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12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

Writing at Work

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” .

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” .

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Write a Rough Draft

Last Updated: February 6, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Michelle Golden, PhD . Michelle Golden is an English teacher in Athens, Georgia. She received her MA in Language Arts Teacher Education in 2008 and received her PhD in English from Georgia State University in 2015. There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 296,925 times.

Writing a rough draft is an essential part of the writing process, an opportunity to get your initial ideas and thoughts down on paper. It might be difficult to dive right into a rough draft of an essay or a creative piece, such as a novel or a short story. You should start by brainstorming ideas for the draft to get your creative juices flowing and take the time to outline your draft. You will then be better prepared to sit down and write your rough draft.

Brainstorming Ideas for the Draft

Step 1 Do a freewrite...

  • Freewrites often work best if you give yourself a time limit, such as five minutes or ten minutes. You should then try to not take your pen off the page as you write so you are forced to keep writing about the subject or topic for the set period of time.
  • For example, if you were writing an essay about the death penalty, you may use the prompt: “What are the possible issues or problems with the death penalty?” and write about it freely for ten minutes.
  • Often, freewrites are also a good way to generate content that you can use later in your rough draft. You may surprised at what you realize as you write freely about the topic.

Step 2 Make a cluster map about the topic or subject.

  • To use the clustering method, you will place a word that describes your topic or subject in the center of your paper. You will then write keywords and thoughts around the center word. Circle the center word and draw lines away from the center to other keywords and ideas. Then, circle each word as you group them around the central word.
  • For example, if you were trying to write a short story around a theme like “anger”, you will write “anger” in the middle of the page. You may then write keywords around “anger”, like “volcano”, “heat”, “my mother”, and “rage”.

Step 3 Read writing about the topic or subject.

  • If you are writing a creative piece, you may look for texts written about a certain idea or theme that you want to explore in your own writing. You could look up texts by subject matter and read through several texts to get ideas for your story.
  • You might have favorite writers that you return to often for inspiration or search for new writers who are doing interesting things with the topic. You could then borrow elements of the writer’s approach and use it in your own rough draft.
  • You can find additional resources and texts online and at your local library. Speak to the reference librarian at your local library for more information on resources and texts.

Outlining Your Draft

Step 1 Make a plot outline

  • You may use the snowflake method to create the plot outline. In this method, you will write a one line summary of your story, followed by a one paragraph summary, and then character synopses. You will also create a spreadsheet of scenes.
  • Alternatively, you can use a plot diagram. In this method, you will have six sections: the set up, the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
  • No matter which option you chose, you should make sure your outline contains at least the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution. Having these three elements set in your mind will make writing your rough draft much easier.

Step 2 Try the three act structure.

  • Act 1: In Act 1, your protagonist meets the other characters in the story. The central conflict of the story is also revealed. Your protagonist should also have a specific goal that will cause them to make a decision. For example, in Act 1, you may have your main character get bitten by a vampire after a one night stand. She may then go into hiding once she discovers she has become a vampire.
  • Act 2: In Act 2, you introduce a complication that makes the central conflict even more of an issue. The complication can also make it more difficult for your protagonist to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 2, you may have your main character realize she has a wedding to go to next week for her best friend, despite the fact she has now become a vampire. The best friend may also call to confirm she is coming, making it more difficult for your protagonist to stay in hiding.
  • Act 3: In Act 3, you present a resolution to the central conflict of the story. The resolution may have your protagonist achieve their goal or fail to achieve their goal. For example, in Act 3, you may have your protagonist show up to the wedding and try to pretend to not be a vampire. The best friend may then find out and accept your protagonist anyway. You may end your story by having your protagonist bite the groom, turning him into her vampire lover.

Step 3 Create an essay outline.

  • Section 1: Introduction, including a hook opening line, a thesis statement , and three main discussion points. Most academic essays contain at least three key discussion points.
  • Section 2: Body paragraphs, including a discussion of your three main points. You should also have supporting evidence for each main point, from outside sources and your own perspective.
  • Section 3: Conclusion, including a summary of your three main points, a restatement of your thesis, and concluding statements or thoughts.

Step 4 Have a thesis statement.

  • For example, maybe you are creating a rough draft for a paper on gluten-intolerance. A weak thesis statement for this paper would be, “There are some positives and negatives to gluten, and some people develop gluten-intolerance.” This thesis statement is vague and does not assert an argument for the paper.
  • A stronger thesis statement for the paper would be, “Due to the use of GMO wheat in food sold in North America, a rising number of Americans are experiencing gluten-intolerance and gluten-related issues.” This thesis statement is specific and presents an argument that will be discussed in the paper.

Step 5 Include a list of sources.

  • Your professor or teacher may require you to create a bibliography using MLA style or APA style. You will need to organize your sources based on either style.

Writing the Rough Draft

Step 1 Find a quiet, focused environment for writing.

  • You may also make sure the room is set to an ideal temperature for sitting down and writing. You may also put on some classical or jazz music in the background to set the scene and bring a snack to your writing area so you have something to munch on as you write.

Step 2 Start in the middle.

  • You may also write the ending of the essay or story before you write the beginning. Many writing guides advise writing your introductory paragraph last, as you will then be able to create a great introduction based on the piece as a whole.

Step 3 Do not worry about making mistakes.

  • You should also try not to read over what you are writing as you get into the flow. Do not examine every word before moving on to the next word or edit as you go. Instead, focus on moving forward with the rough draft and getting your ideas down on the page.

Step 4 Use the active voice.

  • For example, rather than write, “It was decided by my mother that I would learn violin when I was two,” go for the active voice by placing the subject of the sentence in front of the verb, “My mother decided I would learn violin when I turned two.”
  • You should also avoid using the verb “to be” in your writing, as this is often a sign of passive voice. Removing “to be” and focusing on the active voice will ensure your writing is clear and effective.

Step 5 Refer to your outline when you get stuck.

  • You may also review the brainstorming materials you created before you sat down to write, such as your clustering exercise or your freewrite. Reviewing these materials could help to guide you as you write and help you focus on finishing the rough draft.
  • You may want to take breaks if you find you are getting writer’s block. Going for a walk, taking a nap, or even doing the dishes can help you focus on something else and give your brain a rest. You can then start writing again with a fresh approach after your break.

Step 6 Read over your rough draft and revise it.

  • You should also read the rough draft out loud to yourself. Listen for any sentences that sound unclear or confusing. Highlight or underline them so you know they need to be revised. Do not be afraid to revise whole sections or lines of the rough draft. It is a draft, after all, and will only improve with revision.
  • You can also read the rough draft out loud to someone else. Be willing to accept feedback and constructive criticism on the draft from the person. Getting a different perspective on your writing will often make it that much better.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

You Might Also Like

Format Dialogue in a Story

  • ↑ https://www.umgc.edu/current-students/learning-resources/writing-center/online-guide-to-writing/tutorial/chapter2/ch2-13
  • ↑ https://writing.ku.edu/prewriting-strategies
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/outlining
  • ↑ http://www.writerswrite.com/screenwriting/cannell/lecture4/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/essay-outline/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/rough-draft/
  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/style/ccs_activevoice/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Michelle Golden, PhD

To write a rough draft, don't worry if you make minor mistakes or write sentences that aren't perfect. You can revise them later! Also, try not to read over what you're writing as you go, which will slow you down and mess up your flow. Instead, focus on getting all of your thoughts and ideas down on paper, even if you're not sure you'll keep them in the final draft. If you get stuck, refer to your outline or sources to help you come up with new ideas. For tips on brainstorming and outlining for a rough draft, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Research Paper

  • Step 1. Choose a Topic
  • Step 2. Start Brainstorming
  • Step 3. Start Your (Initial) Research
  • Step 4. Narrow Your Topic
  • Step 5. Research, Research, Research!
  • Step 6. Write an Outline
  • Step 7. Citations & References
  • Step 8. Annotated Bibliography (optional?)
  • Step 9. Write a Rough Draft
  • Step 10. Edit
  • Step 11. Rewrite (Repeatable)
  • Step 12. Final Draft
  • Additional Sites
  • Citing Sources [opens a new window] This link opens in a new window

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Lazy college senior meme. Rough Draft? Final draft

Write a Rough Draft

Many students hear "rough draft" and they think "final draft." Let me assure you, this is not a good idea. A rough draft is you putting ideas to paper in a semi-logical order that might actually get a D.

A rough draft gives you the opportunity to screw up and fix it before you hand in a paper that sucks. Take that opportunity. The fact that your paper sucks at this point is a good thing. It puts less pressure on you, and you can just let ideas flow. Use it to make your paper better. This means yes, you will actually have to write a rough draft .

But instead of being upset about it, use it as a springboard to a better paper. The rough draft could show you where some holes exist in your research. Just because you're writing a rough draft doesn't mean you're done researching !

  • << Previous: Step 8. Annotated Bibliography (optional?)
  • Next: Step 10. Edit >>
  • Last Updated: Dec 7, 2023 11:04 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.columbiastate.edu/research_paper

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7.1 – Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

what does a thesis rough draft look like

After doing all of your research, you are ready to write your research paper.  Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting, but can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure:

  • an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis,
  • a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence,
  • and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Jorge’s Introduction

Beyond the hype: evaluating low-carb diets.

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of dieters have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

Writing at Work

Using source material in your paper.

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Trade Magazine Source

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

Jorge’s Summary with parenthetical in-text citation

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Webpage Information – Research Source

Jorge’s summary.

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Jorge’s Revised Summary

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Source – Interview (Personal communication)

Jorge’s summary – with narrative in-text citation.

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style).

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow.

Jorge’s Summary with narrative in-text citation

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

Fair Use/Fair Dealing

In recent years, issues related to the fair use (USA) and Fair Dealing (Canada) of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use /Fair Dealing means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use or fair dealing.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Jorge’s Summary with unoriginal writing

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period” (para. 7).  These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period” (Heinz, 2009, para. 8). From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results” (Heinz, 2009, p. 82). Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010, p. 25).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honour taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

Attributions & References

Except where otherwise noted, this chapter is adapted from ” 12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper ” In Writing for Success by University of Minnesota licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 . / Small edits and updates to include “Fair Dealing” were made, adjustments to APA citation.

