The Writing Center

The Writing Process

Writing the thesis and developing a sketchReviewing and Catagorizing InformationGathering data and informationWriting a draft<!-- Morbi turpis mi, tempor nec, euismod vel, mollis faucibus, enim.-->

Writing is a task that no two people do the same way. However, there
are some logical steps that every writer seems to follow in the creation
of a paper. The process described here outlines those basic steps. Keep
in mind that these steps are not exclusive of each other, and at times
they can be rather liquid. Also, writers will notice that most of these
steps are reciprocal; that is, work done in one area may necessitate
returning to a step that you have already "completed."


Getting a paper started is tough for every writer; it's especially hard for a student writer who doesn't get to pick her own subjects: first she must learn about a broad subject area; then, she must find some topic within that broad area to write about, always with limited space and time. And if all this isn't enough, writers also have to develop their own ideas about their topic and explain those ideas with concrete support.

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound impossible? There are many ways to go about "inventing" a short paper; what follows is one very practical process that gets results:

  1. Locate a subject: Your subject will depend on the kind of writing you are doing; if a subject has been assigned, make sure you know what it is (i.e., read the assignment sheet), and learn something about it (i.e., do your home work). Inventing a paper on a subject about which you know nothing is tough.

  2. Focus on a narrow topic: Use the invention techniques described below to figure out what specific topics are within your subject area; once you have some specific options, commit to a good one. Don't waffle.

  3. Come up with a controlling idea: No one can do this for you! Use invention techniques to help you see what you think about your topic. Again, after you have some options, pick an idea and stick to it.

  4. Generate concrete examples that you can use to develop your paper: Concrete examples and reasoning are the heart of a paper. With your topic and controlling idea in mind, use invention techniques strenuously; push your thoughts beyond generalizations to concrete examples. The clause, "I hate potatoes," is general; "the texture, color, and flavor of potatoes does nothing for me," is a more concrete statement.

Invention Techniques
(We didn't make these up: they're in the third chapter in The Allyn & Bacon Handbook)

  • Reading: use your notes on other people's ideas to jump start your own ideas, but be careful not to plagiarize.
  • Brainstorming: spend five minutes just listing ideas and then sort the list.
  • Freewriting: spend ten minutes writing about your subject or topic, reread your writing, and circle the topics or examples that you find in it.
  • Journalist's Question: consider your subject or topic and answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how; sort your answers, and make a list.
  • Journal Writing: keep a journal as you study your topic; reread it and circle the topics and examples that you wrote about.
  • The Many Parts Strategy: list out the parts of your subject or topic and ask of each one, "What is the use of this part or what are the consequences of this part?" Sort your answers, and you have a list.
  • Mapping:



The thesis is usually considered the most important sentence of your essay because it outlines the central purpose of your essay in one place. A good thesis will link the subject of an essay with a controlling idea. Consider, for example, the following thesis:

People in the past spent a great deal of effort protecting themselves from witches.

Subject: people feared witches

Controlling Idea: people spent a great deal of effort protecting themselves


In a short essay, a thesis statement appears at, or near, the end of the introductory paragraph of the paper so that readers know the topic of the essay before they see the writer's statement of the central purpose of the essay. This way the first paragraph helps the reader understand why the writer is writing.


A thesis should be narrow in focus in order to allow the fullest exploration of its issues as possible, and it should reflect the type of paper that follows, whether it be persuasive or informative. Narrowing the focus of the thesis may require posing questions about it to yourself before committing to a final version.


What follows is a method for writing thesis statements that many writers have found useful (we found it in Chapter 3 of The Allyn & Bacon Handbook).

1. Decide what you are writing about:

A clear, concise thesis statement does more than outline the subject in question; it makes the reader aware of the writer's stand on the subject in question, connecting a subject with a controlling idea.

