Strategies for Writing


Many inexperienced writers imagine that “good” writers compose their texts all at once, from beginning to end, and need only a small amount of attention to polish the grammar and punctuation before arriving at a final draft. In reality, however, the writing process (steps for creating a finished composition) is typically recursive. That is, it repeats steps multiple times, not necessarily in the same order, and the process is more messy than linear or systematic. You can think of the writing process in terms of these broad categories:

  • Prewriting. You will end up with a stronger composition if you do some work before you begin writing. Before putting complete sentences on a page, take some time to think about the rhetorical situation for your writing, gather your thoughts, and consider how you might arrange your ideas. Use your brainstorming skills learned from the previous section in this book. Try some freewriting and then develop an outline once you have a good idea of what you want to do.
  • Drafting. In the past, you may have dedicated most of your writing time to drafting or putting words into a document. When you have strong prewriting and revision habits, however, drafting is often a smaller portion of the writing process. Much of the work for writing is done in the prewriting and revision stages. That means you don’t have to censor or limit yourself while drafting. In fact, it’s better to overwrite while drafting than not include enough information.
  • Revision. After you have a draft, carefully consider how to make it more effective in reaching the audience and fulfilling its purpose. You can make changes that affect the piece as a whole, such as cutting out paragraphs for a stronger organization or even adding content. Such changes are often called global revisions. The revision stage is what makes overwriting more of a positive than not. When you have material to work from during this stage, it’s easier to shape how you want to communicate your thoughts. Not to worry if you wrote a bit short during the drafting stage. Part of the revision is finding out what may be needed. If you find holes in your communication, go back to the drafting stage to try to fill them.
  • Editing. After making global changes to your piece, you must also make changes that affect the meaning of a sentence or a word; these changes can be called local revisions. In this stage, the focus is on strengthening grammar and mechanics and improving style and design. As you work through the editing stage, it’s more efficient and effective to look for one or two issues at a time instead of trying to fix every little punctuation mark or grammatical mistake.

For many, the editing stage is the most comfortable, but this really isn’t the most important part of putting together your project. While poor grammar and misplaced punctuation can be irritating, they don’t typically detract from the message. Don’t skip this step, but don’t confuse it with revision.

  • Proof Reading. You definitely want to proofread your draft before submitting it for peer review or to your instructor for grading. While deadlines don’t always allow for this, if possible, you should wait at least 24 hours before proofreading what you’ve created. By doing this, you’ve given your eyes and brain a rest so you won’t be as cued in on issues you were having during writing. Even better, wait a day and then have someone else read it to you. As the author, reading your own work may not be as helpful as having someone else read it to you. This is because, as the author, we tend to skim over issues or fill in holes we really missed. If no one is available, the next best thing is to read it out loud yourself. This helps some of the skimming, hole-filling, and avoiding we do when we read our work silently.
  • Peer Review. While not part of the writing process, peer review is one of the most valuable resources you can have to help your work. Almost all strong writers rely on feedback from others, whether peers, instructors, or editors. Your instructor may guide you in some peer review exercises to complete with your classmates, or you might choose to consult with your university’s writing center. When others give you clear, honest feedback on your draft, you can use that information to strengthen your piece.

    Defining Your Rhetorical Situation, Generating Ideas, and Organizing

    The Rhetorical Situation

    rhetorical situation occurs every time anyone communicates with anyone else. When writing, it’s important to know and understand the rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, context). To prepare to write, the graphic organizer, like in the table below, may be helpful for outlining the rhetorical situation. The following table is modeled after a literacy narrative assignment but can be adapted for other works, too. Be sure to address the following aspects:

    Table 3.1 Graphic Organizer

    Rhetorical Situation Element

    Brainstorming Questions


    Your Notes

    Author (who)

    Which of your identities will you inhabit as you write this assignment?

    Student in this class?

    Member of a specific family?

    Part of a particular cultural group?

    Person who loves a certain literacy?

    Message (what)

    What do you want to communicate?