Communication Essentials for College Copyright © 2022 by Jen Booth, Emily Cramer & Amanda Quibell, Georgian College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Step 9: Research Paper Rough Draft

  • Step 8: Research Paper Introduction
  • 1: Research Question
  • 2: Types of Papers
  • 3: Research Overview
  • 4: Primary Research
  • 5: Evaluating Sources
  • 8: Introduction
  • 9: Rough Draft
  • 10: Conclusion
  • 11: Citations (APA)
  • 12: Citations (MLA)
  • 13: Works Cited Page
  • 15: Samples
  • 17: Downloads
  • Step 10 Research Paper Conclusion

Now that you've completed your outline and have found plenty of scholarly sources to back up the points you intend to make, the time has come to hunker down and crank out the first draft of your essay. This is the phase of writing where you will sink the most time and effort into your work. That first, rough draft is immensely important in shaping how your paper will ultimately turn out. You can see how your ideas work together on the page, find spots that you need to beef up with more research, and discover where tweaks and restructuring might need to happen before you turn in the final iteration of your work.

Tip: Remember: it's a rough draft. Anything and everything can be changed, and this is the best time to make serious structural changes regarding your paper.

When you write your rough draft, it'll be the first time you're fully fleshing out your ideas on paper, having previously defined your thesis and obtained support for it through research. As such, you have no business treating this version of your paper like it's what you'll be turning in to your professor. As writer Anne Lamott puts it in her book Bird By Bird, "The first draft is...where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later." If you think of your essay as a painting, the rough draft is the time for you to use broad strokes to fill in as much of the available space as possible. Don't worry about the fine details just yet. Seeking perfection on the rough draft will lead to nothing but stress and frustration, both of which may hamper your ability to complete an effective draft. The name of the game here is not to achieve perfection, it's to establish a strong foundation to work within as you fine-tune your essay on later drafts.

Getting Started

Since your rough draft is going to be the basis for your final draft, you want to make sure you've gotten the heavy lifting out of the way in order to have the time to focus on making all the pieces fit together in the home stretch. As such, it's important to write coherently and professionally on the first draft. While you write, keep these tips in mind.

As you sit down to write, have a copy of your outline handy, along with any notes and research you've compiled in the prewriting phase. You'll be frequently consulting all of this while you work on your first draft. Stick to the plan you've crafted in advance as much as you can, but don't feel obliged to wholly express your ideas quite yet. For instance, you surely have bits of research that are more essential to include in your body paragraphs than others. When writing the rough draft, focus on finding how to fit in the essential information and arguments that you've turned up rather than the extraneous supporting details. The inessential pieces of your research are more appropriately added in future drafts.

The rough draft is the best time to double check that your paper and the arguments, points, or clarifications made within it all follow sensible logic. Ideas must be given breathing room and allowed to develop naturally as the essay goes on. Let things naturally build as you write. Don't rush the introduction of a new idea or viewpoint, or shoehorn in meaning where there is none. Instead, take your time with your work, and make sure that there is logical development with the topics brought up in your work. Don't leave things underdone, either. Follow the idea until it reaches a logical conclusion. If necessary, you can cut out the extraneous portions of your tangent from future drafts.

Additionally, the rough draft is an excellent time to work on establishing smooth transitions between your paragraphs. As a writer, avoiding jarring or choppy segues between the different ideas you bring up is deceptively difficult, but taking the time to really make sure that your work flows effectively from paragraph to paragraph will reflect well on you and your writing ability. Having strong transitions also helps ensure that those who read your work - whether it is a professor or one of your peers - will have less trouble understanding your thought process. Clarity is the name of the game here, and a surefire way to achieve that clarity is by making sure your transitions are straightforward.

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Furthermore, your writing should be clear and uncomplicated. Even if you're writing a scholarly paper, there is no need to get caught up in using jargon or buzzwords in the name of sounding smart or "in the know". Use the appropriate vocabulary and lingo for whatever topic you're writing about, but make a concerted effort to keep your sentences from being too confusing. A big part of this is always using the active voice while you write. This simply means to establish that, within your sentences, the subject is performing the action, as opposed to the action happening to the subject as a result of the object. An easy way to detect usage of the passive voice is to look for words denoting the past tense, such as were or was. For example, "The rations were served to the refugees by aid workers." is a passive voice sentence because the action (serving rations) has already happened, and is happening to the subject (the aid workers). Rephrasing this sentence to use  active voice is simple: "Aid workers served rations to the refugees." Using passive language reflects poorly on your writing abilities, especially in a scholarly context, where captivating writing is essential to liven up what could be boring subject matter. Maintaining the active voice throughout your rough draft will make the process of revision much easier, since you'll have less line-by-line fine tuning to complete if your sentences are already written using the active voice.

Introduction

When writing your rough draft, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the goal of an introduction is to capture the attention of your readers, then to give them a primer on what you'll be discussing in detail throughout your essay. As such, you need to make sure that you have a few strong, captivating opening sentences that address your topic without giving too much away, followed by clear, cohesive information on what exactly you'll be expounding upon in your writing. Your thesis will be central to the construction of your introduction, as it must be presented here for the first time. Along with a strong thesis, a good introduction in your rough draft will briefly elaborate on the specific points you'll be making in each body paragraph, providing a general overview of what is to come later in the paper.

Body Paragraphs

In any rough draft, the body paragraphs should be where you focus the brunt of your energy. Since these are the parts of your essay where you're defending your thesis statement, you must first and foremost make sure that you're providing the reader with enough supporting information and research for every nuance or tangent branching off of your main idea that you incorporate in the final paper. While you can rearrange the sections of your paper as you need to later on, the rough draft is an excellent time to simply dump your information into the appropriate body paragraph, then provide your own analysis. This strategy will help you give the paper some semblance of what it will ultimately look like by the time you have finished the revision process. You'll also be able to manage the flow of your paper better by following this method; you'll see firsthand how your ideas interlock and play off each other, ensuring that you maintain your point of view without sacrificing smoothness and clarity.

Tip: Don't cut corners on your rough draft-- use proper punctuation, grammar, and style. It will save time when it comes to polishing the paper during the review process.

While it may be tempting to avoid being expansive with your words during the rough draft and write short paragraphs instead, avoid falling into this trap. The rough draft deserves your full attention, and that means developing your notions in this round of writing. There is no place for underdeveloped ideas in the rough draft. If you find yourself having trouble making a point in your rough draft, that's a good sign that you either need to find more research to back up the claim or argument you are presenting, or that you simply need to toss that point and move on to the more relevant sections of your essay. 

The conclusion of your rough draft should serve a couple of different purposes. Most importantly, the conclusion needs to effectively summarize the ideas you discussed throughout your entire essay. This generally means covering the information in a way similar to how you already did in your introductory paragraph, so be sure that you're not aping yourself too much. While there is certainly a degree of rehashing that occurs, make sure that you're striving to tie together the points you made previously, rather than simply presenting them again. Restate your thesis and show how the ideas you brought up in your body paragraphs directly relate to and answer the questions it raised in your introduction.

With a strong rough draft, the revision process becomes a snap. Don't ignore the importance of writing well in the rough draft, but also keep in mind that perfection is not the goal here. At the end of the day, this draft is not what you'll be turning in to your professor. The rough draft is for you, the writer. It provides a dense foundation with room to grow, and should be written with care. Remember: the better the rough draft, the less fine-tuning you have to complete later on.

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what does a thesis rough draft look like

Rough Drafting: Writing

  • Embrace the Chaos
  • Get Words Down
  • Delegate to Future You
  • Know Your Goal Style
  • Pick Your Medium
  • Set the Scene

Overview of rough drafting

The first draft of an essay or other written assessment is often referred to as the  rough draft.  We call it  rough  for a reason: it's normal for the earliest version of an essay to be disjointed, underdeveloped, or otherwise messy.

We argue that the messiness isn't just normal: it's a good thing. When you embrace the rough drafting stage as a time to explore content, test out structural options, inventory your ideas, and play  with the writing, it can lead to insights you might not discover otherwise.

Guide contents

The tabs of this guide will support you in completing rough drafts of assignments and understanding how you work best as a writer. The sections are organised as follows:

  • Get Words Down  - Explore practical methods and suggestions to begin producing content.
  • Delegate to Future You  - Learn vital strategies to maintain your momentum now and simplify your editing later.
  • Know Your Goal Style -   Discover what makes a writing goal effective and how to follow through.
  • Pick Your Medium - Reflect on the benefits and limitations of writing by hand, voice dictation, apps, and more.
  • Set the Scene - Experiment with environmental factors such as company and space for maximum drafting efficiency.

Let's get started

Embracing the chaos of an imperfect rough draft can benefit your writing. Accepting this premise in theory is a start, but putting it into practice is trickier – to help you out, in this section, we will cover practical tips and approaches to get started on a rough draft.

The priority: make words happen

Many students feel self-conscious or even ashamed when their work is in a rough state. They want their writing to be engaging, logically structured, and well-supported from the very first attempt. That's a nice fantasy, but in reality, those unrealistic expectations can lead to procrastination and writing anxiety.

'Whether it's a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord of the Rings , the work is always accomplished one word at a time.' – Stephen King ¹

To state it rather unacademically, when we produce a first draft, our goal is to  make words happen.  That's it. Our goals shift as we get deeper into the process: as we transform that first draft into a second draft or the second into a third, we begin to make structural changes, refine our arguments, incorporate additional evidence, and more.

The rough draft, though? Again, this is simply where you make words happen.

Find your bearings

For most people, the writing process begins with activities like research/reading, invention, planning, and just plain  thinking . Amidst all those activities, writers sometimes lose track of the assignment's specific aims. Therefore, when you sit down to begin your draft, carefully re-read the assignment prompt , first.

  • Do your rough plans and ideas align with the stated goals?
  • Do you understand the key content/literature well enough to begin writing? (You don't need to be 100% finished with your research – focus on whether you know enough to make a meaningful start.)

Next, study any invention or planning items you have completed (e.g. mind maps, outlines , bulleted lists, and so on). Even writers who prefer to dive right in might benefit from jotting down a few important moves they plan to make in the draft (i.e., 'Define theory of XYZ'; 'Analyse the two case studies'; 'Explain method used').

