Generating a First Draft - From Trepidation to a First Draft - Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

Generating a First Draft
From Trepidation to a First Draft
Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

A prolific college textbook author was asked how she tackled the task of writing an undergraduate textbook on the topic of human development. “It all starts my basement,” she laughed, “with an old dining room table. I start making one pile for each main topic in the book—my teaching notes, class activities and students’ responses (with signed permission forms to use them), explanations of assignments with scoring rubrics, copies of articles, other textbooks marked with post-it notes, scholarly books—even photographs and newspaper articles. I talk myself into going to that table by telling myself I’m just browsing, sorting or taking notes but this usually leads to writing something because I don’t want to forget anything. The next thing I know, I’ve been writing for an hour or two.”

This approach is consistent with writing experts’ advice to engage in freewriting, defined as writing without attempting to edit at the same time. Freewriting is similar to brainstorming during a discussion; the goal is to generate ideas, not to evaluate them. Through freewriting, you can undo “the ingrained habit of editing at the same time you are trying to produce.” (Elbow, 1973, p. 6)—but you’ll need to write quickly because you have quite a bit of “writing baggage” to jettison before you begin. Start writing immediately and write quickly before these suitcases clog up the carousel of ideas in your mind. Some ways to begin writing immediately are described in Fig. 3.3.

Fig. 3.3 Quickly launching a writing project (Adapted from Stichler & Nielsen, 2014)

One underrated building block for generating a first draft is the ordinary paragraph. Although this structure is taught many times across a school career, many authors do not follow even the most basic structure for a paragraph. They may, for example, emulate the style that they see in novels or the newspaper and write a one-sentence paragraph followed by a paragraph that is nearly two pages long. If the building blocks are flawed in this way, it weakens the foundation of your argument. After you have written some pages, go back through and look at each paragraph. Assess each paragraph with the following questions:

· Does it begin with a topic sentence that sets expectations for what is to follow?

· Does the middle of the paragraph make an assertion ad support it with evidence from authoritative sources?

· Does the paragraph conclude by “wrapping up” the topic and transitioning to the next idea?

Below is an example of a solid paragraph that demonstrates this structure as well as the “assert, then support” style of scholarly writing; the topic is reading readiness. Note how it explains terminology, begins more generally and gradually narrows to the point/thesis, and uses an “assert then support” style:

The preschool period is a time when the environment in which children develop can contribute to large differences in language and literacy skills. Before children can actually read, they generally acquire some sense of the purposes and mechanics of the reading enterprise. For some children, opportunities to learn about reading are many, and for others, they are few (McCormick & Mason, 1986). Those who can identify letters and are familiar with the purpose of print are considered ’reading ready’ (National Research Council, 1998). Reading readiness at school entry is highly correlated with reading ability in the primary grades (Hammill & McNutt, 1980; Scarborough, 1998). The National Center for Education Statistics recently published the results of a survey of America’s kindergarten class of 1998—1999 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). The survey recorded the number of first-time-to-kindergarten children with literacy skills that are prerequisites to learning to read: knowing that print reads right to left, knowing where to go when a line of print ends, and knowing where the story ends. The results: 37 percent of first-time kindergartners could do all three of these skills, but 18 percent could do none of the three. As they enter kindergarten, 66 percent of children recognize their letters, 29 percent recognize beginning sounds in words, and 17 percent recognize ending sounds (National Research Council, Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy, 2001, p. 65).

Even those responsible for teaching writing sometimes fail to follow their own advice. One doctoral student noted that, even though he told his undergraduates to follow the paragraph guidelines at the Purdue OWL site ( he did not do this consistently in his own writing.