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Collaboration, information literacy, writing process, the ultimate blueprint: a research-driven deep dive into the 13 steps of the writing process.

  • © 2023 by Joseph M. Moxley - University of South Florida

This article provides a comprehensive, research-based introduction to the major steps , or strategies , that writers work through as they endeavor to communicate with audiences . Since the 1960s, the writing process has been defined to be a series of steps , stages, or strategies. Most simply, the writing process is conceptualized as four major steps: prewriting , drafting , revising , editing . That model works really well for many occasions. Yet sometimes you'll face really challenging writing tasks that will force you to engage in additional steps, including, prewriting , inventing , drafting , collaborating , researching , planning , organizing , designing , rereading , revising , editing , proofreading , sharing or publishing . Expand your composing repertoire -- your ability to respond with authority , clarity , and persuasiveness -- by learning about the dispositions and strategies of successful, professional writers.

essay writing stages

Like water cascading to the sea, flow feels inevitable, natural, purposeful. Yet achieving flow is a state of mind that can be difficult to achieve. It requires full commitment to the believing gam e (as opposed to the doubting game ).

What are the Steps of the Writing Process?

Since the 1960s, it has been popular to describe the writing process as a series of steps or stages . For simple projects, the writing process is typically defined as four major steps:

  • drafting  

This simplified approach to writing is quite appropriate for many exigencies–many calls to write . Often, e.g., we might read an email quickly, write a response, and then send it: write, revise, send.

However, in the real world, for more demanding projects — especially in high-stakes workplace writing or academic writing at the high school and college level — the writing process involve additional  steps,  or  strategies , such as 

  • collaboration
  • researching
  • proofreading
  • sharing or publishing.  

Related Concepts: Mindset ; Self Regulation

Summary – Writing Process Steps

The summary below outlines the major steps writers work through as they endeavor to develop an idea for an audience .

1. Prewriting

Prewriting refers to all the work a writer does on a writing project before they actually begin writing .

Acts of prewriting include

  • Prior to writing a first draft, analyze the context for the work. For instance, in school settings students may analyze how much of their grade will be determined by a particular assignment. They may question how many and what sources are required and what the grading criteria will be used for critiquing the work.
  • To further their understanding of the assignment, writers will question who the audience is for their work, what their purpose is for writing, what style of writing their audience expects them to employ, and what rhetorical stance is appropriate for them to develop given the rhetorical situation they are addressing. (See the document planner heuristic for more on this)
  • consider employing rhetorical appeals ( ethos , pathos , and logos ), rhetorical devices , and rhetorical modes they want to develop once they begin writing
  • reflect on the voice , tone , and persona they want to develop
  • Following rhetorical analysis and rhetorical reasoning , writers decide on the persona ; point of view ; tone , voice and style of writing they hope to develop, such as an academic writing prose style or a professional writing prose style
  • making a plan, an outline, for what to do next.

2. Invention

Invention is traditionally defined as an initial stage of the writing process when writers are more focused on discovery and creative play. During the early stages of a project, writers brainstorm; they explore various topics and perspectives before committing to a specific direction for their discourse .

In practice, invention can be an ongoing concern throughout the writing process. People who are focused on solving problems and developing original ideas, arguments , artifacts, products, services, applications, and  texts are open to acts of invention at any time during the writing process.

Writers have many different ways to engage in acts of invention, including

  • What is the exigency, the call to write ?
  • What are the ongoing scholarly debates in the peer-review literature?
  • What is the problem ?
  • What do they read? watch? say? What do they know about the topic? Why do they believe what they do? What are their beliefs, values, and expectations ?
  • What rhetorical appeals — ethos (credibility) , pathos (emotion) , and logos (logic) — should I explore to develop the best response to this exigency , this call to write?
  • What does peer-reviewed research say about the subject?
  • What are the current debates about the subject?
  • Embrace multiple viewpoints and consider various approaches to encourage the generation of original ideas.
  • How can I experiment with different media , genres , writing styles , personas , voices , tone
  • Experiment with new research methods
  • Write whatever ideas occur to you. Focus on generating ideas as opposed to writing grammatically correct sentences. Get your thoughts down as fully and quickly as you can without critiquing them.
  • Use heuristics to inspire discovery and creative thinking: Burke’s Pentad ; Document Planner , Journalistic Questions , The Business Model Canvas
  • Embrace the uncertainty that comes with creative exploration.
  • Listen to your intuition — your felt sense — when composing
  • Experiment with different writing styles , genres , writing tools, and rhetorical stances
  • Play the believing game early in the writing process

3. Researching

Research refers to systematic investigations that investigators carry out to discover new  knowledge , test knowledge claims , solve  problems , or develop new texts , products, apps, and services.