2. Think about all the elements your paper will deal with:

A thesis generally consists of a subject that contains within itself a number of smaller facts; the topic sentence of each paragraph that makes up the body of the paper should refer (in some clear way) back to the ideas contained within the thesis statement in order to keep the paper from digressing.

3. Think about the purpose and tone of your paper:

A thesis statement should contain the main point of the paper and suggest to the reader a direction that the paper will take in exploring, proving, or disproving that main point.

4. State your main point in a sentence or two:

A good writer can assert the main idea of a short, coherent essay briefly. Instead of rambling, be as straightforward as possible.

5. Revise your thesis as you develop your paper:

A final version of a thesis statement will only be available after a draft of the paper it is a part of has been completed. The focus of the paper may change and evolve over the period it is written in; necessarily, the thesis statement should be revised to reflect the alterations in the paper.

Few writers finish a paper writing about the exact topic they begin with. While you write a paper, your main point may change. As you're finishing, make sure your thesis statement has changed along with the subject and controlling ideas of your paper.


Just what exactly are we talking about here?

A paragraph is a group of sentences that are related to each other because they all refer to a controlling idea; this idea is often expressed in a topic sentence, a sentence that functions in a paragraph much like a thesis statement functions in a paper. Paragraphs work together to develop the controlling idea established by the thesis. Consider the following example:

Thesis statement People in the past spent a great deal of effort protecting themselves from evil potatoes.
Topic sentence for a typical paragraph Anti-evil-potato devices were understandably numerous since every bad thing that happened could be blamed on the power of an evil potato.
Subject of paragraph Anti-evil-potato devices
Relation to controlling idea People's fear of evil potatoes forced them to devise equipment to keep evil potatoes away.

O.K. So, why do I want one?

The paragraph is a unit of organization and development. This structure is used to fully explore set of sub-topics that a thesis statement suggests. Each paragraph develops a specific idea that supports the thesis statement; it also connects that idea to the other ideas presented in the paper. Paragraphs can develop and unify a set of ideas in many different ways: writers must simply make sure that their reader understands how all the paragraphs in a paper work together to achieve the writer's purpose.

Where am I supposed to put this thing when I get one?

Hopefully, you will collect several of these items into a paper of some kind. How you store your paragraphs is very important. Each paragraph must be separated from the others by means of indentation. Remember that each paragraph must also relate its distinct idea about the thesis to the ideas developed in other paragraphs. (No paragraphs about Han Solo and Princess Leia in a paper about the soil conditions of Ireland during the famine.)

Where can I get some?

Unfortunately, you still have to produce these things yourself. What follows is largely based on information from The Allyn & Bacon Handbook; often, writers go through this "process" after they have completed a draft.

Decide what the paragraph will deal with:
Since each paragraph begins with a specific purpose (to explore a distinct sub-topic of the thesis), each topic sentence should be specific and clear. The organizational pattern of your paper (based mainly upon the type of paper you are writing) will help you decide what issues you should deal with and in what order to deal with them.

Think about all the issues that this paragraph should deal with:
Each sentence within a specific paragraph must support the idea posited by the topic sentence. As you reflect on a particular paragraph, ask yourself, "What are the issues involved in this topic? How does this relate to my overall controlling idea? Do my sentences adequately explore this topic sentence?"

Think about the purpose and tone of your paragraph:
Each paragraph must provide a thorough analysis of its topic. If a paragraph provides information that is not directly related to the thesis, revise or eliminate the extraneous information. Ask yourself whether each paragraph contributes to the focus and tone of the entire paper and follows the map laid out in your thesis.

Be efficient with your sentence development in your paragraph:
A paragraph is not a paper. Each paragraph represents a separate step towards a general conclusion about your topic. To that end, each paragraph should develop its idea with as many (or as few) sentences as necessary to make its point clear. Many of you have heard that a paragraph can be considered a "miniature essay" in which there is an introduction (topic sentence), some supportive materials (the sentences of the paragraph), and a conclusion (a concluding sentence). This structure works, but keep in mind that regardless of sentence length or number your main goal is efficiently and completely examining individual ideas.

