Writing Process: Writing to Speak


Section Information

  • Develop a writing project through multiple drafts.
  • Compose texts that use rhetorical concepts appropriately in a speech.
  • Apply effective shifts in voice, diction, tone, formality, design, medium, and structure.
  • Demonstrate orality as an aspect of culture.
  • Provide and act on productive feedback to works in progress through the collaborative and social aspects of the writing process.
  • Adapt composing processes for a variety of technologies and modalities.


Now it’s time to try your hand at writing a script or speaking outline for a public audience. Decide on a topic, and take that topic through the planning, drafting, and revision processes. Remember that even the informal writing you do when planning a script or speaking outline is recursive, meaning it is not linear. You will probably go back and forth between sections and processes.

You may question the wisdom of preparation before speaking to the public. After all, you may post regularly to social media, for example, without following the processes of drafting and revising. However, “winging it” when it comes to speech is not a wise strategy. As a genre, social media, in particular, lends itself to short and simple messaging. Viewers allow producers very little time and attention before clicking to view the next item. Some sources say that you have 10 seconds to get the attention of a viewer; by the one-minute mark, you may have lost up to 45 percent of your viewers. Live adult audiences will pay attention for about 20-minute increments before their minds begin to wander; for young audiences, the time is even less. Given that knowledge, you must craft your message accordingly.

Summary of Assignment: Writing to Speak, Speaking to Act

You may have heard that merely believing in a cause is not enough; you must take action to create change. As you keep the idea of social, political, or economic change in mind, your task is to develop an outline as the basis for a speech to a live audience or on a social media platform of your choice. The topic is an issue you care about. Speaking from an outline rather than from a written script helps ensure that your speech is natural and smooth. Your audience should not feel as though you are reading aloud to them. If you are free to choose your own topic, consider a cause meaningful to you, or consider using one of the following suggestions as your topic or as inspiration for it:

  • Police and mental health services reform
  • Standards-based reform in education
  • Global human rights
  • Liberty and justice for all
  • Reduction of carbon emissions

Your speech may incorporate multimedia components as you see fit. You’ll also need to plan how to access the audience or platform you have in mind.

As you craft your outline, consider your audience, your purpose for addressing them, and your support for that purpose by using key ideas, reasons, and evidence. When planning your script, use an organizer to collect information so that you can support your ideas credibly with a well-developed argument.

Using Your Authentic Voice

Unlike most formal academic papers, oral presentations give you an opportunity to consider how you might challenge formal writing conventions by delivering your script in your authentic voice. Oral compositions offer an opportunity to bring through conventions of your own culture, perhaps including discursive patterns of language and grammar and challenges to standard language ideologies. As always, keep your audience and purpose in mind as you make choices about your use of language.

Researching and Narrowing the Topic

After choosing the overall subject of your script, research the general topic to learn about context, background information, and related issues. Then narrow the topic and focus your research, as guided by your working thesis and purpose. 

After choosing a topic, you will probably need to narrow it further. One way to achieve this task is by brainstorming, which involves generating possible ideas and thoughts quickly and informally. A basic, fast-paced brainstorming technique is simply to list all your possible ideas on paper and combine those that are related. Then you can eliminate some ideas to narrow the range. For example, for this assignment, you might list all of the causes toward which you feel sympathetic. Beginning with an idea that already interests you will help you remain enthusiastic about the idea and generate a positive tone that will come across to the audience and maximize the effectiveness of the presentation.

For example, if you’re interested in the environment, your brainstorm might include the following:

  • Animal endangerment
    • Deforestation
  • Ocean pollution
    • Plastic waste
  • Rising carbon levels
  • Global warming

If you think you still need new ideas at this point, spend some time researching advocacy organizations. Next, expand each idea by creating subtopics. This activity will help you eliminate topics that are difficult to elaborate on—or at least you will know that you need to conduct more research. In summary, follow this process as you choose and narrow your topic:

  1. Brainstorm ideas that already interest you or with which you have experience.
  2. Circle topics appropriate for the assignment.
  3. Cross out topics that you think you cannot make relevant to the audience. Remember, you are developing a presentation for a public forum.
  4. For remaining topics, flesh out subtopics with ideas you might cover in your script. You should have between two and five key ideas; three is fairly typical.
  5. Eliminate topics for which you lack sufficient material, or do the necessary research to obtain more.
  6. Finally, decide on a topic that you have the resources to research.