Finally, choose a general starting point for your drafting: it does not have to be the beginning! You might find it easiest to begin with the introduction , but many people prefer to draft the body of the essay first.

Draft in a natural voice

You might struggle to start drafting because you fear your words aren't good enough or 'academic' enough. It's true that academic writing should aspire to clarity, precision and accuracy; however, those qualities rarely come to fruition in the first draft. Instead, you achieve clarity, precision and accuracy as you  edit subsequent drafts of the work.

Therefore, we recommend giving yourself permission to  write in a natural voice  while producing your first draft. This frees you to focus on  what  you want to say and  why , rather than fretting over exactly  how  you will say it.

The table below identifies and illustrates some common qualities of writing in a natural voice. It then shows how the voice can be changed later with editing. [ NOTE: Some disciplines accept the use of first-person pronouns, so the first example applies only to fields where 'I', 'my', etc. are discouraged.]

If you tend to pick away at your sentences, struggling to make each one sound just right before you move to the next, you might find it challenging to adopt this freer method of drafting. We encourage you to give it a try, though. When you truly accept rough drafts as works-in-progress – subject to all manner of changes and edits, later – the focus can shift to ideas and content rather than superficial phrasing concerns.

Freewriting and freespeaking

Freewriting techniques help produce raw material for essays, and they can also kickstart your writing if the work has lost momentum. Most simply,  freewriting  refers to writing without stopping for a set period of time (often ten minutes). No pausing to think, no backspacing, no editing: you have to move forward and keep writing until the timer goes off.

Freespeaking  follows the same premise, but you speak aloud instead of writing silently. The 'Pick Your Medium' tab of this guide shares some practical techniques for using dictation/voice methods if you wish to try this.

  • Remember that the goal of drafting is to produce content, discover ideas, and make connections.
  • Before you start drafting, revisit the assignment prompt and your planning/invention materials.
  • Give yourself permission to write the first draft in your most natural voice.
  • Consider gamifying your drafting process with some freewriting or freespeaking exercises.

An overview of placeholders

A placeholder, as the name implies,  stands in place of something else  within the rough draft. Using placeholders – or related techniques such as colour-coding and notes to self – not only eases the rough drafting process, but streamlines the writing activities that follow.

How placeholders work

Simply put, you can use a placeholder when you want to keep drafting for now, but know you need to return to a specific issue, later. Using a placeholder in your rough draft can help in two main ways:

  • It encourages you to keep writing rather than going down a rabbit hole (i.e., getting distracted or diverted) every time an obstacle or question arises.
  • It makes other writing activities like research and editing easier because you can sort your placeholders, like with like, and work systematically.

In practice, this means that you avoid disruption and draft more continuously. When you would normally be tempted to stop and make something 'perfect' (no such thing), you instead deploy a placeholder technique and keep going.

Forms and categories of placeholders

We will first explore the literal forms that placeholders can take. We will then cover common categories of use (i.e., 'stuff you flag' via a placeholder). 

Typical forms

Placeholders and notes to self can take whatever form makes sense to you. Here are some good options:

  • Bracketed words or abbreviations  – As you're rough drafting, add a keyword or abbreviation in brackets [[LIKE THIS]] . Boldface helps it stand out. You can CTRL+F to find the brackets '[[' anywhere in your document, so it's easy to jump from one to the next as you edit later.
  • Colour highlighting  – You can highlight sentences/words that you definitely want to revisit. Develop a manageable coding system (i.e., yellow = 'wow that sentence is way too long,' blue = 'find a better word to use there,' etc.).
  • Comments or tags  – You can use the 'Comment' feature in Word to leave keywords or notes to self throughout the draft. Viewing all your comments together in the editing pane makes it easy to work through them systematically, later.
  • Bullet points  – You can insert a bullet point or two to mark a spot in the rough draft that needs development or additional ideas, quickly summarising what's needed alongside the bullet(s).

Common categories

As we look at some common categories of placeholders, we will use the bracketed keyword technique to illustrate them. However, you could use other methods like Word comments or highlighting to indicate the same ideas.

  • Expand/develop  – This is a good one to use if you have started to present a promising idea in your rough draft, but you need to reflect a while or do more research to fully develop it [[DEV. FURTHER]] .
  • Fact check  – A placeholder like [[FACT CHECK]] or [[ACCURATE?]] is helpful when you must return to the literature to verify something. This lets you keep drafting while guaranteeing you will remember to double-check.
  • Add evidence  – Use placeholders like this to mark claims you plan to strengthen by introducing evidence from the literature [[ADD LIT]] or a data set [[DATA NEEDED]] .
  • Citation missing  –  Don't  assume you will remember to add all your citations later. If a fact, idea, or data point in your draft requires attribution, leave a [[CITATION]] placeholder. Your future self will thank you!
  • Move 'missing'  – This one reminds you to go back and add anything you skip over in the rough draft, such as transition sentences [[MISSING transit]] , takeaway points, definitions of key terms, etc.
  • Phrasing and word choices  – Remember, your rough draft will be full of clunky, weird sentences: that's 100% okay, so don't try to mark  every  sentence with a potential issue. But if a particular sentence or word is bothering you so much that you can't move on, try adding a placeholder like [[AWK]] (for 'awkward'), [[SMOOTH]] (for 'smooth out this cumbersome phrasing'), or [[W.C.]] (for 'word choice'). Flagging it will let you feel secure enough to continue drafting.

Making it work for you

The key thing to remember is that placeholders should make your writing life easier , not harder. With that in mind, here are some questions to consider as you develop your own placeholder techniques:

Is the method logical to you ?

  • Don't work against your own instincts. For example, if using different colours to mark issues feels strange and difficult to track, that isn't your method!

Is the method manageable ?

  • Aim for clarity and simplicity. Creating twenty different keyword codes is comprehensive, sure, but that system will be tough to memorise and stick to. Keep it simple and consistent.

Can you easily see or find your placeholders?

  • You shouldn't  need to squint, zoom in, etc. Use abbreviations/punctuation you can 'find' via the CTRL+F shortcut, such as the double brackets in our earlier examples. If highlighting, colour enough text for it to stand out.
  • Don't make placeholders out of words or acronyms that you use frequently in the actual writing. That will complicate any 'find' searches you do.

Does your system let you group 'like with like' and form a game plan?

  • Make sure you can logically group your placeholders to simplify the next writing activities you do.

Editing's best friend

Let's say your first draft of an essay is complete. The rough draft is very rough, but that's okay: editing, supplementary research, and proofreading will whip the essay into shape. Great! But...where do you start? What needs to be done?

While drafting, we give our memories more credit than we should. Problems feel obvious to us in the moment , so we assume they will be just as obvious later on. (Spoiler: they won't be.)

This is where  placeholders  come to the rescue, providing a great starting point to address editorial concerns like these:

  • Which claims in your draft still require data/literature to back them up?
  • Have you incorporated any attributable information that still needs to be cited?
  • What ideas or moves are missing from the draft (e.g. definitions, transitions, topic sentences, counterarguments...)?
  • Did you feel particularly unsure about any words or phrases you used in the rough draft?

You will make changes, additions, and cuts unrelated to your placeholders, of course, but reviewing and grouping your placeholders can help you form a re-drafting and editing game plan (i.e., first, I'll do supplementary research on ABC and XYZ; next, I'll synthesize that new info into the draft; then, I'll fact-check...).

Placeholders in practice

Placeholders can be used in many writing contexts beyond academic essays: CVs, personal statements, business presentations, job performance reviews, email newsletters, wedding speeches, you name it.

In fact, we used placeholder strategies while writing the online guide you're currently reading! As shown in the below snip of the guide's overview tab, our strategies included...

  • Keywords  – We used a small selection of keyword tags including 'missing', 'image here', and 'example needed' to flag areas where copy or content still needed to be developed.
  • Emphasis  – We used brackets and caps-lock to distinguish our keyword tags from the surrounding text, with blue highlighting for further emphasis.
  • Coding  – We kept our coding simple, but with enough options to suit the project. Blue was only used to indicate gaps (e.g. missing text, examples, or images), for example, whereas yellow meant phrasing edits might be required.

These techniques allowed us to keep the rough draft of the webpage moving along. Rather than staring at a wall for 30 minutes agonising over what might make a good example of some idea, we typed ' [EXAMPLE NEEDED] ' and continued working on the next passage. When a good example dawned on us later, the placeholder made it quick and easy to pick back up in the correct spot.

Snip of guide table of contents showing some items highlighted in yellow. Other items are followed by caps-locked 'MISSING' in brackets, highlighted blue.

Same draft, two approaches

If you are having trouble picturing how placeholders can ease the drafting process, let's have a look at one writer, 'Maria,' as she works on her dissertation two different ways. Click below to expand the first scenario:

  Scenario #1  

Maria has started drafting her dissertation but isn't getting much written so far. She has two hours to write this afternoon. She types one sentence, then types another: 'I will use an intersectional and mixed-methods approach to insure the data is fair.' She re-reads it:  insure?  Is that right? She pulls up Google and searches 'insure or ensure.' The first hit adds 'assure' to the mix, too! Ugh. She reads the article and decides 'ensure' is correct – but the article is on an American site, maybe it's different in the UK? She finds a UK website and, yes, it's supposed to be 'ensure.'

But now she's worried about a bigger problem: isn't 'intersectional' related more to theories she's using, whereas 'mixed-methods approach' is about her data analysis? Is she supposed to talk about those in the same sentence? Well, last week she read a study that used mixed methods, so maybe she can read that and see how they framed it. She opens EndNote...nope, not that article...not that article...not that article...okay, there it is. Except the article doesn't say anything about theories in the introduction: is Maria doing this totally wrong?

She also wrote ' I will use,' and she can't remember if her supervisor said she  should  or  shouldn't  use the first-person for her dissertation, so she pulls up Blackboard and starts digging through folders to see if there's a handbook or something. Eventually she remembers that information was shared via email, not Blackboard, so she opens Outlook. Before she can find the email from her supervisor, Maria sees an email she sent to herself yesterday, with an article attached that she thought could be relevant to her dissertation. She opens the article and starts reading it...then keeps reading it...then remembers to search for that supervisor email...but nope, she can't find it. Forget it. She pulls up Word again and deletes the whole sentence.