Revise your paragraph organization as you develop your paper:
It may be that your thesis will change as you develop your paper; consequently, topic sentences for your paragraphs must change with it. Don't hesitate to discard vague or tangential ideas in favor of more direct ones. Also, make sure each paragraph moves your paper toward its goal, whether it be informative or persuasive. Finally, make sure each paragraph is part of a logical sequence of ideas that are linked by transitions.

Believe it or not there are more than one type of paragraph. You may want to investigate some of the intricacies of the introduction and conclusion varieties.


Revision tends to be divided into two categories, changes that alter the meaning of a text and changes that leave meaning intact. Think of how many changes you can make to a piece of writing.

Since there are so many things a writer can do to a text and, often, so little time, it makes sense to make those changes that will make the meaning of your writing more clear to a reader. There are, of course, lots of ways to figure out how to revise a particular piece of writing; every writer is different. What follows is a method that works, either on a whole paper or on a paragraph.

  1. Finish a draft or at least part of a draft before you consider revising--otherwise you may never get anything finished.

  2. Reread your draft and decide what issues you need to focus on. Always start with the most serious meaning-blocking issues and work down; always make notes on the draft that you read, and consider getting another reader's opinion--maybe even a Writing Center tutor's opinion.

    Levels to consider:

  3. ocus on a single issue.
  4. Maintaining your focus, talk or write through potential solutions to places where communication breaks down; often problems and solutions are easier to find with the help of an objective reader (e.g., another writer, a Writing Center tutor, or your instructor).
  5. Sketch in solutions and write them up.
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 as often as necessary.

Revision Checklist

Words like thesis, organization, paragraph, coherence, and comma splice, don't exist just to make your life miserable. All of these terms define the effects of a piece of writing. That is, a paper with a well-defined thesis lets a reader know where it's going; a well-organized paper is one that enables a reader to get from beginning to end without getting lost. Your handbook or a Writing Center tutor can help you describe the effects of your writing (probably using terms like those listed above), but only you can decide to make your writing more meaningful or effective. A revision checklist like the following one can help you write a better paper, but only if you understand what makes effective writing and are willing to make changes.

Check your draft for the following devices:




  • topic sentences
  • examples
  • warrants
  • transitional words


  • complete sentences
  • sentence variety
  • transitional words


Checking for these devices is one way of making sure that your paper sticks to and develops a single idea. Of course, a list cannot replace your commitment to communicating with an audience. If you are not trying to affect your reader with an idea or two, perfect structure and grammar will only go so far.

Revision Exercise

Look at a piece of writing that you are revising. Work through each of the steps, starting at the top and moving down the list. Make sure that you determine carefully where communication breaks down and how you can go about reestablishing it. Sketch in a solution before setting off on a re-write.


Copyediting or proofreading is part of a larger process called revision, a process that is worth thinking about. Copyediting deals with surface changes; that is with changes that don't alter the meaning of a text. Since there are so many things a writer can do to a text and, often, so little time, it makes sense to make those changes that will make the meaning of your writing more clear to a reader before focusing on surface changes. Still, a paper must be proofread before it is handed in to an academic audience. In college, great ideas only get a writer so far. What follows is a process that many writers use to make certain that their writing is ready for a critical audience.

  1. Finish a draft or at least part of a draft before you consider revising at any level--otherwise you may never get anything finished.

  2. Of course, you will always start with the most serious meaning-blocking issues and work down:
    Revision Issues

    Eventually, you will work your way down to the level of sentences and format, the level at which you will "copyedit." When you focus on sentences and format, there are several things you will need to consider:
    Copyediting Issues

    • style

    • grammar

    • punctuation

    • word choice

  3. Make a list of the issues that you usually struggle with and decide what issue(s) you will focus on first (if you have no idea what to start with, talk to another writer, a Writing Center tutor, or your instructor).
  4. Maintaining your focus, go through your paper a sentence at a time and locate and solve problems--use a handbook to find solutions; don't just make them up.
  5. Repeat step 4 as often as necessary.