During the research stage of the writing process, writers may engage in

  • Engage in customer discovery interviews and  survey research  in order to better understand the  problem space . Use  surveys , interviews, focus groups, etc., to understand the stakeholder’s s (e.g., clients, suppliers, partners) problems and needs
  • What can you recall from your memory about the subject?
  • What can you learn from informal observation?
  • What can you learn from strategic searching of the archive on the topic that interests you?
  • Who are the thought leaders?
  • What were the major turns to the conversation ?
  • What are the current debates on the topic ?
  • Mixed research methods , qualitative research methods , quantitative research methods , usability and user experience research ?
  • What citation style is required by the audience and discourse community you’re addressing? APA | MLA .

4. Collaboration

Collaboration  refers to the act of working with others to exchange ideas, solve problems, investigate subjects ,  coauthor   texts , and develop products and services.

Collaboration can play a major role in the writing process, especially when authors coauthor documents with peers and teams , or critique the works of others .

Acts of collaboration include

  • Paying close attention to what others are saying, acknowledging their input, and asking clarifying questions to ensure understanding.
  • Expressing ideas, thoughts, and opinions in a concise and understandable manner, both verbally and in writing.
  • Being receptive to new ideas and perspectives, and considering alternative approaches to problem-solving.
  • Adapting to changes in project goals, timelines, or team dynamics, and being willing to modify plans when needed.
  • Distributing tasks and responsibilities fairly among team members, and holding oneself accountable for assigned work.
  • valuing and appreciating the unique backgrounds, skills, and perspectives of all team members, and leveraging this diversity to enhance collaboration.
  • Addressing disagreements or conflicts constructively and diplomatically, working towards mutually beneficial solutions.
  • Providing constructive feedback to help others improve their work, and being open to receiving feedback to refine one’s own ideas and contributions.
  • Understanding and responding to the emotions, needs, and concerns of team members, and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment .
  • Acknowledging and appreciating the achievements of the team and individual members, and using successes as a foundation for continued collaboration and growth.

5. Planning

Planning refers to

  • the process of planning how to organize a document
  • the process of managing your writing processes

6. Organizing

Following rhetorical analysis , following prewriting , writers question how they should organize their texts. For instance, should they adopt the organizational strategies of academic discourse or workplace-writing discourse ?

Writing-Process Plans

  • What is your Purpose? – Aims of Discourse
  • What steps, or strategies, need to be completed next?
  • set a schedule to complete goals

Planning Exercises

  • Document Planner
  • Team Charter

7. Designing

Designing refers to efforts on the part of the writer

  • to leverage the power of visual language to convey meaning
  • to create a visually appealing text

During the designing stage of the writing process, writers explore how they can use the  elements of design  and  visual language to signify , clarify , and simplify the message.

Examples of the designing step of the writing process:

  • Establishing a clear hierarchy of visual elements, such as headings, subheadings, and bullet points, to guide the reader’s attention and facilitate understanding.
  • Selecting appropriate fonts, sizes, and styles to ensure readability and convey the intended tone and emphasis.
  • Organizing text and visual elements on the page or screen in a manner that is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and supports the intended message.
  • Using color schemes and contrasts effectively to create a visually engaging experience, while also ensuring readability and accessibility for all readers.
  • Incorporating images, illustrations, charts, graphs, and videos to support and enrich the written content, and to convey complex ideas in a more accessible format.
  • Designing content that is easily accessible to a wide range of readers, including those with visual impairments, by adhering to accessibility guidelines and best practices.
  • Maintaining a consistent style and design throughout the text, which includes the use of visuals, formatting, and typography, to create a cohesive and professional appearance.
  • Integrating interactive elements, such as hyperlinks, buttons, and multimedia, to encourage reader engagement and foster deeper understanding of the content.

8. Drafting

Drafting refers to the act of writing a preliminary version of a document — a sloppy first draft. Writers engage in exploratory writing early in the writing process. During drafting, writers focus on freewriting: they write in short bursts of writing without stopping and without concern for grammatical correctness or stylistic matters.

When composing, writers move back and forth between drafting new material, revising drafts, and other steps in the writing process.

9. Rereading

Rereading refers to the process of carefully reviewing a written text. When writers reread texts, they look in between each word, phrase, sentence, paragraph. They look for gaps in content, reasoning, organization, design, diction, style–and more.

When engaged in the physical act of writing — during moments of composing — writers will often pause from drafting to reread what they wrote or to reread some other text they are referencing.

10. Revising

Revision  — the process of revisiting, rethinking, and refining written work to improve its  content ,  clarity  and overall effectiveness — is such an important part of  the writing process  that experienced writers often say  “writing is revision” or “all writing is revision.”  

For many writers, revision processes are deeply intertwined with writing, invention, and reasoning strategies:

  • “Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what one is saying.” — John Updike
  • “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” — E.M. Forster

Acts of revision include

  • Pivoting: trashing earlier work and moving in a new direction
  • Identifying Rhetorical Problems
  • Identifying Structural Problems
  • Identifying Language Problems
  • Identifying Critical & Analytical Thinking Problems

11. Editing

Editing  refers to the act of  critically reviewing  a  text  with the goal of identifying and rectifying sentence and word-level problems.