    Significance of a particular literacy?

    Meaning of a given literacy in my life?

    Audience (to whom)

    Who is your primary audience? How will you shape your writing to best connect with this audience? Do you need to consider any secondary audiences?

    My class community?

    My instructor?

    Will I want to share this narrative with others outside of class? If so, with whom?

    How will I shape my language to communicate with these audiences?

    Purpose (why)

    Earning a grade is a valid purpose, but what other reasons do you have for writing this piece?

    Informing readers about a specific literacy or about my community partner?

    Persuading readers to see a literacy or my community partner differently?

    Entertaining readers?

    Reflecting on a deeper meaning of a literacy or literacy experience?

    Means (how)

    Your instructor will provide the means for this assignment: write a text that conforms to the assignment’s expectations and submit it in the manner the instructor expects.

    Genre: literacy narrative

    May I include visual elements, and do I want to do so?

    Should my drafts and final submission be printed or submitted electronically?

    What program should I use to create the document (Microsoft Word, for example)?

    How and when will I submit drafts in progress and the final draft?

    Context (when/where)

    How will the time period or location change the way you develop your piece?

    What is happening right now in my city, county, state, area, nation, or the world that relates to this narrative?

    Have any new literacies appeared recently that relate to my narrative?

    Does anything about my college or university connect with this piece of writing?

    Culture (community)

    What social, cultural, or environmental assumptions do you, your subject, or your audience have?

    How will I negotiate between my identity and communication style and the expectations of others?

    Generating Ideas

    In addition to these notes, write down a few ideas related to your assignment or piece. Asking discovery and exploratory questions in this stage is helpful for invention and for generating new content and ideas. Feel free to use bullet points or incomplete sentences.

    The following examples are based on a literacy narrative assignment:

    • What instructors, formal or informal, helped or hindered me in learning literacies?
    • Which of my literacies feel(s) most comfortable?
    • Which literacy experiences have transformed me?
    • Do I use specialized language to signal my identity as part of a community or cultural group?
    • After looking back over my notes, what is the most compelling story about a literacy or literacy experience that I can share, and what is the significance of that story?


    In one last step before beginning to draft your assignment, think visually about how you will put the pieces together.

    Some examples following the literacy narrative assignment example include:

    • Where will you begin and end your literacy narrative, and what is your story arc? Will you jump right into some richly described action, or will you set the scene for the reader by describing an important story locale first?
    • What tension will the story resolve?
    • What specific sensory details, dialogue, and action will you include?
    • What vignettes, or small scenes, will you include, and in what order should the audience encounter them?
    • Some of your paragraphs will “show” scenes to your readers, and some of your paragraphs will “tell” your readers explanatory information. After you decide what elements to show to your readers through vivid descriptions and what elements you will inform your readers about, decide how to order those elements within your draft.
    • Review the specific writing prompt given in the assignment summary and make any additional notes needed to respond to that material. Use visual organizers, such as those presented in Figures 3.1 through Figure 3.4, to develop the plan for your draft.
    A narrative arc shows a triangular shape with a horizontal line at the base of each side. It begins with exposition followed by rising action, a climax, falling action, and a resolution.
    Figure 3.6 Plot diagram
    Graphic organizer used to draw story images in four left-side boxes and then fill in accompanying dialogue and description in eight right-side boxes, two per drawing.
    Figure 3.7 Storyboard
    Color-coded web diagram for character development and ideas. A circle labeled Character is in the center. Radiating circles are labeled Words, Description, Actions, and Thoughts and Feelings.
    Figure 3.8 Web Diagram
    A horizontal flow chart with seven multi-colored rectangles and one triangle connected by arrows, proceeding from Exposition (characters and setting); Event 1. Rising Action; Event 2. Characters, Action, and Dialogue; Event 3. Repeat Event 2 ; Event 4. Repeat Event 2; Tension/Triangle (conflict); Conflict Resolution (falling action); and Theme (lesson or message).
    Figure 3.9 Graphic Sequence Chart
    Use the graphic organizer structure above that best helps you establish the arc for your assignment, including the following elements:
    • Beginning. Set the scene by providing information, background, and situation.
    • Rising Action. In each successive section, whether it is a paragraph or more, add quotes and other details to make your writing vivid and engaging for readers so that they will want to continue reading. Be sure that the writing is clear and makes sense for the audience.
    • Climax. At this point, show what finally happened to clinch the experience. What happened at this “climactic” moment?
    • Falling Action. This is the part where the tension is released, and you have achieved—or not—what you set out to do. This section may be quite short, as it may simply describe a new feeling or reaction. It leads directly to the next section, which may be more reflective.
    • Resolution. This is a reflective portion. What do you want to leave the readers with? What have you learned?