Content 2

Argument Techniques from Classical Rhetoric

We can still use many techniques from Classical Rhetoric when we argue in writing. The two presented here are Status and Appeals. The first helps you clarify your issue and the second shows you how to argue through organizing and addressing readers’ values.

Isolating Your Issue

Status in Latin means “a stand.” Many students in high school write book reports, but these writing exercises don’t prepare them to take a stand. Classical rhetoricians like Cicero and Aristotle posed the following 4 questions to work through before writing:

  1. Conjecture: Is there an act to be considered?
  2. Definition: How can the act be defined?
  3. Quality: How serious is the act?
  4. Procedure: Should this act be submitted to some formal procedure?

Will you get your paper written just with these questions? No, but if you begin here, you will clarify what you are going to argue, and that leads to a high quality paper.

Rational Appeals
In ancient Greece and Rome, orators spent a great amount of time on status and on figuring out which of the appeals below best fit the subject. They are classified by the type of organization they provide. This list is taken from Four Worlds of Writing (2nd ed.) by Janice M. Lauer et al.

  • Descriptive Techniques

    • compelling descriptive example
    • specific applications or illustrations of a principle you hold or advocate
    • set up or refer to a model for action or behavior you propose
    • set up an ideal for an action or behavior you propose

    Narrative Techniques

    • show one event is the cause or the effect of another
    • show that an act or event causes favorable or unfavorable consequences
    • show that one thing is the means and the other the end
    • argue waste would occur if some action already begun is abandoned or if some talent or presence is lost
    • show the direction of any stage in a long process
    • show the connection between persons and their actions or the lack of connection between them
    • use the authority of a person, based on his or her creditable actions or experience
    • use a narrative example to support your focus

    Classification Techniques

    • use an analogy (a way far out comparison), showing how a relationship in one sphere that resembles a relationship in another sphere that supports your focus
    • classify someone in a group and show the implications of membership in that group
    • use a comparison or contrast to support your focus


      Persuasive writing is the most challenging type of writing because you have to answer arguments sometimes (called rebuttals).  If you want to argue something commonly held, you can use the above rational appeals, and you can, if you have quotes, fully quote the opposition before you argue it.  Allow yourself to point out at least one valid claim the opposition has before you argue it.  Arguing without doing so makes your argument unbalanced and your thinking ungenerous.

      Affective Appeals

      Imagine your reader after he or she has read your paper:  what do you want to have happen (e.g. an A on your paper, agreement with your position, some type of action taken that you’ve proposed)?  What do you have to do in your writing to evoke that response? 

      If your audience is a college professor seeking to enhance your upper-division writing skills in a WAC course, I imagine that that professor will want the following things:

      • clear, reasoned appeals based on reasonable evidence
      • excellent critical thinking skills
      • demonstration that you are willing to learn more about advanced thinking and writing in this course
      • appropriate style and vocabulary (no contractions, no clichés, a variety of sentence patterns, correct grammar, correct spelling, appropriate format, diction more formal than informal, the appearance of the paper professional—dark print, no stains)

Structuring your WAC paper


Aristotle’s Model
You can think of your research paper—if it is an argumentative paper—as falling into the following parts:
            Statement of Facts
            Proof of Facts
            Refutation or Opposing Arguments

Some Questions to Ask for Each Part of the Paper
            Do the first 4 sentences keep my interest?
            Is the subject clearly defined in the introduction?
            Do I want to know more, keep reading?  Why?
Statement of Fact
            Does this section clearly explain the nature of the problem or situation?
            Is there anything else the reader needs to know?
            Will the problem interest my reader?
            Do I have adequate citation throughout?
            Is the argument convincing and believable?
            Does the order of the presentation seem reasonable?
            Has any obvious argument been left out?
            Has the opposing position been completely refuted?
            Do I have adequate citation throughout?
            Has the case been summarized well?
            Is the ending graceful?