At the end of Maria's two-hour 'rough drafting' session, she has written precisely... one sentence.

Maria probably doesn't feel great about that writing session. She bounced between many discrete activities in the writing process: rough drafting, proofreading, researching, analyzing assignment parameters, more researching, etc.

Some writers can get the work done while bouncing around in this way, but for many of us, it's more efficient to  identify the nature of each writing session and stick to it.  For example: 11:00-12:00 is rough drafting; 12:00-13:00 is lunch; 13:00-14:30 is research time; break; 15:00-16:00 is rough drafting.

What if Maria were to use some placeholder techniques? Click below to see how that might work.

  Scenario #2  

Maria has started drafting her dissertation but isn't getting much written so far. She has two hours to write this afternoon. She types one sentence, then types another: ' I will use an intersectional and mixed-methods approach to insure [W.C.] the data is fair.' Maria can't remember if first-person pronouns are permitted, so she highlights that phrasing. She always mixes up insure  and ensure , so she adds 'W.C.' for 'word choice.' She will check on those things later.

She knows she needs to expand on those ideas, so she continues typing, 'In terms of the project, intersectional refers to the theoretical lenses I am applying. I will analyse the interviews through not only a feminist lens [SPEC?]  but the social model of disability, too, which posits that [QUOTATION/CITATION]. ' The 'SPEC' note is a placeholder because Maria is deciding between two particular theorists: she'll get more 'SPECIFIC', later. She remembers circling a short but helpful definition of the social model of disability in an article, but she doesn't want to get distracted pawing through EndNote, so she adds a placeholder and keeps writing...and keeps writing...

At the end of Maria's two-hour rough drafting session, she has written  five paragraphs.

Maria should feel great about this writing session! She will need to revisit those five paragraphs and do considerable editing, later, but the point to remember is that  you can't improve what doesn't yet exist.

Moreover, the placeholder and colour-coding techniques that Maria has deployed will make it easier to coordinate her approach to editing. She can group related placeholders (e.g. notes to cite some literature; notes to check word choice; etc.) and focus on one similar set of actions at a time, making the process efficient.

  • Placeholders can help you push forward with a rough draft instead of letting perfectionism or worry win out.
  • There are different ways to use placeholders and notes to self: play around to build a system that works for you.
  • These techniques are valuable not only for producing the rough draft, but for the re-drafting and editing processes .

The power of mini-goals

With written assignments, don't think in terms of one big goal, i.e., 'Finish and submit essay by 15th January.' Instead, use mini-goals to ensure you are making enough progress to hit  incremental or staggered deadlines.  On this page, we'll explore how goal setting options work, including the potential benefits and drawbacks; then we will cover ways to hold yourself accountable to goals.

The three keys to effective writing goals

Mini-goals when rough drafting are generally quantity-based, time-based, or content-based.  Watch the video below or read the subsections that follow to learn how to use these elements in combination.

Length/quantity-based goals

With this approach, you aim to draft a certain number of words, lines/sentences, paragraphs, or pages per writing session or per day. If a 1,500-word essay is due in a few weeks, for example, you could research during the first week, then draft 300 words per day (Monday to Friday) in the second week. This would give you a 1,500-word rough draft, with one more week remaining to re-draft and edit.

If typing your rough draft, you can use 'word count' features to track your progress. If writing by hand, a paragraph or page target will be easier to follow.

  • PROS  – Quantity goals compel you to actually write rather than sitting there overthinking. Breaking a big project like a 10,000-word dissertation into little 'chunks' (draft two paragraphs today; draft 150 words tomorrow; etc.) keeps you on track and makes the work feel more manageable.
  • CAUTION   – Shift gears if too many writing sessions lead only  to 'fluff' or filler material while using quantity-based goals. This might signal the need to try a different goal method; it could also mean you need to engage in more invention activities or research before rough drafting.

Time-based goals

With this approach, you aim to rough draft for specific amounts of time. Plan your week in advance, setting realistic goals for each day by considering your other obligations, where you will be, anticipated energy levels, etc.

If you will be drafting for an hour or more, use a Pomodoro timer to break the time goal into shorter chunks with breaks between. For example, 'two hours of drafting' could be reframed as 'four 25-minute Pomodoro cycles.' See the quick video below for an explainer on this technique.

  • PROS  – Time-based goals help you integrate drafting practices into your daily and weekly routine, which can gradually transform writing from 'random, stress-spiking intrusion' to 'normal habit.' Scheduling the decided goal into your calendar ups the odds that you will sit down to write during the blocked-out time. 
  • CAUTION   – Shift gears if you are leaving too many so-called 'writing sessions' without having  written  (i.e., you 'wrote for two hours' yesterday and 'wrote for three hours' today, but have four sentences to show for it). Try combining a quantity-based or content-based goal with your time goal to remind yourself to make words happen .

Content-based goals

Students can use content-based goals for any assignment, but this method becomes crucial with extended writing at the postgraduate level . Why? Simply put, the bigger a writing project is, the more likely you are to stare at the blank page and say, 'I have no idea what to write today.'

It's important to develop a solid outline or mind map for this method because you build your mini-goals around achieving specific 'moves' or tackling specific content/ideas . That word 'specific' is key, as you can see in the examples below:

BAD content-based goal: In today's writing session, I will work on my literature review.

GOOD content-based goal:  In today's writing session, I will synthesize three different scholars' definitions of the term 'viral marketing.'

Just reading the first goal feels overwhelming: 'work on' is vague, and 'literature review' is far too broad to provide meaningful direction. The revised goal specifies the move the writer will make: synthesis (i.e., critically weaving together multiple sources). Additionally, it specifies the content/idea the writer will cover: the definition of 'viral marketing.'

To reiterate, content-based goals won't work unless you have some idea where the writing is headed, so invest time in invention and organisation activities.

  • PROS  – Building your mini-goals around writing moves and content/ideas helps keep your rough drafting relevant, making this a good choice for writers who tend to stray from the assessment brief. You enter each drafting session with a clear idea of what you need to accomplish.
  • CAUTION   – An overly rigid approach to content-based goals can prevent exploration of important insights that arise when you are rough drafting, so take time to reflect between each goal in case your plan needs to evolve.

But I don't wanna... (i.e., accountability)

If you are one of those magical people with a magically healthy sense of magical self-motivation...well, good for you! Skip this section. For the rest of us mere mortals, sticking to our writing goals can be a challenge. Here are some ideas to help:

Get it in your calendar as a real thing

It's easy for 'work on rough draft' to get bumped down, down, down your priority list until suddenly the essay is due...tomorrow. Drafting goals shouldn't be loose intentions that float invisibly around your head: they should be recorded and scheduled. Add your drafting sessions to the calendar you use most, and set up alarms and reminders.

Set yourself up for success

Know thyself, know thyself, know thyself: what distracts you when you're trying to draft? Identify the distractions, and do everything you can to eliminate or mitigate them. For example, if social media's siren call always gets to you, stop trying to succeed with willpower alone: leave your phone in a library locker or give it to a trusted friend until your writing session is over. See the 'Pick Your Medium' tab of this guide for more suggestions on tailoring how you write.

Lean on external accountability

In the 'Set the Scene' tab of this guide, we discuss drafting with an accountabili-buddy or writing group. It can be so helpful if you need to 'show up' not only for yourself, but for peers. For extra motivation, create a shared document where each of you log progress towards your drafting goals; this can be as basic as a table of the weekdays where you type 'Y' if you met the goal or 'N' if you didn't. Give encouragement, get encouragement: everyone wins.

Visually represent your achievements

This is a simple one, but it feels great: create a way to visually mark each goal you hit. Tap into your inner child and slap gold star stickers onto the calendar. Draw a thermometer on a piece of paper with the word-count total at the top; colour it in each day as you creep closer to the goal. Put each mini-goal in the To-Do app and relish in that 'ping' sound when you mark it complete.

Make a writing ritual

Cultivate a little ritual that tells your brain, 'It's time to write.' Buy a special tea or coffee that you only brew for writing. Or designate an ugly (but oh-so-comfy) jumper your official 'Making Words Happen Jumper.' Or do some sun salutations while singing 'Wrecking Ball' at the top of your lungs. It doesn't have to be dignified: it's your writing ritual.

Devise a reward system

Rewards that are contingent on perfection tend to be demotivating, so if you try this route, do reward yourself for a 'pretty okay' job: 100% goal-hitting is not realistic. Did you hit most your goals in a week? Perhaps you and your partner agree to binge some bad reality TV on the weekend. Complete your rough draft well ahead of the deadline? Treat yourself to an at-home spa day, or watch some rugby at the pub. For some people, it works to intersperse mini-rewards while writing, i.e., 'For every 45 minutes I draft, I'll give myself 15 minutes of TikTok.'

Being SMART

You can mix and match categories of rough drafting goals to create goals that are SMART: Specific, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable .

  • Make a goal more specific by adding a content-based detail.
  • Make a goal more  motivating by adding a reward or reflecting on the positive outcomes of achieving it.
  • Make goals  attainable by adapting them to match realities of your schedule and study/writing habits.
  • Make goals relevant by verifying that your planning materials reflect the assignment aims.
  • Make goals trackable  with quantity-based mini-deadlines.

Writers who thrive within familiar routine may benefit from finding the goal style that works for them, then sticking with it. Individuals who respond better to variety may benefit from rotating between goal styles if one approach starts to feel stale.

Drafting goals can also evolve throughout the academic year. For example, a postgraduate researcher might respond well to primarily time-based drafting goals for much of the year. However, in the two months preceding a progression review deadline, they might layer on additional elements to build SMART drafting goals tailored to the submission requirements.

  • Experiment with setting goals for your rough drafting based on quantity, time, or content written.
  • Effective rough drafting goals are specific and realistic: goals that are vague or unattainable risk demotivating you.
  • Setting mini-goals with staggered deadlines is vital when working on an extended piece like a dissertation or thesis, so use shorter assessments as opportunities to refine your goal-setting skills.

