Putting Pen to Paper: How to Write a Rough Draft

A hand holding a lightbulb next to crumpled paper.

You have done the research and written the outline of your paper. You are ahead of the deadline, and you want to stay that way. You turn on your computer, poise your fingers over the keyboard, and begin your rough draft. But what exactly is a rough draft? And just why do you need to write one in the first place?

Have you ever assembled a puzzle? Most of us begin by dumping all the puzzle pieces out of the box and then grouping the pieces by color and shape. It is likely that the jumble of puzzle pieces in no way resembles the picture on the puzzle box. But looking at the pieces, you can get an idea of how they will all fit together.

A PuzzleWriting a rough draft is similar to building a puzzle. Your outline and your research are a collection of ideas similar to that jumble of puzzle pieces. When you write your rough draft, you begin organizing how these ideas go together. Just as grouping similar puzzle pieces can give you an idea of what the final puzzle will look like, grouping your ideas in a rough draft gives you an idea of what your final draft will look like.

Getting a Rough Idea

You may think that rough drafts are not important. You have done the research, and you know what you want to say, so what is wrong with just writing? Nothing! In fact, that’s exactly how to write a rough draft. A rough draft is a means of getting started on your essay. When you start a rough draft, you are no longer just thinking about writing or planning on writing—you are doing it! Writing your rough draft helps you get your information and thoughts on paper. Once you have your rough draft, you can edit and polish ad nauseum until you have your wonderful final draft. But before that, you need to start somewhere.

Writing a rough draft also helps build discipline. While you may have managed to write an essay off the cuff in the past, it was bound to be a stressful experience. Who would want to do that again? Writing a rough draft helps you get your ideas on paper. You can always fix the spelling and grammar, refine your word choices, and add your own style and panache later. For now, sitting down and writing helps discipline your mind.

How to Write a Rough Draft

  1. The first step in writing a rough draft is just to get started. Collect your research notes and your outline (you did do the research and prepare the outline, didn’t you?).
  2. Follow your outline to help you prepare your introductory paragraph. This is where you should catch your reader’s attention with an interesting first sentence, but don’t worry if you can’t think of one yet. Inspiration may hit you at a later stage—that’s the wonder of writing a rough draft! Make sure that you introduce your topic and write your thesis statement. This will help you with the structure of your paper.
  3. Write the body of your essay. Remember that you will need, at very least, three paragraphs containing evidence that supports your thesis statement. At this point, don’t worry too much about making sure you have transitions between the paragraphs. Improving flow is something you can do in a later draft.
  4. Write your conclusion. This paragraph provides you with the opportunity to summarize your research and show how it supports your thesis statement. You should also restate your thesis statement.

Surviving the Rough Times

There are some things you can do to make sure that you don’t have a rough time writing your rough draft. These tips will help make the writing process a bit easier:

  • Write in the active voice.
  • Don’t stress out over every word. Just let your ideas spill onto the paper. If you can’t think of an appropriate word, just type the first word that pops into your head, and return to it later.
  • Make sure your introduction not only introduces your topic but also provides some background information on the topic.
  • Write a topic sentence for each of your body paragraphs. This sentence indicates the direction for each paragraph and will help you remain on subject.
  • If you can, write some transition ideas in each of your body paragraphs so that they link together, but don’t agonize over them. It’s okay if you can’t think of these transitions at this stage.
  • Look for any paragraphs where you feel that your proof is weak or you need more information to bolster your argument. You may need to go back and do more research to fill in any holes.
  • Once you have completed your rough draft, take a break. You deserve it!

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