes to writing papers.  You also begin to bridge this gap when instructors in specific disciplines--especially after your first year or two of courses--appear to expect types of writing (and the contents that go with the writing) that you do not fully understand.  It is important to remember that each discipline in college has different expectations in writing assignments.  You cannot learn, once and for all in first-year composition, how to write the "college paper."  First-year composition is not a waste: just the opposite, for it helps you learn the general patterns of college writing and thinking.  However, your growth as a writer continues as you learn how to write in different disciplines and professional fields.  And to do this, you need to develop methods for discovering your audience.  This means discovering your readers--their wants, needs, and expectations.  There are several ways to do this:

  1. Ask for samples.  Ask your instructor or supervisor to show you what he or she expects by showing you several sample papers.

  2. Ask for examples of content and structure.  Sample papers help; however, it also can be helpful to ask your instructor or supervisor for specific ideas about what subjects, topics, details, and overall organizational pattern he or she expects.

  3. Ask about your audience.  Ask your instructor or supervisor who he or she wants you to imagine as the readers of your paper.  Does he want you to pretend to (or really) write for your own peers, a committee, a professional group, a supervisor, a professional journal, a magazine, or for whom?

  4. Visualize your readers.  Make a mental or physical list of the typical characteristics of your readers.  Imagine one or two of your friends or fellow workers who fit these characteristics, and then pretend you are writing your first draft (or a later one) to them.  You also can picture writing your draft to your instructor or supervisor.  

  5. Consider your readers' thoughts.  What responses will your readers have to your ideas, step by step?  What questions, comments, problems, and solutions might they have for what you want to say?

Style

Like audience, style is something you have developed in school from the first day you started writing, again perhaps without being very aware of it.  The style that you developed in elementary and high school is what is known as "academic style," or, if you wish (because this kind of style varies slightly from country to country), "North American academic style."  Meanwhile, you also developed other styles.  Here are just some that you quite possibly knew by the time you entered college:

Different Styles of Writing

grocery store list
letter to friend
letter to relative
note to pass in school to friend
note to pass to boy/girlfriend
diary or journal entry
real and personal story
tall tale
humorous story joke
short joke
etc.

In each of these, style is not the type of writing, nor is it the way each is organized or patterned.  Rather, style is the way the ideas, thoughts, and details  are arranged into words, phrases, and sentences.  For example, what is "crackers in big box" on a grocery store list might be "We bought this big box of orange crackers--those salty ones--and dipped them in onion dip at the party" in a letter to a friend" or "Want to buy some crackers and dip after school?" in a note passed to a classmate.  The way you say it is the style you use in each situation.  As a result, you experiment with many styles: from highly logical to emotional, from very practical to very warm and friendly, from very detailed and newsy with lots of short words and sentences to very abstract and thoughtful with academic words and longer sentences.  These are differences of style.

As you grow into writing in different disciplines--and for different purposes--in college and, especially, when you start your professional career, you will continue to find both subtle and dramatic differences in style.  The best way to develop an awareness of them is to see samples of other papers in the same disciplines and professions, listen carefully to how professionals in those fields talk when they are speaking formally or semi-formally, and observe how textbooks and other documents in the fields express their contents.  Often, reading such materials aloud can help you get a feel for how it sounds--what tones it uses to cast its thoughts this way and that.  In good writing, the style demonstrates the content and helps establish it: this means that if you are using a tone of complete honesty, for example, your readers are more likely to assume you are being completely honest with them, and you, yourself--as you write your paper--are more likely to be completely honest.

How can you use style to start first drafts?  If you already have a good sense of the type of paper you are supposed to write--and the style of such papers--you can place yourself in a mind set, mood, or feeling that helps you write using the correct style.  It is quite common to do this: for example, if you have a big argument paper due in school and you have written argument papers before, you know--as you sit down to start--that you will need to eventually produce a style of academic logic and thoughtful development of ideas that is appropriate to an academic style.  If you find that you just cannot get started well by placing yourself in the proper frame of mind and mood for academic writing, then don't worry about style in your first draft.  Dispense with it.  Throw it out the window for now.  Start however you want, and worry about revising it to the proper style later.

However, if you are the kind of person--or you are in the kind of situation--where you are actually helped by placing your mind and mood into the proper style, then feel free to do it.  It may help you in your process of searching for what you think about the subject, what you have to say, and how you want to say it.  

Audience & Style in Conclusion

You might find that your interest in using audience and style for a first draft might differ according to what kind of paper you are writing.  If, for example, you are writing a type of paper, such as an academic report, that you know well, you might choose to consider your audience or style; however, if you are writing a paper you are not used to--for example, a creative dialogue debating a subject in your textbooks--you might find it more helpful to ignore audience and style until after your first draft is done.