Another Lens. Because this chapter focuses on activism and you have read the Trailblazer feature about Alice Wong’s work in the disability activism space, think about content consumers (readers, listeners) who experience the world through the lens of disability. Challenge yourself to create content that meets the needs of diverse consumers. Because the assignment is an activist script outline for a presentation, it naturally lends itself to those who are abled in the areas of sight and hearing. Consider people who are visually impaired or hard of hearing. How might you adapt your script and its delivery to make it accessible to all?

One option to consider is visual representation of your presentation through an infographic that depicts the thesis, main reasoning, and evidence to reach those who cannot hear a speech. Or consider how you might adapt the delivery of a script to reach those who experience visual limitations. By making considerations for accessibility, you will strengthen your message for all who interact with it.

Quick Launch: Outlining

Before your presentation, create an outline of the main ideas you plan to discuss. An outline is a framework that helps you organize your major claims, reasoning, supporting details, and evidence. Creating an outline is also a way to create a natural flow for your ideas and provide a foundation for engaging your audience. Doing this basic organizational work at the beginning will help you present your ideas so that they will have the greatest impact on your audience.

The first step in creating your outline is to develop a purpose statement. This one-sentence statement reveals what you hope to accomplish in the presentation—that is, your objective. The purpose statement isn’t something that you will include in your actual presentation; the purpose statement is for you. It will help you keep your audience at the center of your script, create a central idea, and, most of all, give you a realistic goal. One example of a purpose statement for an informational speech might read, “By the end of this presentation, my audience will better understand the impact of plastic waste on the ocean and the world.” Or, for a persuasive speech, a purpose statement on a similar topic might read, “By the end of this presentation, my audience will feel compelled to reduce their use of disposable plastic.”

Although a speaking outline resembles an outline for an academic paper, with special considerations for the genre, it does not need to be as detailed as an outline for a research paper. Rather, a speaking outline will form the framework for speech. Feel free to write your outline as complete thoughts, sentence fragments, or even bullet points.

A presentation’s basic format is relatively similar to most other writing: an introduction, three to five major supporting points, and a conclusion. The major differences will be the genre-specific choices you make about presenting this information.


Like most persuasive writing, your presentation needs an introduction that establishes its purpose. The introduction should engage the audience, present the topic and main ideas, and validate the speaker’s credibility. Engaging your audience is important. You can capture an audience’s attention by relating an anecdote or a quotation, posing a question, using humor, relating surprising facts or statistics, or any other method you think will do the job.

The introduction will usually lead seamlessly into a definitive statement of the main theme or claim. As you would include a thesis in the introduction of a piece of persuasive writing, your introduction here also should include a statement that previews the main idea and briefly touches on key points. Though you are outlining your presentation rather than writing a full script, it is a good idea to write your thesis so that you clearly identify your aim. When presenting, you won’t have to read your script word for word, but recording the thesis clearly will enable you to summarize the central idea of your presentation easily.

Finally, the introduction is your opportunity to establish credibility with your audience and to tell them why they should listen to what you have to say. Include a brief statement of your credentials, experience, and knowledge that demonstrates your credibility or authority on the topic.


The main section of the outline, the body is the longest part of the script and the one in which you present key points to support the main idea. Each key point should stem organically from the script’s goal and your thesis. Although standard practice is to present three key ideas, you may choose to have between two and five. Any fewer, and you won’t support your thesis sufficiently; any more, and your audience will lose track of them. Back each key idea with several points, including reasoning, evidence, and audiovisual support.

You can organize your key ideas in several ways. Determining an organizational pattern helps you narrow the central ideas generated from research and allows you to plan material for your script. Topical patterns break main ideas into smaller ideas or subcategories. After dividing the topics into subtopics, consider the most logical order of points. There is often no right answer to this order, so feel free to move your ideas around to create the greatest impact. For example, a topic discussing World War II battles might best be presented in chronological order (listed or arranged according to time sequence), but a topic broken down to address the causes of World War II (diplomatic factors, nationalism, World War I peace treaty) may not fit into an obvious pattern. In a persuasive script, problem-and-solution or cause-and-effect patterns of reasoning may be the best way to organize ideas.


This portion of the script provides a summary and is your final opportunity to make an impression on your audience. Typically, in this section, you restate the thesis convincingly and, if applicable in a persuasive script, tell your audience what you believe they should do. Also, you briefly revisit each key idea in the context of how it supports your thesis. Strong conclusions are especially important in scripts.