    Drafting: Writing from Personal Experience and Observation

    Now that you have planned out your assignment, you are ready to begin drafting. If you have been thoughtful in preparing to write, drafting usually proceeds quickly and smoothly. Use your notes to guide you in composing the first draft. As you write, create a rich picture for your reader by using concrete, sensory details and specific rather than general nouns, as shown in the table below. Be sure to use sensory language when it is appropriate, such as in narratives and memoirs, but remember to be more direct in genres that call for conciseness, such as reports and proposals.

    Table 3.2 
    Person Place Thing Idea
    General girl park game competition
    Less Specific schoolmate bench chess tournament
    More Specific Sasha gaming area board semifinal match
    Sensory tall, dark-haired Sasha quiet, tree-shaded gaming area glossy black and white board popcorn-scented semifinal match

    Peer Review: Giving Specific Praise and Constructive Feedback

    Although the writing process does not always occur in a prescribed sequence (you can move among steps of the process in a variety of ways), participating in peer review is an added bonus to the writing process. Having the response and feedback of an outside reader can help you shape your writing into work that makes you proud. A peer review occurs when someone at your level (a peer) offers an evaluation of your writing. Instructors aid in this process by giving you and your peers judgment criteria and guidelines to follow, and the feedback of the reader should help you revise your writing before your instructor evaluates it and offers a grade.

    When given the opportunity to engage in a peer review activity, use the following steps to provide your peers with effective, evidence-based feedback for their writing.

    • Review all the criteria and guidelines for the assignment.
    • Read the writing all the way through carefully before offering any feedback.
    • Read the peer review exercise, tool, or instrument provided by the instructor.
    • Apply and complete the peer review exercise while rereading the work.
    • Provide feedback to your peer. Your comments should focus on these questions:
      • In what ways are the narrative’s organization and coherence logical and clear so that you can follow events?
      • What, if anything, do you not understand or need further explanation about?
      • What do you want to know more about?
    • Remember to be honest but kind. Use descriptive language (describing your experience of a written piece) rather than prescriptive language (telling a peer what they should or need to do with their own writing). This is their work, and they put effort into it, so being tactful is the best practice.
    • State strengths as well as suggestions for areas that could use improvement in your opinion as a reader.

    Following these steps will give your reading the necessary context and situate your feedback within the assignment’s criteria and guidelines. This process will be critical to your peer’s revision process. In addition, reading and evaluating another’s work and using the criteria and guidelines for that assignment will strengthen your writing skills and help you when you revise your own work.

    Before you can engage in a successful peer review exercise, you must develop a first draft and carefully read it to determine whether you need to make any of these changes.

    • Do you need to insert material, delete tangents, or rearrange some sections on a global or structural level? Make the changes necessary to strengthen the coherence of your draft as a whole.
    • On a local or surface level, check for grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors.

    After you have done a thorough check of your own work, you are ready to share your rough draft with a peer review partner or group. Depending on the guidance of your instructor, you may use a peer review activity such as the one provided below to evaluate the assignment and provide feedback to your partner or group members. The following activity is based on the literacy narrative example used throughout this section.