When  editing , writers tend to focus on  local concerns  as opposed to  global concerns . For instance, they may look for

  • problems weaving sources into your argument or analysis
  • problems establishing  the authority of sources
  • problems using the required  citation style
  • mechanical errors  ( capitalization ,  punctuation ,  spelling )
  • sentence errors ,  sentence structure errors
  • problems with  diction ,  brevity ,  clarity ,  flow ,  inclusivity , register, and  simplicity

12. Proofreading

Proofreading refers to last time you’ll look at a document before sharing or publishing the work with its intended audience(s). At this point in the writing process, it’s too late to add in some new evidence you’ve found to support your position. Now you don’t want to add any new content. Instead, your goal during proofreading is to do a final check on word-level errors, problems with diction , punctuation , or syntax.

13. Sharing or Publishing

Sharing refers to the last step in the writing process: the moment when the writer delivers the message — the text — to the target audience .

Writers may think it makes sense to wait to share their work later in the process, after the project is fairly complete. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you can save yourself a lot of trouble by bringing in collaborators and critics earlier in the writing process.

Doherty, M. (2016, September 4). 10 things you need to know about banyan trees. Under the Banyan.

Emig, J. (1967). On teaching composition: Some hypotheses as definitions. Research in The Teaching of English, 1(2), 127-135. Retrieved from

Emig, J. (1971). The composing processes of twelfth graders (Research Report No. 13). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Emig, J. (1983). The web of meaning: Essays on writing, teaching, learning and thinking. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Ghiselin, B. (Ed.). (1985). The Creative Process: Reflections on the Invention in the Arts and Sciences . University of California Press.

Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. (1980). Identifying the Organization of Writing Processes. In L. W. Gregg, & E. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Cognitive Processes in Writing: An Interdisciplinary Approach (pp. 3-30). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.  

Hayes, J. R. (2012). Modeling and remodeling writing. Written Communication, 29(3), 369-388. https://doi: 10.1177/0741088312451260

Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. S. (1986). Writing research and the writer. American Psychologist, 41(10), 1106-1113.

Leijten, Van Waes, L., Schriver, K., & Hayes, J. R. (2014). Writing in the workplace: Constructing documents using multiple digital sources. Journal of Writing Research, 5(3), 285–337.

Lundstrom, K., Babcock, R. D., & McAlister, K. (2023). Collaboration in writing: Examining the role of experience in successful team writing projects. Journal of Writing Research, 15(1), 89-115.

National Research Council. (2012). Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

North, S. M. (1987). The making of knowledge in composition: Portrait of an emerging field. Boynton/Cook Publishers.

Murray, Donald M. (1980). Writing as process: How writing finds its own meaning. In Timothy R. Donovan & Ben McClelland (Eds.), Eight approaches to teaching composition (pp. 3–20). National Council of Teachers of English.

Murray, Donald M. (1972). “Teach Writing as a Process Not Product.” The Leaflet, 11-14

Perry, S. K. (1996).  When time stops: How creative writers experience entry into the flow state  (Order No. 9805789). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304288035).

Rohman, D.G., & Wlecke, A. O. (1964). Pre-writing: The construction and application of models for concept formation in writing (Cooperative Research Project No. 2174). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.

Rohman, D. G., & Wlecke, A. O. (1975). Pre-writing: The construction and application of models for concept formation in writing (Cooperative Research Project No. 2174). U.S. Office of Education, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Sommers, N. (1980). Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers. College Composition and Communication, 31(4), 378-388. doi: 10.2307/356600

Brevity - Say More with Less

Brevity - Say More with Less

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

Clarity (in Speech and Writing)

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Coherence - How to Achieve Coherence in Writing


Flow - How to Create Flow in Writing

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language

Inclusivity - Inclusive Language


The Elements of Style - The DNA of Powerful Writing


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The Writing Process

The writing process is something that no two people do the same way. There is no "right way" or "wrong way" to write. It can be a very messy and fluid process, and the following is only a representation of commonly used steps. Remember you can come to the Writing Center for assistance at any stage in this process. 

Steps of the Writing Process

essay writing stages

Step 1: Prewriting

Think and Decide

  • Make sure you understand your assignment. See  Research Papers  or  Essays
  • Decide on a topic to write about. See   Prewriting Strategies  and  Narrow your Topic
  • Consider who will read your work. See  Audience and Voice
  • Brainstorm ideas about the subject and how those ideas can be organized. Make an outline. See  Outlines

Step 2: Research (if needed) 

  • List places where you can find information.
  • Do your research. See the many KU Libraries resources and helpful guides
  • Evaluate your sources. See  Evaluating Sources  and  Primary vs. Secondary Sources
  • Make an outline to help organize your research. See  Outlines

Step 3: Drafting

  • Write sentences and paragraphs even if they are not perfect.
  • Create a thesis statement with your main idea. See  Thesis Statements
  • Put the information you researched into your essay accurately without plagiarizing. Remember to include both in-text citations and a bibliographic page. See  Incorporating References and Paraphrase and Summary  
  • Read what you have written and judge if it says what you mean. Write some more.
  • Read it again.
  • Write some more.
  • Write until you have said everything you want to say about the topic.