One strategy for writing conclusions is the “mirrored” conclusion that ties back to the introduction. For example, if you use a statistic to engage your audience’s attention, you return to that statistic in the conclusion. Consider the following example.

Introduction: It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill. Now consider the fact that, according to the U.S. government, at least 50 million plastic bottles are thrown away each day in the United States.

Mirrored Conclusion: Each time you’re tempted to reach for a plastic bottle, contemplate the 50 million that end up in landfills each year. Consider other options that spare our environment from the centuries of decomposition that each one contributes to.

For writers who have difficulty beginning, one idea is to reverse-engineer the structure of the script. Beginning with the conclusion will help you know where you need to end up, thus making it easier to create a roadmap for getting there. This strategy can provide consistency and add emphasis to the key ideas in the script.


Keeping in mind the basic parts of a script outline, you can now begin crafting a skeletal version of your own. Use a graphic organizer like Table 6.3 to gather and organize your initial thoughts.

Table 6.3 Presentation outline


General Purpose:

Purpose Statement:





Key Idea 1:

  • Reason(s):
  • Evidence:

Key Idea 2:

  • Reason(s):
  • Evidence:

Key Idea 3:

  • Reason(s):
  • Evidence:

Restatement of Thesis:

Closing Statement:

A sample skeletal outline might include the following information.

Table 6.4 Sample outline


Plastic waste

General Purpose:

To convince people not to use plastic water bottles.

Purpose Statement:

By the end of this speech, my audience will feel compelled to reduce their use of disposable plastic.



It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill. Now consider the fact that, according to the U.S. government, at least 50 million plastic bottles are thrown away each day in the United States.


We should reduce our use of disposable plastic.


Key Idea 1: Plastic production increases carbon emissions and contributes to global warming.

  • Reason(s): Plastic production requires a lot of energy and resources.
  • Evidence: 1.5 million barrels of oil are used each year to make plastic bottles.

Key Idea 2: Most plastic is never recycled.

  • Reason(s): Recycling plastic is not efficient.
  • Evidence: Only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled.

Key Idea 3: Plastic waste is filling our landfills.

  • Reason(s): Plastic manufacturing is increasing, and there is nowhere to put all the used plastic.
  • Evidence: 40% of plastic is single-use then thrown away.

Restatement of Thesis:

All people should reduce their use of disposable plastic.

Closing Statement:

Each time you’re tempted to reach for a plastic bottle, contemplate the 50 million that end up in landfills each year. Consider other options that spare our environment from the centuries of decomposition that each one contributes to.

Drafting: Signpost Language; Tone, Repetition and Parallelism; Media and Other Visuals; and Cultural Cues

After you have analyzed your audience, selected and narrowed the topic, researched supporting ideas, and created a skeletal outline, you can begin adding flesh to the outline. Gather all supporting material for your topic, and consider the various ways to include notes about effective language and delivery.

Signpost Language

The function of signs is to direct people to the places they are going. Think of a road sign that points to an exit off the highway. Signs also can warn people of places they should not go. Similarly, in presentations, signposts are statements that help the audience know where your presentation is going. These may include

  • preview statement that offers an overview of the path and topics your script will take on;
  • transition statements between the introduction and body, between key points and ideas, and between the body and the conclusion; and
  • conclusion statement that ends the script.

Table 6.5 shows examples of signpost language. Notice the boldfaced words, called transitions, which help readers and listeners navigate between ideas and concepts. Signposts should clearly connect ideas, are often parallel (repeated words or grammatical forms), and mark the most important parts of an argument or explanation.

Table 6.5 Signpost language
Signpost Example
Preview Today, I’d like to introduce you to ReStart, a community outreach organization that makes a difference for those experiencing homelessness in our community.”
Transition (introduction to body) First, let’s look at how ReStart was formed.”
Transition (key idea to key idea) Let’s begin by examining the reasons some people experience homelessness, which can help you understand the need for an organization like ReStart.”
Transition (key idea to key idea) Now that you understand something about homelessness let’s look at how ReStart addresses the problem.”
Transition (key idea to key idea) It’s not just the staff at ReStart who can help. You can also play a role in helping those experiencing homelessness.”
Conclusion (restatement of thesis) Thus, as you can see, ReStart is an organization with a long history in the Kansas City area, one that not only provides services to those experiencing homelessness but also offers an opportunity for volunteers to play a role.”