Developing a sense of audience and style is something of an art form--a mix of intuition, experience, and skill--that you develop as you become more experienced in writing.  As with any of the other first-draft skills in this Web page (or, for that matter, in the entire Web textbook), some people work best with one method and some with another on this page.  The advantage that you have in starting to write is that there are so many reasonable and useful ways from which to choose.  However, unlike some of the other methods on this page, paying attention to audience and style is important at some stage, whether beginning or end.  If you don't start with it, then it is wise to end with it--in one of your final drafts--before turning in your papers.     

See also "Tone."

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   Imagination

Imagining implies two different activities: imaging and being creative.  Both methods are sometimes excellent at helping you get unstuck if you are having troubles developing a good idea or a way of developing it.  Here is a look at each one in turn.  

First is imaging.  This means visualizing.  You may think as much or more in visual images as you do in words.  Those who "think visually" often remember a telephone number by the way it looks (as opposed to saying it in their heads), remember faces better than names, and prefer visual entertainment (theater, movies, CDs, etc.) more than oral or audio ones (music, speeches, reading for pleasure--which is, for most people, an experience in inner talking to themselves--etc.).  Many people enjoy a mixture of both visual and oral thinking.  If you do enjoy visualizing, you can use it to start writing:

Visualizing Methods

  1. What is an image or picture of your subject?

  2. How do you picture the basic problem, tension, or need?

  3. What do you picture as a goal, resolution, or final ending for this problem?

  4. What steps do you picture that move your subject from the problem to the goal?

  5. Concentrate more deeply on one of the above pictures that is especially important.  Let it become fluid, full of movement.  What happens?  What does he, she, or it say or do?  

  6. Freeze this picture to examine it.  Let it become a symbol of starting point for related pictures.  What pictures seem to happen from--to spin off of--this frozen picture?

  7. Quickly write a few summarizing words or phrases about each picture.  Then go back to each one at a more leisurely pace and write more about it.

Second is being creative.  Like imaging, it is an excellent way to think outside of the box--to try something different--when you are stuck for good ideas.  There are many ways to be creative, as some of the methods in this chapter suggest.  However, being imaginative usually implies coming up with strange, unusual, or different ideas.  One of the more interesting ways to accomplish this is to lie--to brainstorm made-up ideas.

An Exercise in Lying

  1. Start by writing several lies about your subject, one sentence each.  Make a list of them.  Try both mild ones and outrageous ones--the more strange, silly, or ridiculous, the better.  (If you have trouble lying, tell yourself simply to make up several ideas.)

  2. Look at your list carefully and choose the lie that you find the most interesting, fun, or enjoyable at the moment.  Then write it again, under your other lies, and keep writing: tell the story of the lie.  You may make it as silly or serious, as logical or as impossible, as you wish.  Keep writing as much as you can as fast as you can for at least ten or fifteen minutes.  (Don't go any longer than this is the story of the lie begins to bore you; instead, switch to a different lie and write its story.)

  3. Finally, examine what you have written.  Often, when people are stuck for ideas, lying releases their brains to see the subject in a wider focus.  You may find, when you look at your lie, that you can change just a few words of this sentence or that so that it tells the truth but with a new and more interesting twist.

  4. Try this with a few sentences: rewrite them so they are truthful, but still about the same subject or a related one.  Then write about the subject from this new perspective or angle.  Does it provide you with a useful idea?

There are other ways to use imagination for starting first drafts, too.  One is to look in comics, TV programs, or other visual presentations for anything that reminds you of or represents your subject--or provides you with a subject you can use--and figure out why or how the images might work.  Another is to recall pleasurable images, or images of pleasurable events; or, conversely, sometimes recalling disagreeable events can help you develop an idea, especially as such events contain the kind of tension that might make your ideas more interesting to your readers.  Yet another imaginative method is to draw pictures of your subject and/or things related to it.  A fourth method is to talk with your friends about how you visualize your subject, or, perhaps, what your favorite visual images are.  Yet another is to diagram your subject visually, using pictures and lines between them, a table, or a cluster.

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   Emotion

The picture for this part--a person aiming an arrow at a target--may seem at first glance a bit strange for emotion, when a picture more like a flood or a rain would be more appropriate.  However, when you are writing, if you have a strong emotion that is guiding you or even, perhaps, overwhelming all other considerations, sometimes it may be best simply to aim directly at the emotion and write about it.  Some people say that writing about your emotional feelings about a subject may help you get the emotions out of the way so that you then can write more logically and reasonably.  This may be true.  However, an even more powerful effect of writing using emotion is that sometimes doing so can take you to the heart of how you perceive an issue much more quickly than trying to ignore the emotion and dance around the outskirts of it with logical statements.  Once you know what the heart of your subject is--or, at least, the heart of it with which you want to work--you can develop a logical, persuasive discussion aimed at better informing and convincing your audience of what you already feel.