Step 4: Revising

Make it Better

  • Read what you have written again. See  Revising Content  and  Revising Organization
  • Rearrange words, sentences, or paragraphs into a clear and logical order. 
  • Take out or add parts.
  • Do more research if you think you should.
  • Replace overused or unclear words.
  • Read your writing aloud to be sure it flows smoothly. Add transitions.

Step 5: Editing and Proofreading

Make it Correct

  • Be sure all sentences are complete. See  Editing and Proofreading
  • Correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
  • Change words that are not used correctly or are unclear.
  • APA Formatting
  • Chicago Style Formatting
  • MLA Formatting  
  • Have someone else check your work.
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Lindsay Ann Learning English Teacher Blog

The Writing Process Explained: From Outline to Final Draft


May 30, 2023 //  by  Lindsay Ann //   Leave a Comment

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Writing is a messy process. Rarely do writers pick up their pen or open a fresh Google Doc and write everything start to finish. To take the genesis of an idea, consider the rhetorical situation, form that idea into whatever genre and format it needs to take, polish it, and then publish it requires a writing process to help make the non-linear process of writing more manageable and productive. 


Student writers often struggle with this process. They think one submitted draft means the writing process is complete. The lack of engagement in the writing process can hold a student’s writing in that rough draft limbo land forever.  

Empowering students to have agency in their own writing process can inspire amazing writing, increase engagement, and improve students’ metacognition. 

Writing Process 5 Steps

The writing process as we know it has 5 distinct stages. 

  • Prewriting, research & planning: In this stage, the writer is mapping out the writing.

This may include brainstorming ideas, storyboarding the narrative arc, conducting any necessary research and making an outline. Anything that happens before actually writing is considered prewriting.

  • Drafting: In the drafting stage, writers are making their first attempt at getting the words on the page. In this stage the writing isn’t expected to be perfect because the writer will eventually go back and make necessary changes. The goal in this stage is simply to get the ideas on paper. The drafting stage tends to be where student writers think the writing process ends. For many reasons, they lack the understanding that this is a first attempt and will require some finessing.

 But writing is definitely not done here.

  • Revising: When revising, writers go back into their draft and make changes for content . 

This looks like reordering sentences, adding sentences, deleting sentences altogether, reordering paragraphs, etc.

In this stage, writers are really ripping their drafts to shreds, taking out what isn’t working and replacing it with more beautiful and functional content in order to better get their message across and accomplish the purpose of their piece.

  • Editing & proofreading: During the editing and proofreading phase, writers are carefully combing through the piece to make sure everything is correct . Word choice, sentence structure, rhythm, punctuation, clarity…getting all of it right matters. 

Sometimes in this stage it’s helpful to have an extra set of eyes on the draft because it can be difficult for us to always spot errors in our own writing.

  • Publishing: Publishing can look very different for every writer. In a classroom, publishing may just mean, I’m finished and I’m going to turn this into my teacher now and she’s going to post it on the class Padlet . It could also mean sharing it with a collaborative writing group or submitting to the school’s literary magazine. It could also mean pitching the piece to a publication or presenting it to a community group. Basically, in this step, the writer is ready to show off their writing to the world. 


Teaching the Writing Process

Students need explicit instruction and time to practice the writing process. Time of course is one of our most precious resources in the classroom, so how can we make the most efficient use of it when teaching the writing process?

 Here’s what I’ve found to be particularly helpful:

Use the language of the writing process: Be intentional about using the language of the writing process in your daily agendas, lessons, and feedback. This way when you tell a student something like, “Today you need to focus on prewriting for your upcoming argumentative essay” or “This writing project needs some more revision” or “Do you have your draft completed?” they know what stage of the writing process they’re in and what they need to be doing in that stage of the process.

Teaching writing as a recursive process: The writing process is recursive. 

We (and by we I just mean all of us writers out there) can bounce back and forth from the drafting to the revision stage 15 times before moving on. We can also engage in deep and thoughtful prewriting only to abandon the idea before ever drafting because a better one came along and we decided to start prewriting and drafting for that idea. 

Breaking students of their bad habits is tough work, but helping students see writing as a recursive process will strengthen their final products and help them gain overall confidence in their writing. 

Write daily : Again, I know there are just not enough minutes in the day, but making writing a daily habit is so important. 

The writing process doesn’t just have to be used for long-form writing. 

If you use a daily quickwrite, journal prompt, or warmup, have students cycle through the writing process by jotting down a few ideas and making a quick outline before writing, writing, and then revising and editing before turning in or sharing with a shoulder partner. 

By being in the habit of writing every day, students will find their groove with their own process for writing and it will become second nature!

