Success in Academic Writing - Trevor Day 2018
Writing to a prompt
A common concern for some students is in starting to compose their first draft. Even though they have made their plans, compiled their notes and assembled their sources, they struggle to begin composing - the tyranny of the blank page. Or perhaps they begin writing the first sentence, and then adjust it, trying to perfect it. Composing grinds to a halt.
’Writing to a prompt’ is a way to circumvent both problems: getting started and getting stuck on the first sentence. It involves writing the beginning of a sentence that prompts you to continue. I find one of the most useful prompts is simply to write down what the next section of your writing intends to do, and make this the prompt to continue writing. For example, if writing in the personal:
In this section I will compare and contrast three models for ... In doing so I propose ...
If writing in the impersonal:
This section compares and contrasts the three models for ... In doing so it proposes ...
In responding to such prompts, you begin writing. Later, you may well wish to rewrite the first
sentence or two, but the prompt has served the purpose of getting you started. It is a useful strategy to employ when you feel uncertain about how to begin. There are other approaches that are helpful.
Write it like you say it
If you find yourself writing your first draft in a formal manner, which is causing you to slow down or even grind to a halt, why not try writing like you speak? Often, when we have to explain something to someone else, we can do that best by talking out loud. Why not explain to a friend what you’re trying to express in writing? You could make notes about what you’ve said or even audiorecord it, and use that as a basis for your writing. Remember, your first draft is just that. You can tidy it up and tighten the language, but you’ll have breathed life into it at an early stage. With practice, you may find that writing the first draft becomes almost effortless.