Emotion can be a powerful block to saying what you want, but it also can be a powerful tool.  Often, once you have written to the heart of a subject that is highly emotional for you--and once you have set your writing aside for a day or two, to reexamine it with fresh eyes later--you may find that the statements, however initially negative or explosive--can be revised to make the same points in more logical, balanced language.  Such a paper often still has a very powerful tone to it.  If you can combine the powerful tone provided by your emotion with a clearly fair, logical treatment of the subject, you may find you have developed a paper that is riveting to read.

A dramatic way to start writing using emotion is to choose a moment when the emotion is full in you or to focus--to meditate--on the feeling of the emotion.  And then you should write.  Write only for yourself in this first draft.  Use the "Freewriting" methods described above: write freely and quickly, aiming to express the emotion on paper.  Do not worry about being logical or even fair, and do not worry about what kind of words you choose.  Let the emotion out on paper.  Once you are done writing and have later developed a second draft, you can throw away the first draft, especially if you do not want others to discover it.  

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   Talking, Voice, & Tone

Starting with talking, voice, or tone involves several interesting possibilities.  The first has to do with talking with others--or even to yourself.  Many people find that talking over their assignments and possible subjects for writing helps them get a stronger, better start for first drafts (and later drafts, too).  Some people join study groups, but others form their own unofficial study groups simply by getting together frequently and sharing their assignments and ideas, especially if they are in the same class.  This is a great reason, in fact, to approach others in your own class: suggest that you get together for coffee to talk about the writing assignment.  Take the time to tell your friends and family what you are doing and solicit their ideas.  Talking doesn't work for everyone, as some people prefer to develop their ideas in privacy.  However, for most people, talking at some point in their writing--whether beginning, middle, or end--can be moderately to extremely helpful.  Often doing so can significantly raise your grade.  

And what about talking to yourself?  Sometimes even this can help: when you merely think, you usually are not formulating your ideas quite so thoroughly, because your mind uses a form of shorthand that doesn't spell out each word and idea fully.  However, if you speak your idea aloud, even if you are only explaining it to yourself, you are more likely to understand the idea better and be able to write about it better, too.

Starting with voice is a different idea altogether.  This refers to the voice you will use in your essay.  This means, essentially, what role or part will you play?  Are you going to be the storyteller?  Will you, instead, be businesslike and efficient, animated and excited, confessional, or factual and descriptive?  One important voice to learn to avoid in academic and professional writing is the voice of someone who feels like an inferior--a student or assistant--talking up to a much more powerful and intelligent teacher or boss.  You may, indeed, feel this way, but you should learn to avoid writing that way.  Instead, your voice should be one of confidence and comfort, something like you are explaining something to a friend who is your equal but may not yet know the information you are giving him.  This is considered a norm and an expectation in almost all such writing in American colleges, universities, and business: you write to your audience as if they are your equals (even when they may not be).  Sometimes you may not be able to develop this voice until a later draft; if you can't do it in your first draft, it's okay--don't worry about it.  However, sometimes just knowing the voice you need helps people get started on their first drafts.

Tone is yet another matter.  Tone is the subtle, consistent sounds that let readers know how the writer feels.  For example, if you feel angry, sarcastic, sad, depressed, giddy, overexcited, etc. when you write, this may come through your writing to your readers.  They will consider this your tone of your writing, just as surely as if they heard you speaking.  Tone is the body language of writing.  By a host of certain little mannerisms in our writing, you convey your feelings to your readers.  For example, if you feel angry, you are more likely to use blunt, short words and sentences, harsh or purely logical words, and little compromise in your expression of your ideas.  At best, your writing probably will have a tone of coldness and, at worst, of the anger you were feeling when you wrote it.  The same is true of other feelings.

There is an appropriate tone that is expected in most academic and professional writing, and that is a feeling of intellectual and emotional balance: of fairness, logic, firmness of belief, and openness to new ideas.  Look for this tone in your textbooks or professional correspondence.  It is easiest to use this tone when you, yourself, feel it.  However, it is possible to adopt this tone when you start writing or revising, no matter what you may be feeling at the time.  In fact, adopting it as you write is one way to begin feeling it.  Again, as with voice, sometimes you should not bother with establishing a good tone in your first drafts: you may fix it in your later drafts.  However, sometimes you may find it easier to start if you know the proper tone to take in the first place. 

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   Time & Place

Where and when do you write?  Here is a list of possibilities to consider.  The point is that different people have differing abilities and needs for what makes the best place and time to write.  The most practical method is to experiment until you know what works best for you.  All of the methods below work for someone.  I, for example, prefer to write in coffeehouses where the right music is playing at the right level, I am warm (in sunlight in some seasons and beside a fireplace in others), and I can drink coffee and get an occasional chocolate chip cookie.  That, to me, is heaven (if I am enjoying what I'm writing).