    Guided Peer Review Activity

    Table 3.3 Guided Peer Review Activity
    Essay Criteria Evidence Suggestion for Revision
    The narrative engages the identity of the writer.

    List evidence of the writer’s identity in the narrative:

    The writer could strengthen the ways in which identity is represented in the narrative by making the following changes:

    The narrative is written from a particular viewpoint or perspective.

    List evidence that indicates the viewpoint or perspective of the narrative:

    The writer could develop a (stronger) viewpoint or perspective in the narrative by making the following changes:

    The narrative has moments that are centered on either a past or present literacy experience.

    Provide evidence from the narrative of past or present literacy experience(s):

    The narrative could be better developed if the following literacy experience(s) were included or expanded:

    The narrative has a literacy experience that is the focus of the writing. Identify the literacy experience that is the focus of the narrative:

    The focal literacy experience would be stronger with the following details and/or development:

    The narrative identifies social, cultural, or environmental influences on the literacy experience(s).

    List the ways in which the narrative includes social, cultural, or environmental influences on the literacy experience(s):

    The literacy narrative would be stronger if the experiences included these details about social, cultural, or environmental influences:

    The details of the narrative include descriptions of people, places, things, and events.

    Identify examples within the narrative that provide details about people, places, things, and events:

    The narrative would be stronger if the following details about people, places, things, and events were more fully developed:

    The essay addresses and includes the elements of the rhetorical situation—author, message, audience, purpose, means, context, and culture.

    List elements of the rhetorical situation included in the narrative:

    • Author
    • Message
    • Audience
    • Purpose
    • Means
    • Context
    • Culture

    The narrative would be more effective if the following elements of the rhetorical situation were more fully developed and provided greater details (list all that apply):

    • Author
    • Message
    • Audience
    • Purpose
    • Means
    • Context
    • Culture

    Revising: Adding and Deleting Information

    After you have completed the peer review exercise and received the related constructive feedback, you are ready to revise your assignment in preparation for submission to your instructor for grading and a possible publication venue. The peer review exercise above can help guide you and your partner or group members through a thorough assessment of your drafts. If you are not able to participate in peer review, make an appointment with your campus writing center to receive similar feedback. After getting responses from peers or the writing center, the next step is to take that feedback and make changes to your draft.

    Look at the criteria in the first row of the peer review chart above and then at the evidence for those criteria that your partner listed.

    Does your reviewer’s understanding of the parts of your essay match your own? Where are the disconnects between what you intended for a section of your writing and what your reviewer has read and understood?

    These points of disconnect are good places to begin your revisions. Your peer reviewers represent your audience, so if they experience some misunderstandings in the reading of your narrative, you will want to make changes to clarify your writing.

    Imagine you have written a literacy narrative in which you discuss the difficulty of learning to read music. Imagine the opening paragraph contains the following sentence: “I have always had a hard time reading music.” Your peer reviewer might list in column 2, for the first criterion on engaging identity, that you read music, and that is all. Such a brief and limited assessment might lead your partner to suggest in column 3 that you strengthen your identity by answering the following questions:

    • When and why did you begin trying to learn to read music?
    • Do you come from a musical background?
    • Did you have a music reading teacher, or are you self-taught?
    • What are your specific challenges in reading music?

    During a discussion after the written peer review, you might share the details of your learning to play the piano: that you were five years old and that your grandmother was your teacher. Your revision for this opening paragraph might then include a sentence such as the following: “I have struggled to read music since I began playing piano at five years old, when my grandmother, our church musician, gave me my first lesson.” This process demonstrates the way in which the peer review should lead to substantive change and revision in your writing.

    You will want to read and discuss the details of the evidence and suggestions for each of the above criteria with your peer review partner. On the basis of your partner’s assessment—and your own judgment, of course—make any necessary revisions before submitting your assignment for grading. The more time you take to go through this process, the more developed and comprehensive your writing will be. Some people may feel anxious about having others read their work, but the scenario provided above demonstrates the valuable ways in which a preliminary reading audience can help improve our writing.


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