Organizing a Technical Paper That Solves a Problem
Here are 8 steps to organizing such a paper from the work of Richard Larson:

  1. Definition of the problem.
  2. Determination of why the problem is indeed a source of difficulty.
  3. Enumeration of goals that must be served by whatever action is taken.
  4. Determination of goals that have highest priority for decision maker.
  5. Invention of procedures that might be implemented to attain the goals.
  6. Prediction of results of each possible action.
  7. Weighing of predictions.
  8. Final evaluation of the choice that seems superior.

Evaluative mode


Sometimes a professor will ask you to evaluate something. Here's a technique for doing that well. Along with this handout, you should have 1 page from the book The Overworked American by Harvard economist Juliet Schor. She has a chart there that shows that the average number of hours that housewives spend working in the home HAS NOT CHANGED (!) in over 50 years. What if your professor asked you NOT just what her theory was, but rather IS HER THEORY GOOD? EVALUATE HER THEORY. Expect lots of this from college.

  • Make a sentence like this one: Any good _____ does/has the ____

following qualities (and then list them). For example: Any good theory has the five following qualities: it explains behavior; it takes into account all the relevant material; it opens up for us a new way of seeing something; it's open to change; and it is simple enough to understand.

  • Then substitute in YOUR subject and see how many of the qualities

your subject has. For example, Juliet Schor's theory of constancy of housewives' hours working has all of the five following qualities: it explains behavior; opens up a new way of seeing the subject; takes into account relevant material; is open to change and is simple to understand.

  • Then decide whether it's good or bad on how many of the qualities your subject has. If my example has all 5, it's pretty good! if only 2,

it's not that good.

First try this exercise with something simple that you can play with. You might try asking whether a particular movie is good.

The benefits of this exercise are that once YOU set the qualities, then your reader cannot argue with YOU. The reader can argue the qualities and that keeps things objective. Imagine using this strategy to hire a new secretary. Defining what qualities your employee should have makes things much less personal.

When you write your paper, you'll want to write out your 3 sentences but in a more lengthy manner. Each paragraph can talk about one quality if you like.


The Writing Center can help you at all stages of composing—from planning to editing and everywhere in between. Here is a list of stages that might help you write article synopses, something college students in upper-level courses are frequently asked to do.

Step 1: Brainstorm Selectively (write for at least 1 hour on what follows)

  • What question did the author(s) want answered?
  • What method did the author(s) use to get the findings?
  • If you could read the perfect study on this issue, what would it look like?
  • Compare this study to your "perfect" one; any weaknesses/flaws?
  • What are the strengths of this study?
  • Relate the strength to the need of in the economic community.
  • Have you had any experience with this area of study—any hunches about the quality or value of this study?
  • Consider your role: you are a college student evaluating information for your professor; you are no longer a high school student giving information. What benefits do you get from taking this new role?

Step 2: Incubate

Take some time off to rest—or incubate as creativity theorists call it. Your thoughts will gel in the time you take away from the project. You should have a much clearer focus if you get at least 1 night’s rest away from a big project. Planning is very cognitive; for a big paper, planning and incubation time are crucial.

Step 3: Think about Structure

Reports in any field move from the most important and most general to the least important and least general. The opening paragraph, called either Introduction or Question, relates

    • full name of author(s), title in quotation marks, journal title underlined, year in parentheses
    • a general statement about the question the author(s) explored
    • your focus about the quality of the article, which may require articulating what a "good" study of this kind does (i.e. listing a set number of qualities you wanted to see).

    The next segment, that of Method, goes into greater detail that supports your focus. If you talk about strengths, demonstrate them. If you point out flaws, show how you see them. Your knowledge of theories, procedures, established practices in types of research (e.g. number of subjects for a valid study) are all important here.

    A Conclusion segment is going to strengthen the claim you made in the first paragraph. How serious is the article’s strength or weakness? What difference does that make to the academic economic community along with the overall economic community?