Pick your medium

When it comes to writing medium, your best bet is to experiment with various options . Most students default to typing in digital documents, but this isn't the only way to produce a rough draft.

Below, we will explore common drafting mediums and tools in terms of pros (i.e., benefits some writers will experience) and words of caution (i.e., potential 'cons,' many of which can be mitigated).

Typing (laptop/computer)

  • THE METHOD  – Log into a computer, fire up a Word doc, and get started: you know the drill!
  • It's simple to leave notes or placeholders in the text (see the 'Delegate to Future You' tab for more on this).
  • Fast typing = fast drafting.
  • Cloud storage enables access from any compatible device.
  • Copy/paste lets you easily shuffle content around while drafting.
  • You don't need to spend time typing it up later.
  • If you freeze up at the sight of a cursor blinking on a blank page, try typing 'It's okay if this draft is terrible' at the top of the document, in bold. Doing so is strangely liberating!
  • Long stints at the computer tire the eyes and body. Set a Pomodoro timer to remind yourself to take breaks.
  • The call of the internet can be very, very distracting. Explore productivity apps/extensions that limit notifications, or bar internet access altogether, while drafting.
  • Your work can be lost if you don't follow IT best practices. Never  rely exclusively on local storage, i.e., saving the file to your desktop. Back it up   via cloud storage or other options.

Decorative

  • THE METHOD  – You only need a pen and a notebook for this one. Project notebooks with tabbed sections are great for staying organised. You can also keep one notebook for planning/invention (outlines, mind maps, etc.) and one for drafting, then set the plan and your draft side by side while working.
  • Writing by hand can quiet the perfectionistic inner voice that makes drafting difficult.
  • Going device-free reduces digital distractions.
  • The ritual of sitting down with a favourite notebook and pen transitions you into a writing-focused headspace.
  • You have an excuse to buy cute stationery. (Kidding...kind of.)
  • Getting hands-on with your draft can enhance your sense of ownership and engagement .
  • You can draft in laptop-unfriendly locations (e.g. beach, forest, museum bench), with no worries about battery life and WiFi.
  • If you don't make a regular habit of typing up what you have handwritten, a backlog builds up. Create a recurring 'Transcription Time' event in your calendar; use it to type up your week's writing.
  • Notebooks can be lost, damaged, or misplaced. At the end of each drafting session, take quick pictures of your handwritten pages as an extra safeguard. Return your notebook to the same spot after every use to reduce the odds of misplacing it.
  • Notebooks aren't secure. Warning: if your drafting involves confidential information or sensitive data, you must follow the university's research data management and privacy policies .

Decorative

  • THE METHOD  – Many students never consider this option, but talking is, indeed, a way to write . The first variation is to record yourself talking and transcribe it later. Just use the voice memo app in your phone to record thoughts and ideas as they come to you. The second variation uses speech-to-text technology , which transcribes your words automatically as you speak. Microsoft Word has a 'Dictate' feature; other dictation software and apps are available, too.
  • Have you ever been frustrated because you can explain an idea in conversation, but you freeze or go blank when you try to write it down, later? Here's your perfect workaround: forget about big bad scary WRITING, and just...talk.
  • Voice memos let us record flashes of inspiration wherever they occur (e.g. treadmill, bathtub, an annoyingly long queue at Nando's, the New Forest).
  • You can squeeze some writing into a busy schedule by dictating during breaks at work, on your commute, etc.
  • Writing by voice gives you a break from texting, typing, and staring at a screen.
  • If using voice memos, immediately re-name your recordings (e.g. 'fallout of financial crisis' or 'Stranger Things character analysis') to avoid creating a sea of files with names like '20230713_7623.wav.'
  • Delete each voice memo once you've transcribed it to prevent confusion. Follow the recurring 'Transcription Time' guidance in the handwriting section, above.
  • Phones can be damaged, lost, or misplaced. Change your settings so recordings back up to cloud storage.
  • If it's annoying to listen to your own voice as you transcribe, put your phone on speaker and let your computer 'listen' and type it up. You can also feed your sound files to a programme that automatically transcribes speech.

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Apps and software

  • Does drafting in your discipline call for mathematical formulas or other elements that a basic word processor doesn't handle well? If so, Overleaf/LaTeX  might make drafting easier.
  • Are you writing a dissertation , thesis, or other lengthy work, and finding it frustrating to manage a substantial manuscript? If so, software tailored to long-form writing, such as Scrivener, might be a fit.
  • Are you prone to digital distractions while drafting, or do wish you had a cleaner interface to work in? Search for 'focus writing apps' and see what's available.
  • Do you like to dictate a lot of your content? Word does have 'Dictate,' but dedicated voice-to-text software provides more functionality.
  • Could you benefit from assistive technology when drafting? Check the university's assistive technology software guidance for more.
  • IT solutions exist for many logistical elements of rough drafting that we find frustrating or lacking.
  • Working in apps that make sense to  you  saves time and frustration.
  • Please don't mistake 'writing apps' for generative AI such as ChatGPT!  When we refer to 'writing apps,' we mean apps that let you type, record, organise, store, and annotate  your own writing .   We are  not  endorsing AI that generates text for you (see the university's guidance on academic integrity and Artificial Intelligence Tools ).
  • Many free writing apps exist, but others require a one-off or monthly payment. Take advantage of 7-day trials and/or free versions of apps to test them out before you commit any money.
  • All software comes with a learning curve. Give yourself adequate time to learn the ins and outs of new apps (i.e., don't launch Scrivener for the first time when your thesis is due in three weeks!).
  • Make sure it's straightforward to reformat/export your writing into the file format required for submission.

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Mixing and matching

Though you might settle on one preferred medium, many writers like a 'mix and match' approach. The medium that works best varies with a range of factors from day to day: how distracted you feel; your energy levels; your location; how open or busy your schedule is; your confidence in the content; the aims of the drafting at hand; whether you feel 'blocked'; and more.

If you are working on an extended piece of writing such as a thesis or dissertation , it can be especially beneficial to vary your writing medium. Approaching words in a different way can motivate or reengage us when a project starts to feel tedious.

  • Reflect on your typical writing medium and whether it lets you engage with rough drafts as you would like.
  • Consider both digital and 'old school' methods to produce content: as long as it lets you put words together, it's valid.
  • Remember that switching up your writing medium can have positive results when you're feeling stuck or demotivated.

Tailoring your writing scene

What does 'university student writing an essay' look like? Several students gathered together in the library, each working on their laptops and pausing to chat now and then? A lone student sat in a bustling café, scribbling in a notebook?

We encourage you to experiment with your writing practice when it comes to environment, from when and where you write, to whether you write alone or amidst others. T his page will help you set your scene for productive rough drafting.

Pick your company

It is surprising how influential having some company – or having no company at all! – can be on our writing activities. For example, some writers find it easiest to rough draft in a public study area alongside friends, but better to  edit  at home alone. Other writers prefer the opposite! Test out different combinations to figure out what works for you.

Flying truly solo

  • For this option, try rough drafting when you are all by yourself. This often means drafting in your bedroom or another study area at home, but it could mean being out in nature with a notebook. Up to you!

Solo-ing among fellow solos

  • For this option, try rough drafting in a space where people nearby are also working solo: for example, study pods in the library or Building 100, a work-friendly café with lots of small tables, a computer lab, etc.
  • Writers drawn to this style don't want their work interrupted with conversation, but they do feel motivated by the awareness that everyone around them is working, too.

Pairing with an accountabili-buddy

  • For this option, find one peer to join you for drafting sessions as an accountabili-buddy (i.e., an accountability buddy). Their presence helps you stay focused, and in turn, you help them stay focused.
  • This practice helps ensure you are drafting regularly rather than procrastinating, getting distracted on your phone, etc. Read up on the concept of 'body doubling' to stay focused if this sounds appealing!

Gathering the writing group

  • For this option, draft alongside a few peers on a regular basis. Writing groups vary in size, but four to six people total tends to work well.
  • Major benefits of writing groups can include increased productivity, reduced procrastination, reduced anxiety, and an enhanced sense of community .

Matching task and company

  • The company (or lack thereof) that works best for you whilst rough drafting might not suit other writing activities. For example, you might draft 'solo among fellow solos' in the library but bounce ideas off peers while editing.
  • Figuring out your preferences takes trial and error. Reflect on not only your levels of productivity and focus, but your emotional and social wellbeing: after all, a tiny boost in productivity isn't worth it if you feel overwhelmed, disconnected, etc.

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Reflect on environment

Environment goes hand in hand with company. You want to feel physically comfortable , but not so comfortable you fall asleep; you want to feel mentally stimulated , but not to the point of distraction. Here, we consider how factors in the environment influence your senses of focus and inspiration.

Vast rooms, great heights, and cozy nooks

  • Compare how it feels to draft in a large, airy space with how it feels to draft in a cozier, den-like space.
  • Try drafting with visual stimuli minimised: for example, at a desk facing a wall. Then, try drafting somewhere with more action or a view: for example, sat near a window on a building's 6th floor.

Noise levels and types

  • Fewer writers thrive in absolute silence than you might imagine.
  • When it comes to noise, think not only about volume levels, but the qualities  of what you are hearing: is the soundscape consistent or unpredictable; ambient or self-curated; musical or music-free; etc.?
  • For a quick experiment, try drafting in one of the library's designated 'quiet zones,' then try drafting on a floor that allows talking: which worked better for you?
  • A decent pair of headphones can be a great investment in your writing. Explore online options for 'white noise,' 'focus music,' 'study soundtracks,' etc.
  • Cue up recordings of actual cafes, train stations, rainforests, zoos, laundromats, and other spaces if the ambient vibe helps you concentrate.

Public vs. private

  • Public spaces tend to spark a greater sense of accountability. No one in the library will come over and chastise you if you stop working, but...it kind of feels like they will, doesn't it? Likewise, when you leave the house specifically to go somewhere and write, you feel more driven to follow through.
  • Private spaces have benefits, too. You can stretch, pace around, and talk to yourself. You can create as much writing mess as needed. No one will judge you for wearing a dragon onesie while drafting (you do you, friend). Plus, the coffee is much cheaper!

Night owls, early birds, and...midday geese?