Model for students your process: Writing in front of students is Vulnerable (yes, with a capital V). I like writing and even I sometimes get nervous before putting my notebook under the document camera. But I try to make writing in front of my students something I do at least once weekly. I model for them my process, I think aloud what I’m going to write, how I want to write it, and they get to watch me write something, hate it, revise it, and cycle through the writing process. 


Status of the class for managing it all: Connor may need three days to organize his ideas in the prewriting stage while Ava only needs about 5 minutes to plan her writing and hit the ground running.

There is no time limit for being in a particular stage of the writing process (unless ya know, they’ve got their phone propped up behind their Chromebook watching Euphoria instead of writing, then we’ve got problems. But I digress…). 

Despite that knee jerk reaction to herd our students like cattle through the writing process, it needs to be differentiated for each writer in the room.

So how the heck do you manage that? 

Utilizing a status of the class for the writing process helps you keep track of where each writer in the room is and can also help you better plan small group or individual instruction and coaching.

 If you just do a quick Google search for the status of the class in the writing workshop, you’ll see approximately one million great ways to do it, but I particularly like the visual Stacy Shubitz at Two Writing Teachers created for her classroom.

Ideas for Brainstorming and Initiation


Check out these ideas to get students engaged in the writing process and shorten the time they stare at a blank page:

  • Storyboarding: Draw out problems and solutions and organize them in a logical order.
  • Alphabet boxes: See if you can come up with one idea for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Heart Maps : Can be used for all writing genres!
  • Keeping a writer’s notebook: Have all of your brilliant ideas living in one place. When a new one comes along, jot it down in the notebook!
  • Pomodoro technique: Set a timer for 25 minutes and write. When the timer goes off, take a 5 minute break, reset the timer for 25 minutes, and continue writing.
  • Stream of consciousness: Write whatever comes to mind about your spark of an idea for writing. When you’ve written all you have to say, use a reverse outline to organize your ideas and continue drafting or begin revising. 

Writing Process Stages


Break assignment up for students: Depending on your students’ skill levels, they may need you to break the assignment up into the stages of the writing process and assign one stage at a time.

Design cycle for STEM and PBL: The writing process is similar to the design cycle used for STEM and PBL ( yes, even engineers need to understand the writing process!).

Have students create their own goals and workflow calendar: In her book Project Based Writing , Liz Prather shares how she has students establish goals for their writing as part of the prewriting process as well as develop their own calendars using a reverse engineering process.

For example, if a student has 25 days and intends to create a poem about the changing seasons, they will need to break down the project into individual tasks and then map out on their calendar how many days they will need for each task. 

Wouldn’t it be amazing if by the end of the year students could move 100% autonomously through the writing process?!

Writing Process Revising v. Editing

What is the difference between revising and editing in the writing process? 

Revising focuses on content only. When you are revising your draft you may notice you are missing a comma or misspelled a word. That’s great! But in the revising stage, those observations don’t matter. Instead, you’re only focusing on making your mystery narrative more suspenseful or making your satirical article more humorous. 

In the editing stage is when you address those spelling, grammar, and mechanics errors. 

Oftentimes in the classroom, the editing phase of the writing process is merely relegated to peer editing, which usually looks like a student’s paper getting shipped off to another student and being told to magically edit it without any guidance. 

Peer editing often gets a bad rap, but I have found that peer editing does have some redeeming qualities if explicitly taught and done correctly . 

Other Misconceptions

Sometimes misconceptions about the writing process hold us back from being our best possible teacher selves and hold our writers back from being their best possible writing selves. So as we wrap up, let’s debunk some of these common misconceptions. 

  • Only writers who have problems in their writing need feedback: Ummmmm noooo. Even Jodi Piccoult has a literary agent and a team of editors at her publishing house to make sure her writing is perfect before being published. If it’s good enough for the New York Times bestselling author, it’s good enough for all of us.
  • Every piece of writing needs to go through the full cycle: While it would be totally ideal to take every possible idea we ever have for a writing project and then brainstorm it, research it, outline it, draft, revise, edit, and then hit publish, that’s not really realistic. It’s okay to give up on a piece, change your mind on your idea, or have 6 drafts before it’s ready to be edited!
  • You need to use the same process each time: The writing process is intended to be flexible. 

Now listen, I fully believe students have to learn the rules of writing (writing process included!) before they can learn to break them. But each student’s process doesn’t have to be the same.

If someone in your classroom needs to fully brainstorm each writing assignment using a storyboard before writing and you have another who needs to write a stream of consciousness before getting organized, it’s all good! Allow students to find their own way in the writing process. That’s where the really good, authentic writing lives! 

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About Lindsay Ann

Lindsay has been teaching high school English in the burbs of Chicago for 18 years. She is passionate about helping English teachers find balance in their lives and teaching practice through practical feedback strategies and student-led learning strategies. She also geeks out about literary analysis, inquiry-based learning, and classroom technology integration. When Lindsay is not teaching, she enjoys playing with her two kids, running, and getting lost in a good book.