    Step 4: Style

    If you allow yourself to write a draft (e.g. give yourself enough time to do so), you can crunch that draft into a smaller document (e.g. 1 page) if you want to. You might also check sentence variety and vocabulary. Reading is more pleasant if sentences have a great variety: short and long, inverted and normal. Vocabulary can be built over a number of years by committing to two things. Allow yourself to use your reading vocabulary to write—not your speaking vocabulary. The reading vocabulary is highly developed—you recognize all kinds of words you never use in writing. Start using the reading vocabulary first in private places like notebooks and journals. You’ll find you start using an excellent vocabulary and need to learn to trust that words that pop into your head will be used in the right context. The second activity that will increase your vocabulary is reading an excellent newspaper or magazine—pick something you are interested in or read articles that cover an area you are familiar with so that you can bypass the meaning and study the vocabulary and sentence structure. These two tasks take about 2-3 years to really kick in, but when they do, you will be very happy with the results.

    Step 5: Grammar Clean Up

    Read your draft out loud. Have a friend read it. Bring it to the Writing Center at any stage. Don’t let grammatical worries prevent you from drafting quickly however. Just write, and reshape it later. Michelangelo once said that perfection is made of details—attending to grammatical snafus is essential to professional writing.

critical reading

Critical reading means that a reader applies certain processes, models, questions, and theories that result in enhanced clarity and comprehension. There is more involved, both in effort and understanding, in a critical reading than in a mere "skimming" of the text. What is the difference? If a reader "skims" the text, superficial characteristics and information are as far as the reader goes. A critical reading gets at "deep structure" (if there is such a thing apart from the superficial text!), that is, logical consistency, tone, organization, and a number of other very important sounding terms.

What does it take to be a critical reader? There are a variety of answers available to this question; here are some suggested steps:

1. Prepare to become part of the writer's audience.

After all, authors design texts for specific audiences, and becoming a member of the target audience makes it easier to get at the author's purpose. Learn about the author, the history of the author and the text, the author's anticipated audience; read introductions and notes.

2. Prepare to read with an open mind.

Critical readers seek knowledge; they do not "rewrite" a work to suit their own personalities. Your task as an enlightened critical reader is to read what is on the page, giving the writer a fair chance to develop ideas and allowing yourself to reflect thoughtfully, objectively, on the text.

3. Consider the title.

This may seem obvious, but the title may provide clues to the writer's attitude, goals, personal viewpoint, or approach.

4. Read slowly.

Again, this appears obvious, but it is a factor in a "close reading." By slowing down, you will make more connections within the text.

5. Use the dictionary and other appropriate reference works.

If there is a word in the text that is not clear or difficult to define in context: look it up. Every word is important, and if part of the text is thick with technical terms, it is doubly important to know how the author is using them.

6. Make notes.

Jot down marginal notes, underline and highlight, write down ideas in a notebook, do whatever works for your own personal taste. Note for yourself the main ideas, the thesis, the author's main points to support the theory. Writing while reading aids your memory in many ways, especially by making a link that is unclear in the text concrete in your own writing.

7. Keep a reading journal

In addition to note-taking, it is often helpful to regularly record your responses and thoughts in a more permanent place that is yours to consult. By developing a habit of reading and writing in conjunction, both skills will improve.

Critical reading involves using logical and rhetorical skills. Identifying the author's thesis is a good place to start, but to grasp how the author intends to support it is a difficult task. More often than not an author will make a claim (most commonly in the form of the thesis) and support it in the body of the text. The support for the author's claim is in the evidence provided to suggest that the author's intended argument is sound, or reasonably acceptable. What ties these two together is a series of logical links that convinces the reader of the coherence of the author's argument: this is the warrant. If the author's premise is not supportable, a critical reading will uncover the lapses in the text that show it to be unsound.


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handouts online

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argument structures

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creating a summary

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