  • Experiment with what time of day you write: again, the results may surprise you.
  • Some writers swear by drafting first thing in the morning because their minds feel clear and undistracted.
  • Other writers let their ideas incubate throughout the day and draft best at night.
  • Others, still, experience an energy spike in the afternoon that lets them focus well on drafting.
  • There is no right or wrong in terms of  productivity 'sweet spots' in the day: there is only what works best for you .

Customising environments

Small adjustments can make any environment work better for you if you take time to reflect on which factors are making the drafting feel easier and which factors are hampering you. For example...

  • If seeing people walking around, gesturing, etc. is nice but the noise is too much, try silencing headphones.
  • If the sounds of everyone typing and chattering in the library are great but you feel exposed or visually distracted, use a jacket to turn a study pod into your own little 'writing cave.'
  • If your writing group meets in a private house for the cheap snacks and 'yay we can wear onesies' factor, but the house is too quiet, take turns picking ambient soundtracks or instrumental playlists for background noise.

Decorative

  • Rough drafting doesn't need to be a solo activity: consider whether some company is a good fit.
  • Experiment with environmental variables – space, privacy, sound, time of day, etc. – to discover your individual blends for inspiration and focus.
  • Remember that different writing activities may call for different combinations of company and environment: don't be afraid to mix things up and see what works.

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  • Last Updated: Mar 28, 2024 5:31 PM
  • URL: https://library.soton.ac.uk/rough_drafting

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Rough Drafts

In this section of the Excelsior OWL, you have been learning about traditional structures for expository essays (essays that are thesis-based and offer a point-by-point body), but no matter what type of essay you’re writing, the rough draft is going to be an important part of your writing process. It’s important to remember that your rough draft is a long way from your final draft, and you will engage in revision and editing before you have a draft that is ready to submit.

Sometimes, keeping this in mind can help you as you draft. When you draft, you don’t want to feel like “this has to be perfect.” If you put that much pressure on yourself, it can be really difficult to get your ideas down.

The sample rough draft below shows you an example of just how much more work a rough draft can need, even a really solid first draft. Take a look at this example with notes a student wrote on her rough draft. Once you complete your own rough draft, you will want to engage in a revision and editing process that involves feedback, time, and diligence on your part. The steps that follow in this section of the Excelsior OWL will help!

Rough Draft Example

Example of a rough draft

LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS

Excelsior Online Writing Lab (OWL). Located at:  https://owl.excelsior.edu/  . This site is licensed under a  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/  .

ENG102 Contextualized for Health Sciences - OpenSkill Fellowship Copyright © 2022 by Compiled by Lori Walk. All Rights Reserved.

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Writing a Research Paper

22 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

The student we have been following in these Research sections decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how the student progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb DietsI.

Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Exercise 23.1

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

Writing in Process

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas. See the previous chapter, “ Introduction Source Evidence ” for introductory techniques.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, the student above summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and his summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

Exercise 23.2

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that the student already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

Read the passage from a website. Then read the student’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, the student realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Exercise 23.3

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colourful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

The student above interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and the student’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how the student smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting.”

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting.”

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting.” A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, the student above realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although he had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As the student revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of  “Writing a Research Paper” connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “ Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper ” in  Writing for Success  by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution (and republished by University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing). Adapted by Allison Kilgannon.   CC BY-NC-SA .

Provincial English Copyright © 2022 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Unit 4: Fundamentals of Academic Essay Writing

22 Creating a Rough Outline

Preview Questions:

  • What is a rough outline? What information does a rough outline include?
  • What is the purpose of writing a rough outline? How might it be helpful for you?

You have been reading and taking notes, developing a broad understanding of the topic. You should have some sense of how to answer your research question. As you read, identify the “answers” (evidence) to your research question. Create a rough outline to organize your ideas.

A rough outline (RO) is a tentative plan of what your essay will look like. It includes:

  • Your research question (RQ).
  • The focus of your research question.
  • The answer to your RQ, expressed as a short list of categories.

Technique for creating a rough outline: Brainstorming a list

  • Review your notes and articles.
  • Write your research question at the top of your paper.
  • Brainstorm a list of words or phrases that answer your research question.
  • Review your list and see which words seem to go together. Label groups of words with a different number for each “category” you notice. (In the example below there are four categories, so each answer has been labeled 1, 2, 3, or 4.)
  • Put your rough outline away and look at it later with “fresh eyes.” Is there anything you would like to change or add?

Note: You will continue to refine this rough outline. It will help you write your thesis statement and your detailed outline, and it is likely to change as you explore your topic.

Example Rough Outline

1. Research question  

Focus type(s) – choose one or more.

2. Do an in-depth, focused reading of your sources. Look for evidence which answers your research question. Make a list of 10-15 phrases which answer the RQ.

3. Categorize: Analyze the list and group similar ideas together into categories . Put numbers next to each item designating its category. Then identify a word or phrase to describe each category. List the categories as 3-4 supporting points in a rough outline:

4. Write a tentative thesis statement. Limit your supporting points to the three most important.

Academic Writing I Copyright © by UW-Madison ESL Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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12.1: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

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Learning Objectives

  • Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  • Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  • Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  • Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  • Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting. It can also be challenging. In this section, you will learn strategies for handling the more challenging aspects of writing a research paper, such as integrating material from your sources, citing information correctly, and avoiding any misuse of your sources.

The Structure of a Research Paper

Research papers generally follow the same basic structure: an introduction that presents the writer’s thesis, a body section that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence, and a conclusion that revisits the thesis and provides additional insights or suggestions for further research.

Your writing voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers’ interest and establish your thesis. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details. In contrast, the body of your paper will cite sources extensively. As you present your ideas, you will support your points with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There are several approaches to writing an introduction, each of which fulfills the same goals. The introduction should get readers’ attention, provide background information, and present the writer’s thesis. Many writers like to begin with one of the following catchy openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers’ experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know in what direction the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers’ daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.

Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper. If you find yourself struggling to write an engaging introduction, you may wish to write the body of your paper first. Writing the body sections first will help you clarify your main points. Writing the introduction should then be easier. You may have a better sense of how to introduce the paper after you have drafted some or all of the body.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you recap where they have been. For this reason, some writers prefer to write their conclusions soon after they have written their introduction. However, this method may not work for all writers. Other writers prefer to write their conclusion at the end of the paper, after writing the body paragraphs. No process is absolutely right or absolutely wrong; find the one that best suits you.

No matter when you compose the conclusion, it should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not simply echo the introduction or rely on bland summary statements, such as “In this paper, I have demonstrated that.…” In fact, avoid repeating your thesis verbatim from the introduction. Restate it in different words that reflect the new perspective gained through your research. That helps keep your ideas fresh for your readers. An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

writing at work

If your job involves writing or reading scientific papers, it helps to understand how professional researchers use the structure described in this section. A scientific paper begins with an abstract that briefly summarizes the entire paper. The introduction explains the purpose of the research, briefly summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers’ hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers’ interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material in Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully at the paragraph level and at the sentence level. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can—preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists’ findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge’s summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, Ph.D.

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.

In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).

A summary restates ideas in your own words—but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing—that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer’s own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge’s initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.

Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.

People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  • Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  • Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  • Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  • Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources Directly

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author’s words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader’s interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author’s ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author’s point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (…) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.
  • Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.
  • Remember to include correctly formatted citations that follow the assigned style guide.

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge’s use of it, which follows.

Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.

Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, “Personally, I don’t really buy into all of the hype.…Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.”

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quoted material by starting the sentence with an introductory phrase. His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source’s meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Throughout the writing process, be scrupulous about documenting information taken from sources. The purpose of doing so is twofold:

  • To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  • To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13 .

Citing Sources in the Body of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author’s name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear as part of your introduction to the material or as a parenthetical citation at the end of a sentence. Read the examples that follow. For more information about in-text citations for other source types, see Chapter 13 .

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

The introduction to the source material includes the author’s name followed by the year of publication in parentheses.

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

The parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence includes the author’s name, a comma, and the year the source was published. The period at the end of the sentence comes after the parentheses.

Creating a List of References

Each of the sources you cite in the body text will appear in a references list at the end of your paper. While in-text citations provide the most basic information about the source, your references section will include additional publication details. In general, you will include the following information:

  • The author’s last name followed by his or her first (and sometimes middle) initial
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

Additional information may be included for different types of sources, such as online sources. For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13 . A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge’s paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary and Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer’s analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer’s own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others’ interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors’ scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists’ findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he did not have the time, resources, or experience needed to conduct original experimental research for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.

Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer’s purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer’s purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer’s purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time , Newsweek , and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people’s ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two—as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose—for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When to Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another’s music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder’s permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another’s work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge’s revision.

Heinz (2009) found that “subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period.” These results were “noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)” whose average weight loss was only “7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period.” From this, it can be concluded that “low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.” Other researchers agree that “at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success” than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working with Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn’t record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Citing other people’s work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others’ work—for instance, requesting permission to link to another company’s website on your own corporate website—always follow your employer’s established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 connect to a larger issue—academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others’ work honestly and by using other people’s work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student’s failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the university. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.

Key Takeaways

  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer’s ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer’s thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer’s ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are usually most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer’s own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer’s own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.
  • Features for Creative Writers
  • Features for Work
  • Features for Higher Education
  • Features for Teachers
  • Features for Non-Native Speakers
  • Learn Blog Grammar Guide Community Events FAQ
  • Grammar Guide

From Draft to Done: A Full Breakdown of the Writing Process

Micah McGuire

Micah McGuire

pencil and pencil shavings on a notebook

So you’ve decided to write a story and hope to publish it. For write-to-publish newbies, you might want to know what you’re getting into, especially if you’re working on a large project like a novel. It’s natural to wonder: how many drafts will it take before my story is ready to publish?

Unfortunately, you’re more likely to answer “how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?” before knowing how many drafts you’ll need before publication. Here’s why.

A rose by any other name: What’s in a draft?

The biggest problem with breaking down the writing process from first to last draft can be linked back to one little detail:

How do you define a draft?

There are as many ways to define the word “draft” as there are writers. Which means every writer’s version of “the writing process” will look different. It’s impossible to say: “oh, writing a novel will take five drafts.”