Tone is a writer or speaker’s attitude as it is conveyed in a composition or script. A writer’s or speaker’s language choices, as well as other elements specific to speech, such as gestures and body language, help create tone. The tone of a presentation depends largely on its purpose, audience, and message.

Consider this text from Annotated Student Sample.

Without warning, the smaller dog launched itself from its owner’s lap, snarling and snapping at the guide dog. The owner of the small dog jumped up and retrieved her animal from the Labrador’s vest and stomped back to her seat. That neither she nor the still-yapping dog had an obvious panic attack amazed me, as I questioned, to myself of course, what possible service was being provided—other than a moment of exercise.

The author’s tone of disapproval is evident when they relate the actions of the untrained, unrestrained dog causing trouble for others. The attitude is emphasized by words with negative connotations, such as snarling and stomped.

The tone you choose for your script will help you relate to your audience. It can help your audience feel connected to you and promote your credibility as well as that of the message you wish to impart.

Notice, too, the use of the first person in scriptwriting. While you may have been taught not to use first-person pronouns in most formal or academic writing, speech is completely different. Even in formal scripts, the use of I helps connect listeners to the speaker. In general, effective speakers also use simple, declarative statements in the active voice (subject + verb + object) to emphasize their key ideas and to keep audiences focused on them. Longer, complex sentences may cause audience members to lose focus. Thoughts and sentences should flow conversationally.

Repetition and Parallelism

Repetition and parallelism are literary devices that authors and speakers use for emphasis, persuasion, contrast, and rhythm. In repetition, a word, phrase, or sound is repeated for effect. Repetition is also employed in a variety of figurative language. The following example is an excerpt from the surrender speech of Chief Joseph (1840–1904), the Nez Percé leader who surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1877 after the U.S. government had appropriated Nez Percé land. Rather than be forced to live on reservations, Chief Joseph and his followers unsuccessfully attempted to flee to Canada, a journey of about 1,500 miles, during which they were pursued and vastly outnumbered by the U.S. Army. Notice the use of repetition to emphasize the cold and the death toll.

I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. . . . He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children. . . . Maybe I shall find them among the dead.

Parallelism is the use of similar or equivalent constructions of phrases or clauses to emphasize an idea. Parallelism is especially helpful for organizational and structural concerns in a script or composition. Consider this excerpt from President John F. Kennedy’s (1917–1963) inaugural address:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Kennedy uses parallelism for impact as well as to organize his support for the idea that the United States works collaboratively for “the success of liberty.” Parallelism and repetition can work hand in hand as organizational strategies and to emphasize ideas in your script.

Anaphora and epistrophe are two related forms of parallelism.

Table 6.6
Anaphora: repetition of the first word or phrase across phrases or sentences

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.”

—Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”

Epistrophe: repetition of the last word or phrase across phrases or sentences

“And that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

—Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

“For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.”

—John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address

You can hear examples of parallelism and repetition in audio excerpts on the website American Rhetoric.

Media and Other Visuals

Revising: Interpreting and Responding to Symbols and Context Cues

After a peer has reviewed and provided feedback on your first draft, you will begin the revision process. Remember that writing is recursive, meaning it is not linear. Although revision won’t go on forever, it’s important to revise your work at each point in the writing process. In fact, even though you are officially working with the first draft, it is likely your writing has already undergone some process of revision. You will want to continue this process to strengthen your writing, respond to peer review, and ensure that your script fulfills your intent. Consider the items in the following checklist.

Checklist for Revision

  • □ Read the draft aloud.
    • Is it organized logically?
    • Is the topic immediately clear?
  • □ Ensure that the script has a clear purpose.
  • □ Think about your audience.
    • Does the script respond to what the audience already knows about the subject?
    • Does it support new knowledge?
    • Have you taken culture into consideration?
  • □ Review the introduction to determine whether it hooks the audience and establishes a thesis.
  • □ Review the sentences in each paragraph and the order of the paragraphs to ensure that the organization supports the thesis.
  • □ Review the conclusion to ensure that it supports the thesis and provides a strong ending.
  • □ Read the script again after making revisions to find ways to improve transitions and connections. Consider tone, signpost language, parallelism, and repetition.
  • □ Review the draft for conventions, including grammar, spelling, and punctuation.


Adapted from “19.5Writing Process: Writing to Speak” of  Writing Guide with Handbook, 2023, used according to CC BY 4.0.


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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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