Places and Times to Write

  1. In a coffeehouse, student union, or lounge with people around you but no one to talk to you

  2. In a library, especially if no one knows where to find you

  3. Alone in a room with no one around

  4. With a study partner who won't distract you

  5. With a study partner who helps you write

  6. Where there are loud sounds, quiet ones, or none

  7. Where there is exactly the right food and drink

  8. Early in the morning, before everyone is up

  9. After everyone has gone to work, and the house is empty

  10. Late at night, when everyone else is asleep.

  11. Before eating, when you're hungry

  12. After eating, when you have more energy

  13. Before you wear yourself out with work, family, children, etc.

  14. After a hard day's work, when your mind is free to think, make connections, and imagine

  15. In a park

  16. Feet up

  17. Feet down

  18. Good posture

  19. Bad posture

  20. Standing up, writing at a podium 

  21. Pacing the room while you read and take notes

  22. Lying on your bed (without falling asleep)

  23. Pacing, sitting, or lying while dictating into a tape recorder

  24. At a coffeehouse or lounge with a wireless connection

  25. On the bus or subway, in the car (when not driving), or while waiting for one

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   Food, Drink, & Sound

Three of the most common and yet underreported activities in people's writing are the use of food, drink, and sound.  Very few people--whether professional writers, people developing work-related writing, or first-year college students--write without the presence of at least one of these activities.  For example, as I write this paragraph right now on my laptop, I am on the outdoor veranda of a coffeehouse, under a table umbrella, with dappled sunlight falling on me.  I have a cup of decaf mocha beside me and, as I started writing an hour ago, I ate a huge chocolate-chunk cookie.  There are speakers playing music out here--the type and loudness of music is very important to me when I choose a coffeehouse where I will work.  Light, mellow, upbeat jazz is playing.  Later, the coffeehouse will play a tape of soulful pop rock, stuff I like or at least can tolerate.  This is how I like to write.  In mornings, when I do mostly email at home, I have silence, but I still have--at the least--my trusty cup of decaf mocha beside me, usually with some amaretto or peach flavoring.

What do you like to eat, drink, and or listen to when you write?  The question is important, not so much because you have to choose the perfect combination of these activities, but, more importantly, because you should be aware of them.  Their absence or, worse yet, their negative presence, can hurt your desire, will, and ability to write.  If you dislike writing, you might find, upon reflection, that you are trying to do it with little or nothing to eat or drink and in a total silence that doesn't help you to develop ideas. 

Or worse, you may be trying to do it after filling yourself with food that tires you, drink that is boring or numbing, and sounds in the background that bother you.  I have heard a sufficient number of stories from the college students (and even working adults) I have taught to know that some people actually try writing after eating a package of cookies and a few beers with lots of noisy dorm mates or younger family members shouting down the hall.  Many beginning college writers learn, instead, to monitor and more carefully control their food and drink and the kind of noise that is in the background.  

Some writers learn, for example, to head for a quiet library to get away from noise.  Others like the quiet background noise of a coffeehouse, student center, or cafe.  Still others learn what kind of music helps them and then play that, whether music with or without lyrics or headphones.  Some people find that eating or drinking the right amount of carbohydrates, sugar, pop, coffee, or other food and liquid makes a significant difference.  Many people also find that they become too tired or sleepy after having too much or too little food, or the wrong kind.

All three of these activities are important.  They help control our physical energy, mental focus, and emotional mood.  Their combination may vary, too, not only from day to day but also from first draft to final one.  The ideal combination at any given time is one that turns you into a thoughtful, committed writer who can best handle his or her writing strategies and content at that moment.  
                 

Conclusion

Remember that different methods of starting may be helpful to you at different times and with different writing tasks.  In addition, as you become better as writing a particular type of paper, the way you begin it may also change.  Above all, be flexible and thorough.  As you start your first draft, aim for what helps you do the best job possible.  

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A. START

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Chapters:

1. How I Learned

2. Focus

3. First Drafts

4. Self & Others

5. Modes

6. Thinking

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Additional:

Activities (Exercises)

8 Students' Writing Stories

UNO Universal Organizer

                    

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 Related Links in
OnlineGrammar.org:

  2. Process & Focus 

  3. Thinking & Reading

13. ESL/NNS/TESOL

14. Free Readings

 

                

 

Updated 1 Aug. 2013

  

   

 

WritingforCollege.org also is at CollegeWriting.info and WforC.org

Natural URL: www.tc.umn.edu/~jewel001/CollegeWriting/home.htm
1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998; CollegeWriting.info, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
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Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.