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  • How to structure an essay: Templates and tips

How to Structure an Essay | Tips & Templates

Published on September 18, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

The basic structure of an essay always consists of an introduction , a body , and a conclusion . But for many students, the most difficult part of structuring an essay is deciding how to organize information within the body.

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Table of contents

The basics of essay structure, chronological structure, compare-and-contrast structure, problems-methods-solutions structure, signposting to clarify your structure, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about essay structure.

There are two main things to keep in mind when working on your essay structure: making sure to include the right information in each part, and deciding how you’ll organize the information within the body.

Parts of an essay

The three parts that make up all essays are described in the table below.

Order of information

You’ll also have to consider how to present information within the body. There are a few general principles that can guide you here.

The first is that your argument should move from the simplest claim to the most complex . The body of a good argumentative essay often begins with simple and widely accepted claims, and then moves towards more complex and contentious ones.

For example, you might begin by describing a generally accepted philosophical concept, and then apply it to a new topic. The grounding in the general concept will allow the reader to understand your unique application of it.

The second principle is that background information should appear towards the beginning of your essay . General background is presented in the introduction. If you have additional background to present, this information will usually come at the start of the body.

The third principle is that everything in your essay should be relevant to the thesis . Ask yourself whether each piece of information advances your argument or provides necessary background. And make sure that the text clearly expresses each piece of information’s relevance.

The sections below present several organizational templates for essays: the chronological approach, the compare-and-contrast approach, and the problems-methods-solutions approach.

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The chronological approach (sometimes called the cause-and-effect approach) is probably the simplest way to structure an essay. It just means discussing events in the order in which they occurred, discussing how they are related (i.e. the cause and effect involved) as you go.

A chronological approach can be useful when your essay is about a series of events. Don’t rule out other approaches, though—even when the chronological approach is the obvious one, you might be able to bring out more with a different structure.

Explore the tabs below to see a general template and a specific example outline from an essay on the invention of the printing press.

  • Thesis statement
  • Discussion of event/period
  • Consequences
  • Importance of topic
  • Strong closing statement
  • Claim that the printing press marks the end of the Middle Ages
  • Background on the low levels of literacy before the printing press
  • Thesis statement: The invention of the printing press increased circulation of information in Europe, paving the way for the Reformation
  • High levels of illiteracy in medieval Europe
  • Literacy and thus knowledge and education were mainly the domain of religious and political elites
  • Consequence: this discouraged political and religious change
  • Invention of the printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg
  • Implications of the new technology for book production
  • Consequence: Rapid spread of the technology and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible
  • Trend for translating the Bible into vernacular languages during the years following the printing press’s invention
  • Luther’s own translation of the Bible during the Reformation
  • Consequence: The large-scale effects the Reformation would have on religion and politics
  • Summarize the history described
  • Stress the significance of the printing press to the events of this period

Essays with two or more main subjects are often structured around comparing and contrasting . For example, a literary analysis essay might compare two different texts, and an argumentative essay might compare the strengths of different arguments.

There are two main ways of structuring a compare-and-contrast essay: the alternating method, and the block method.


In the alternating method, each paragraph compares your subjects in terms of a specific point of comparison. These points of comparison are therefore what defines each paragraph.

The tabs below show a general template for this structure, and a specific example for an essay comparing and contrasting distance learning with traditional classroom learning.

  • Synthesis of arguments
  • Topical relevance of distance learning in lockdown
  • Increasing prevalence of distance learning over the last decade
  • Thesis statement: While distance learning has certain advantages, it introduces multiple new accessibility issues that must be addressed for it to be as effective as classroom learning
  • Classroom learning: Ease of identifying difficulties and privately discussing them
  • Distance learning: Difficulty of noticing and unobtrusively helping
  • Classroom learning: Difficulties accessing the classroom (disability, distance travelled from home)
  • Distance learning: Difficulties with online work (lack of tech literacy, unreliable connection, distractions)
  • Classroom learning: Tends to encourage personal engagement among students and with teacher, more relaxed social environment
  • Distance learning: Greater ability to reach out to teacher privately
  • Sum up, emphasize that distance learning introduces more difficulties than it solves
  • Stress the importance of addressing issues with distance learning as it becomes increasingly common
  • Distance learning may prove to be the future, but it still has a long way to go

In the block method, each subject is covered all in one go, potentially across multiple paragraphs. For example, you might write two paragraphs about your first subject and then two about your second subject, making comparisons back to the first.

The tabs again show a general template, followed by another essay on distance learning, this time with the body structured in blocks.

  • Point 1 (compare)
  • Point 2 (compare)
  • Point 3 (compare)
  • Point 4 (compare)
  • Advantages: Flexibility, accessibility
  • Disadvantages: Discomfort, challenges for those with poor internet or tech literacy
  • Advantages: Potential for teacher to discuss issues with a student in a separate private call
  • Disadvantages: Difficulty of identifying struggling students and aiding them unobtrusively, lack of personal interaction among students
  • Advantages: More accessible to those with low tech literacy, equality of all sharing one learning environment
  • Disadvantages: Students must live close enough to attend, commutes may vary, classrooms not always accessible for disabled students
  • Advantages: Ease of picking up on signs a student is struggling, more personal interaction among students
  • Disadvantages: May be harder for students to approach teacher privately in person to raise issues

An essay that concerns a specific problem (practical or theoretical) may be structured according to the problems-methods-solutions approach.