Because the definition of “draft” can vary so much, it’s useful to think about drafting on a spectrum:

  • The fewest drafts: Only rewrites count
  • Middle-of-the-road: The fiction patching method
  • The most drafts: Every change counts

Keep reading for more on how this draft spectrum works.

Only rewrites count

The minimalist take on drafting. By this definition, only full rewrites of a piece count as a true draft. Which means when saving a manuscript to a file, you wouldn’t alter the file name until you completely rewrite that chapter, section, or piece.

The advantage here lies in simplicity: you have fewer files to juggle since you’re saving to the same file over and over. But you may risk losing details from earlier drafts because of the repeat saves. Plus, for larger projects like novels, you need to divide your manuscript into parts and have a file system in place to keep track of your revisions.

The fiction patching method

While this started as more of a joke between writers on social media, it’s a great middle-of-the-road way to think about drafting. It takes cues from software versioning , noting that not every change means a new draft. Smaller changes are like patches (the version’s third number) and rewrites might be closer to updates (the second number) rather than a new version release/new draft (the first number).

So draft names might look like this:

  • Draft 0.1: Outline
  • Draft 1.0: Rough Draft
  • Draft 1.5: Rough draft with some rewrites
  • Draft 2.0: Rough draft fully rewritten with feedback from critique partners
  • Draft 2.0.1: Rewritten rough draft with a minor tweak (or “patch”) to the protagonist’s motivation

Here, you can always revisit an older version to review details you want to re-emphasize in rewrites. But, it’s easy to end up with dozens if not hundreds of files and you’ll have to decide what constitutes a “patch,” an update and a brand new release ahead of time to stay consistent with naming.

Every change counts

Taken to its extreme, this approach to drafting may seem silly. Why would anyone count every change as a new draft? But most writers favor a less extreme version of this approach. It’s how we end up with draft names like “Final draft” and “Final draft I swear,” and “No really this is the last draft.”

Fortunately, this means you’ll never lose a detail again and you have complete control over naming conventions. However, you can end up with hundreds of files in a blink. And, if you’re not careful with what you name each file, it may take some detective work to figure out which one is the most recent version.

So, where do you fall on the drafting spectrum? Keeping it in mind can help you estimate the number of drafts you might need before publishing your story.

Typewriter page reading: edit...rewrite...edit...rewrite

From outline to finished product: the writing process

Now that you have a better understanding of what the word “draft” means to you, you can look at the writing process with fresh eyes.

While it’s impossible to say how many drafts a manuscript takes, it is possible to break the writing process down into stages . We can define the process in 5 stages:

  • The rough draft
  • Content edits
  • Proofreading

Try not to think of this as a step-by-step process. It’s more like a series of loops as each one of these stages may require multiple revision rounds. Sometimes, the process can feel like one step forward and two steps back, but each round will strengthen your manuscript.

Let’s look at each stage.

1. Outlining

2. the rough draft, 3. content edits, 4. line edits, 5. proofreading.

We couldn’t talk about the writing process without touching on outlining. Planners, applaud and cheer as much as you’d like—just make sure not to upset your color-coded highlighter sets.

Pantsers, resist the urge to skip this. It still applies to you, even if you think it doesn’t.

Like a draft, there are thousands of ways to define the term “outline.” But whether you fall on the planner detailed scene-by-scene index card method or the pantser “I know the ending. How I get there is up to the characters” end of the spectrum, you need some form of an outline.

The point of an outline is to ensure your writing produces a story with a plot. Otherwise, you risk writing pages and pages in which your characters run around and do things but never advance the plot.

So at the bare minimum, an outline requires you know:

  • Who your protagonist is
  • Who your antagonist is
  • Why the protagonist and antagonist have a problem with each other (otherwise known as your central conflict)
  • Where the story starts
  • Where the story ends

Pantsers, breathe a sigh of relief: you don’t have to answer any of these questions in detail for it to count as an outline. You just need to know where you’re starting and where you’re going. You don’t even need to use a pen and paper— try these three fun outlining methods .

Spend as much or as little time on this stage as you’d like.

But once your outline is complete, you can move onto what most of us think of as the “real” writing: drafting.

This is the most crucial aspect of writing a story. Fortunately, it’s also the one stage that’s impossible to get wrong.

There’s one goal to a rough draft: get the story out of your head and onto a page in a somewhat comprehensible form. That’s the only focus. So if you’re writing, you’re succeeding.

Most writers face perfectionist paralysis in the rough draft stage. We think that because the writing doesn’t match what we see it in our heads, it’s bad. Or the story’s going to be bad. Or we’re bad writers.

If you’re in the analysis paralysis camp, invoke Anne Lamott’s “Sh*tty First Drafts” rule . To quote the late great Terry Pratchett, “the first draft is you telling yourself the story.”

So don’t judge it. Or better yet, accept that it’s bad. Cringe, wince, make faces. Just get it down on the page. Because you can’t edit a story that’s floating around in your head.

A marked up journal

So you’ve finished your rough draft. Take a moment to celebrate! Your story is out of your head and onto the page.

Next up: editing.

Writers usually see editing as a terrifying mountain or a fun challenge. But there’s no denying it’s a monumental job, no matter how long or short your story is.

Because the scope of editing can be overwhelming, it’s easiest to break the process up into steps. Those steps are:

Here’s a breakdown of each.

A content edit is just what it sounds like: a pass editing the content and story of your work. This is the place to catch plot holes, character inconsistencies, and scenes that are a bit of a slog. For some, it’s easier to think of this as a “rewriting” round rather than an “editing” round since you’re making large-scale changes.

Sometimes, content edits are obvious on a read-through of a rough draft. Yet the longer you’ve worked on a piece, the harder it is to spot those editing opportunities.

Self-editing

Each draft you write marks progress in your writing abilities. When you read back over the first few scenes you wrote, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. This is why the self-edit is so important. You need to apply your newfound skills and perspective to your manuscript so that it’s the best it can be before you open it up for feedback.

The first step is to use an editing software like ProWritingAid to help you spot issues with overly long sentences, awkward constructions, unruly dialogue tags, and pacing. Using an editing tool at this stage helps you to get the most out of any human beta-readers and editors you may reach out to down the line.

Some reports give you the tools to visualise your draft at a glance to see where you need to focus. The Sentence Length Report shows you all of your sentences in a handy bar chart so you can cut long, winding sentences down to size. This will help keep your ideas clear and avoid any readability issues.

sentence length report prowritingaid

Other reports let you get to work directly on your manuscript, like the Overused Words Report. This report highlights words that are often overused in published writing. These are words like could , just , and feel that point to vagueness or telling rather than showing.

overused words in desktop

The report lets you pick out these words and change them to make sure your description is doing the work it needs to to immerse your readers.

Learn how to approach the self-edit, and how ProWritingAid can help .

Critique partners and beta readers

Once your first self-edit is complete, you’ll need a fresh set of eyes to help direct your efforts. Enter critique partners and beta readers.

On the surface, it may sound like critique partners and beta readers do the same thing: they both read through your work and provide feedback.

However, there’s some nuance that separates the two:

Critique partners are writers who read like writers. But beta readers are writers or readers who read like readers.

Because your critique partners are fellow writers, they’re great at spotting technical issues, like:

  • Weak character motivations
  • Stilted dialogue
  • Clichéd descriptions
  • Continuity errors

Getting this technical feedback is especially helpful before handing your story off to readers, so it’s best to let your critique partners read a story before jumping into a beta reading round.

As a bonus, your critique partners can spot these issues and help you figure out ways to fix them while you’re both “talking shop.”

Beta readers, on the other hand, are fantastic for getting feedback on emotional reactions to your story, like:

  • Whether a certain character was likable or not
  • If certain chapters felt too fast or too slow
  • Whether the conflict kept them engaged
  • If they found themselves wanting to read more

Here, you’re getting close to how a reader would react to your story once it’s published. Use their feedback to determine if the story prompts the response you intended it to and edit accordingly.

Now, a quick note on the biggest difference between beta readers and critique partners: the detail level of their suggestions. If beta readers aren’t writers themselves, they may not be able to articulate the specifics of what they dislike in the story. Their feedback can be vague, amounting to: “I don’t like this scene, but I’m not sure why.” The best way to identify problem spots is to look at the feedback of all of your beta readers. If multiple readers have an issue with a scene or section, it’s a good indicator to pay close attention on editing.

Critique partners, however, can usually pin-point issues with laser precision, but may go overboard with their suggestions. Feedback may seem harsh and critique partners with a domineering streak may make “my way or the highway” style fix suggestions.

So it’s ultimately a fine balance. Note where you can improve and keep that in mind during your content edits, but also trust your gut instinct. In the end, it’s your story.

Once you’ve gone through a round or two (or more) of content edits, it’s time to move to line edits. These edits ensure your story is as strong as possible when it’s published. You’re examining your story, sentence by sentence, to catch dialogue issues, problems with the flow of a paragraph, and weak sentences that need rewriting.

If you’d like to hire a professional editor, this is a great stage to do it. But, if you’d prefer to tackle this edit yourself, ProWritingAid can make your process run much more smoothly. Check out our guide to six of the key reports that can make your line edits easy.

The proofreading stage is what most writers think of when they think of “editing.” Here, you’re checking for spelling and grammatical errors and ensuring consistency. Think of it as a final polish.

While some writers may hire a professional editor to proofread, it’s not a necessity, especially if you’re looking to publish traditionally. Often, a friend with a good eye for grammar can catch trouble spots on their read through. And ProWritingAid’s spelling and grammar reports can point out any little details they may have missed.

With your proofreading sweep complete, congratulations! Your story is ready to share with the wider reading world. Now, it’s time to move on to publishing or querying process.

If you’re looking to self publish your story, check out our webinar on the 7 Processes of Publishing . And for those who want to query, Jennifer Xue’s guide covers the process in depth .

