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Tips for Writing a Strong First Draft

Composing a rough draft is the first step to writing a strong manuscript. A first draft is to a writer what an initial sketch is to a painter: it provides direction and acts as a guide for the final version of your paper. A rough draft is intended to be exactly that–rough. And it can help relieve the pressure associated with the writing process. A fleshed-out first draft also makes it easier to receive initial feedback on your research and ideas before moving onto refining the details, such as language and delivery. Read on to learn more about first drafts as well as five tips on the drafting process.

What should be included in a first draft?

Many writers use the first draft as more of an outline, excluding much of the details that they intend to include in the final draft. However, it is typically best for the rough draft to include everything that should be in the final version and perhaps even additional material that may be cut later in the revision process. Instead of narrowing down your “main points” to create an outline, try writing down everything that may be relevant, without constantly going back to edit yourself. This can lead to “overwriting,” but this is not necessarily negative, as overwriting provides you with more content to select from when putting together the final version.

Should a first draft include citations?

Yes, it is best to include citations — at least the main ones and preferably more than you think you will end up using in the finalized manuscript. Having many citations is useful for the same reason overwriting is useful: it gives you more to choose from. In addition, looking up citations for your rough draft can help you figure out which parts of your paper are the most robust or the most extensively studied.

Tip #1 : Stick to a schedule

Before you even begin writing, create a realistic schedule that allows for daily writing time. Having a regular writing schedule creates momentum, making it easier for you to continue writing. This helps prevent writer’s block, but of course, writer’s block is not completely avoidable.

The first draft is often the most time consuming and exhausting part of the writing process, so maintaining a robust routine is key. You should write at the designated time each day, even when you do feel stuck. If you do not already have a scheduling system, consider looking into online tools, such as Google Calendar. For more collaborative writing projects, you could also consider apps such as Trello or Notion. These apps make it easy to keep track of what each member of the project is doing.

Tip #2 : Conduct preliminary research

Once you have put aside the time for writing, it is time to do some basic research. If you are writing a research paper or a graduate thesis, you have probably read a substantial quantity of relevant literature, so this step is likely unnecessary. However, if you are writing an essay for school, the topic you have chosen is likely one that you are interested in but not too familiar with. In this case, search through archives and Google Scholar and come up with a list of papers that you may be able to cite. Do not focus on finding papers that affirm a specific position or opinion; instead, focus on collecting material from reputable sources. This step is indispensable because it provides an idea of the work that has been done in that field. While conducting preliminary research, you may even find that the direction you initially intended is not the best choice.

Tip #3 : Feel free to jump between sections

When writing your draft, you may get stuck while writing a specific part. When that happens, it is completely acceptable to write one section before another; there is no need to write (for example) the introduction before the methods or the abstract before the introduction. Allowing yourself to write out of order will speed up your drafting process, and moving on to work on a different part of the paper can help you return to the part you were stuck on with fresh eyes.

Similarly, you may want to consider writing the “specific” parts before the “general” parts. Writing an abstract or an introduction can often be intimidating because these parts are more “general” and provide a sweeping overview. In such cases, spending some time working on more “specific” parts, such as the methods and discussion, can help you figure out what should be addressed in the more “general” parts.

Tip #4 : Just write

When you inevitably get stuck while writing, it can be tempting to walk away for a bit. While taking some time away from your writing can help you return to it with a fresh perspective, this only really applies to the revision process and the time you have not designated for writing. During the time you have scheduled for writing, it is better to sit down and write anything than it is to walk off and take a break.

On a related note, you may be having a hard time progressing your first draft because you’re tied up on writing perfect sentences and constantly going back to edit yourself. Try to focus on writing and forget about revising until you have finished the draft. There will be plenty of time to edit and fix mistakes afterwards.

Tip #5 : Use academic proofreading software

Speaking of fixing mistakes, academic proofreading software can be a useful tool towards the end of the drafting process. AI proofreading software uses machine learning principles to identify errors and suggest basic stylistic changes. Chances are, your first draft is full of grammar mistakes and readability issues. Running your draft through a proofreading tool can help you quickly identify these problems, speeding up the writing process.

The Wordvice AI Proofreader is an academic proofreading software that is trained with real academic documents and thus is optimized for academic writing. This distinguishes it from other proofreading tools, which primarily focus on business documents and more casual writings. It also goes a step beyond correcting objective errors by finding awkward or informal terms and suggesting better alternatives. Learn how to use the Wordvice AI Proofreader and visit wordvice.ai to access all features for 100% FREE until late 2021.

How should you revise your first draft?

Once the first draft is complete, it is time to revise. You will likely go through several drafts before you are ready to publish your paper or turn in your assignment. Adopting the best self-editing techniques will help you make your final draft the best it can be. However, it is also a good idea to receive editing from a professional editor. Getting feedback from an expert editor can be a great way to spark new ideas and identify your weak points.

Wordvice has over 500 English-speaking editors holding PhDs or other advanced degrees. Our academic editors have a combined average experience of over five years each, and their specializations span nearly 2000 academic subdisciplines. Check out Wordvice’s professional English proofreading and editing services today and take your writing to the next level.