This is just what it sounds like: You define the problem, characterize a method or theory that may solve it, and finally analyze the problem, using this method or theory to arrive at a solution. If the problem is theoretical, the solution might be the analysis you present in the essay itself; otherwise, you might just present a proposed solution.

The tabs below show a template for this structure and an example outline for an essay about the problem of fake news.

  • Introduce the problem
  • Provide background
  • Describe your approach to solving it
  • Define the problem precisely
  • Describe why it’s important
  • Indicate previous approaches to the problem
  • Present your new approach, and why it’s better
  • Apply the new method or theory to the problem
  • Indicate the solution you arrive at by doing so
  • Assess (potential or actual) effectiveness of solution
  • Describe the implications
  • Problem: The growth of “fake news” online
  • Prevalence of polarized/conspiracy-focused news sources online
  • Thesis statement: Rather than attempting to stamp out online fake news through social media moderation, an effective approach to combating it must work with educational institutions to improve media literacy
  • Definition: Deliberate disinformation designed to spread virally online
  • Popularization of the term, growth of the phenomenon
  • Previous approaches: Labeling and moderation on social media platforms
  • Critique: This approach feeds conspiracies; the real solution is to improve media literacy so users can better identify fake news
  • Greater emphasis should be placed on media literacy education in schools
  • This allows people to assess news sources independently, rather than just being told which ones to trust
  • This is a long-term solution but could be highly effective
  • It would require significant organization and investment, but would equip people to judge news sources more effectively
  • Rather than trying to contain the spread of fake news, we must teach the next generation not to fall for it

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Signposting means guiding the reader through your essay with language that describes or hints at the structure of what follows.  It can help you clarify your structure for yourself as well as helping your reader follow your ideas.

The essay overview

In longer essays whose body is split into multiple named sections, the introduction often ends with an overview of the rest of the essay. This gives a brief description of the main idea or argument of each section.

The overview allows the reader to immediately understand what will be covered in the essay and in what order. Though it describes what  comes later in the text, it is generally written in the present tense . The following example is from a literary analysis essay on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .


Transition words and phrases are used throughout all good essays to link together different ideas. They help guide the reader through your text, and an essay that uses them effectively will be much easier to follow.

Various different relationships can be expressed by transition words, as shown in this example.

Because Hitler failed to respond to the British ultimatum, France and the UK declared war on Germany. Although it was an outcome the Allies had hoped to avoid, they were prepared to back up their ultimatum in order to combat the existential threat posed by the Third Reich.

Transition sentences may be included to transition between different paragraphs or sections of an essay. A good transition sentence moves the reader on to the next topic while indicating how it relates to the previous one.

… Distance learning, then, seems to improve accessibility in some ways while representing a step backwards in others.

However , considering the issue of personal interaction among students presents a different picture.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

An essay isn’t just a loose collection of facts and ideas. Instead, it should be centered on an overarching argument (summarized in your thesis statement ) that every part of the essay relates to.

The way you structure your essay is crucial to presenting your argument coherently. A well-structured essay helps your reader follow the logic of your ideas and understand your overall point.

Comparisons in essays are generally structured in one of two ways:

  • The alternating method, where you compare your subjects side by side according to one specific aspect at a time.
  • The block method, where you cover each subject separately in its entirety.

It’s also possible to combine both methods, for example by writing a full paragraph on each of your topics and then a final paragraph contrasting the two according to a specific metric.

You should try to follow your outline as you write your essay . However, if your ideas change or it becomes clear that your structure could be better, it’s okay to depart from your essay outline . Just make sure you know why you’re doing so.

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A comprehensive guide to the writing process: 5 steps with examples, rachel r.n..

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You might have heard the saying that good writing involves a lot of rewriting. This means that to write well, you need to come up with ideas, organize them, put them together in a clear way, go back to check your work, edit it, and make your words stronger. These steps are called the writing process.

Writers have their own unique way of working. Some start writing from the beginning and go straight to the end. Others write in parts and then organize them later. Some writers focus on one sentence at a time. Knowing how and why you write the way you do helps you treat your writing like a job, while still letting your creativity flow free

No matter what you’re writing – whether it’s a blog post, a script, a research paper, or a book review – you’ll follow these steps to turn your initial ideas into a well-crafted and ready-to-publish piece. Keep reading to find out more about each of the six steps in the writing process.

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What Is the Writing Process?

Writing follows a step-by-step process, like putting together a puzzle. Many writers might not be aware that they use common terms to describe each stage. The writing process includes everything from thinking about the idea and making a plan to fixing mistakes and finally sharing the finished work

Importance of Knowing the Stages in The Writing Process

Like most writers, you probably have your own way of writing books.