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

So you are ready to write your novel. excellent. but are you prepared the last thing you want when you sit down to write your first draft is to lose momentum., this guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world..

what does a thesis rough draft look like

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

As ProWritingAid’s Growth Marketing Manager, Micah’s approach to marketing combines her three favorite things: writing, user research, and data analysis. Previously, she managed PR and partnerships for startup GrowthMentor. A geek about all things science, but especially her former field of study, microbiology, and neuroscience, she’s always on the lookout for ways to incorporate fascinating new research into writing. Much of her previous freelance work analyzes the science of productivity, creativity, and how we can better understand the intersection of the two to lead richer lives. Outside of work, you can usually find her baking or typing away at her latest science fiction or fantasy project.

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35 How to Write a Rough Draft.

Kathy Boylan

Make the Writing Process Work for You! What makes the writing process beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternatives to standard practices and motivates you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in the writing process:

  • Begin writing with the part you know the most about. The purpose of a first draft is to get ideas down on paper that can then be revised.  Consider beginning with the body paragraphs and drafting the introduction and conclusion later. You can start with the third point in your outline if ideas come easily to mind, or you can start with the first or second point   Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader’s interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than the length of an entire double-spaced page.
  • Write one supporting point at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.
  • Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multipage report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest, but do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write.
  • Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.
  • Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.
  • Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, for example, you will present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can for the particular audience you have in mind. If your audience dwells on logic, for example, points that use reason, facts, documented information, and the like, will provide the persuasion to which those readers best respond. Some writers find it useful to keep the purpose and audience at the top of every page, highlighted in some way, as a reminder of the targets of each point.
  • Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know very little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to know to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas, so they are meaningful and memorable and your communication is effective?
  • Write knowing that the revision and editing processes lie ahead, so leave plenty of time for those stages.

You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card that you clip to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself—perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know—so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or the subject about which you want to inform them or persuade them.

Writing at Work

Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like “organic romaine” and “free-range chicken” are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers’ tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.

Tips to Avoid Writer’s Block

Set up scheduled times to write and set deadlines to accomplish different parts of your essay, and avoid perfectionism–that comes later in the writing process.

Maintaining Internal Integrity of Paragraphs

A paragraph needs to provide links between the ideas, and here are techniques that you can put into practice.

Using Transitions

Transitions within paragraphs are words that connect one sentence to another so that readers can follow the intended meanings of sentences and relationships between sentences. Transitions may also smooth the flow between body paragraphs.  The following table shows some commonly used transition words:

What Point of View Should Be Used in Academic Writing?

The dominant perspective in argument writing should be third person (he, she, it, and they).  What do you gain by using third person?

  • Third person puts the topic and argument at the center , where they should be.
  • Third person implies a critical distance between the writer and the argument , which can reassure readers who might disagree with your perspective that you are not being overly swayed by emotional attachment, i.e., that you can be objective.

Figure 4.5 Point of View

POV graphic

What this means is that writers should minimize the first person (I, me, we, us).  The use of I in writing is often a topic of debate, and the acceptance of its usage varies from instructor to instructor.  Some instructors demand all removal of first person from argument writing, but other instructors do not mind it.  (This is changing fast, though. Many academic journals now encourage first-person writing because it is more active, immediate, and interesting to read. The deciding factor is to follow the instructions of your instructor.) While you may feel more comfortable using first person because you still think of an argument as the same as an opinion, be aware that using first person in argument writing comes with damaging effects:

  • Using I shifts the focus from the topic and argument to the one making the argument .   You are not the focus of the essay; your argument and its support are. The insertion of I into a sentence alters not only the way a sentence might sound but also the composition of the sentence itself. I is often the subject of a sentence. If the subject of the essay is supposed to be, for example, smoking, then by inserting yourself into the sentence, you are effectively displacing the subject of the essay into a secondary position.  Note the difference in these two sentences:

Smoking is bad.

I think smoking is bad.

In the first sentence, the rightful subject, smoking , is in the subject position in the sentence. In the second sentence, the insertion of I and think replaces smoking as the subject, which draws attention to I and away from the topic that is supposed to be discussed. Remember to keep the message (the subject) and the messenger (the writer) separate.

  • Too many I-statements make your argument sound weak .  Excessive repetition of “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe” will eventually make it look like you are overemphasizing your beliefs because you don’t have enough confidence in them.  Perception is important.  You may actually be incredibly confident in your argument, logic, and evidence, but your overuse of I-statements will undermine that.
  • Too many I-statements make your argument sound biased .  Too much use of I will make your readers think you cannot be objective, and they may doubt your support because they think you are too personally attached to the argument to reasonably and objectively weigh data and logic—even if you are doing that throughout the essay.
  • I-statements make your sentences wordier .  Good academic writing is shark-like, and when declaring arguments and supporting points, you especially want to cut through the noise and confusion with strong, straightforward, economic writing.  Refer again to the two sentences above.  The first is boldly declarative (Smoking is bad.  Boom!). The second is wordier, which drains energy and punch from the claim.

Writers may use the first person POV in personal, reflective or narrative writing.  However, the second person POV (using you) is usually avoided in any form of academic writing.

Consider adopting this rule of thumb: check with your professors for their preference, but even if they allow first person, use it sparingly.

Let's Get Writing! Copyright © 2018 by Kathy Boylan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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IMAGES

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  2. How To Write A Rough Draft Essay

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  4. Research: Outline to Rough Draft

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  5. 🏆 How to write rough draft for an essay. How to Write a Rough Draft: 14

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  1. 12.1 Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas. Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research. At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting.

  2. How to Write a Rough Draft: 14 Steps (with Pictures)

    1. Make a plot outline. If you are writing a creative piece, such as a novel or a short story, you should sit down and create a plot outline. This can be a basic outline and does not need to be very detailed. Having a plot outline to refer to can help you get organized for the rough draft.

  3. Step 9. Write a Rough Draft

    Write a Rough Draft. Many students hear "rough draft" and they think "final draft." Let me assure you, this is not a good idea. A rough draft is you putting ideas to paper in a semi-logical order that might actually get a D. A rough draft gives you the opportunity to screw up and fix it before you hand in a paper that sucks. Take that opportunity.

  4. Writing the Rough Draft of an Essay

    The writing process steps are: topic selection. research. outline. thesis development. rough draft. revision. final draft. The rough draft is the step that takes the outline and fills in the ...

  5. Rough Drafts

    The sample rough draft below shows you an example of just how much more work a rough draft can need, even a really solid first draft. Take a look at this example with notes a student wrote on her rough draft. Once you complete your own rough draft, you will want to engage in a revision and editing process that involves feedback, time, and ...

  6. 8.5: Write the Rough Draft

    8.5.3: Write Your Research Paper Draft. This page titled 8.5: Write the Rough Draft is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sravani Banerjee, Elizabeth Eckford, Nicholas Goodwin, Robin Hahn, and Binh Vo ( Open Educational Resource Initiative at Evergreen Valley College) .

  7. 10.8: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    These results were "noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)" whose average weight loss was only "7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period" (Heinz). From this, it can be concluded that "low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results.".

  8. 7.1

    Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion. Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources. Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.

  9. Dissertation & Thesis Outline

    Dissertation & Thesis Outline | Example & Free Templates. Published on June 7, 2022 by Tegan George.Revised on November 21, 2023. A thesis or dissertation outline is one of the most critical early steps in your writing process.It helps you to lay out and organize your ideas and can provide you with a roadmap for deciding the specifics of your dissertation topic and showcasing its relevance to ...

  10. How to Write a Rough Draft

    The rough draft is for you, the writer. It provides a dense foundation with room to grow, and should be written with care. Remember: the better the rough draft, the less fine-tuning you have to complete later on. Step 8: Research Paper Introduction. Step 10 Research Paper Conclusion.

  11. Writing

    The first draft of an essay or other written assessment is often referred to as the rough draft. We call it rough for a reason: it's normal for the earliest version of an essay to be disjointed, underdeveloped, or otherwise messy. We argue that the messiness isn't just normal: it's a good thing.

  12. Rough Drafts

    The sample rough draft below shows you an example of just how much more work a rough draft can need, even a really solid first draft. Take a look at this example with notes a student wrote on her rough draft. Once you complete your own rough draft, you will want to engage in a revision and editing process that involves feedback, time, and ...

  13. Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    Exercise 23.1. Write the introductory paragraph of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis. TIP: Writers often work out of sequence when writing a research paper.

  14. Creating a Rough Outline

    Technique for creating a rough outline: Brainstorming a list. Review your notes and articles. Write your research question at the top of your paper. Brainstorm a list of words or phrases that answer your research question. Review your list and see which words seem to go together. Label groups of words with a different number for each ...

  15. What Is a Thesis?

    Revised on April 16, 2024. A thesis is a type of research paper based on your original research. It is usually submitted as the final step of a master's program or a capstone to a bachelor's degree. Writing a thesis can be a daunting experience. Other than a dissertation, it is one of the longest pieces of writing students typically complete.

  16. How to Write a Thesis Statement

    Placement of the thesis statement. Step 1: Start with a question. Step 2: Write your initial answer. Step 3: Develop your answer. Step 4: Refine your thesis statement. Types of thesis statements. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about thesis statements.

  17. 4.5: How to Write a Rough Draft?

    Too many I-statements make your argument sound weak. Excessive repetition of "I think" or "I feel" or "I believe" will eventually make it look like you are overemphasizing your beliefs because you don't have enough confidence in them. Perception is important.

  18. 12.1: Creating a Rough Draft for a Research Paper

    Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas. Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research. At last, you are ready to begin writing the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your thinking and research into words is exciting.

  19. Draft to Done: A Guide to the 5 Stages of the Writing Process

    So draft names might look like this: Draft 0.1: Outline; Draft 1.0: Rough Draft; Draft 1.5: Rough draft with some rewrites; Draft 2.0: Rough draft fully rewritten with feedback from critique partners; Draft 2.0.1: Rewritten rough draft with a minor tweak (or "patch") to the protagonist's motivation

  20. How to Write a Rough Draft.

    Begin writing with the part you know the most about. The purpose of a first draft is to get ideas down on paper that can then be revised. Consider beginning with the body paragraphs and drafting the introduction and conclusion later. You can start with the third point in your outline if ideas come easily to mind, or you can start with the first ...

  21. What does a rough draft of a research paper look like?

    Your conclusion will restate your thesis and main points and then make a meaningful statement about the topic. Your rough draft will look like a completed paper with an introduction, body ...