When you sit down to tell a story or talk a lot about a topic, you follow certain steps to make your idea real.

It’s okay to do each new project your own way, but it’s still good to go back to the six basic stages of writing every now and then.

First, it’s a good habit to develop, especially if you’ve recently started writing professionally.

Going through the stages of writing makes sure you’ve covered everything. It keeps you organized and helps you work better. This way, you can expect a better final product each time.

Second, going through each stage of writing is a great way to get unstuck when you’re struggling to finish an idea.

Writing is creative, but sometimes having a plan helps. Just knowing how to start can break down mental barriers that stop you from moving forward.

Third, even if you have your own routine for writing, you’re probably already following the basic steps without realizing it.

In that case, it wouldn’t hurt to know the terms used. That way, you can keep a mental (or physical) checklist and adjust it to fit your creative way of working.

Keeping all of this in mind, we wanted to remind you (or maybe introduce you) to the six stages of writing.

Stage 1: Prewriting

Prewriting is a crucial step in the writing process that sets the foundation for a successful piece of writing. It involves several key activities, including idea generation , research , and considering the intended audience .

Prewriting allows writers to brainstorm ideas, gather relevant information, and plan their writing in a structured manner. By taking the time to engage in prewriting, writers can clarify their thoughts and ensure a strong start to their writing project.

During the prewriting stage, idea generation plays a significant role. This is the time to let creativity flow and explore different topics and angles. Brainstorming techniques such as mind mapping or freewriting can help writers generate a wide range of ideas and choose the most suitable one for their piece. By allowing ideas to flow freely, writers can tap into their creativity and uncover unique perspectives that will make their writing stand out.

In addition to idea generation , research is another important component of prewriting. Conducting thorough research helps writers gather relevant information, facts, and evidence to support their ideas. By investing time in research, writers can ensure that their writing is accurate, well-informed, and credible. It also allows them to explore different viewpoints and strengthen their arguments, ultimately enhancing the quality of their piece.

This stage generally involves:

  • Writing notes about something you see in real life
  • Thinking about something that happened when you were a kid
  • Finding out more about something you like
  • Imagining how a character should seem
  • Using a piece of a writing idea

When your idea begins to take shape, you are now free to move to the next stage

Stage 2: Planning Your Project

Once the prewriting stage is complete, it’s time to move on to planning your project.

It’s fair to say that Planning is a crucial step in the writing process as it helps you organize your thoughts and establish a clear structure for your piece.

Without at least a general sketch of your characters or path for your plot, you’re more likely to hit a roadblock halfway through writing. By planning ahead of time, however, you can typically avoid such an issue and have a much easier time crafting your book

There are several techniques you can use to plan effectively, such as outlining , mind mapping , and freewriting .

An outline is a helpful tool for organizing your ideas and ensuring a logical flow in your writing. It involves creating a structured framework that outlines the main points and subpoints of your piece. This can be done using headings, subheadings, and bullet points. An outline provides a roadmap for your writing, making it easier to stay focused and maintain coherence.

Mind mapping is another method that can be used for planning. It involves creating a visual representation of your ideas by linking related concepts and information. Mind maps are useful for brainstorming and generating new ideas. They allow you to see connections between different concepts and can be a great tool for organizing your thoughts before diving into the writing process.

Freewriting is a technique that encourages you to write continuously without worrying about grammar , punctuation, or structure. It helps to free your mind and overcome writer’s block. By allowing your thoughts to flow freely on paper, you can discover new ideas and insights that you may not have come up with through traditional planning methods. Freewriting can serve as a starting point for your writing and can be refined and revised later in the process.

Using these planning techniques can help you stay organized and ensure that your writing is well-structured and coherent. Experiment with different methods and find what works best for you. Remember, planning is a critical step that sets the foundation for a successful writing project.

Table: Comparing Planning Techniques

Stage 3: the drafting process.

Now it’s time to start writing! Here, you begin to transform your thoughts and ideas into written words. It is during this stage that you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and create the first draft of your piece. Drafting allows you to express my thoughts freely and capture the essence of your ideas.

Don’t stress about making everything perfect right away. When you’re writing your first draft, just focus on getting your ideas down on paper. It’s okay if it’s not perfect yet.

Using the outline you made, begin writing your draft one sentence and paragraph at a time.

Here’s a tip: You don’t have to start writing from the beginning. If you know what you want to say in one part but not another, start with the part you know and come back to the tricky parts later. This can save you time and frustration.

Writing the easy parts first can also make the harder parts seem less intimidating. Instead of seeing them as big, scary challenges, they become smaller tasks to tackle one by one.

During the drafting process , I adopt a mindset of continuous writing , allowing the words to flow without worrying too much about perfection. I understand that the first draft does not have to be flawless; it is simply a starting point. Overcoming perfectionism is key during this stage, as it can hinder progress and stifle creativity. Instead, I focus on getting my ideas out and creating a rough version of the piece.

One strategy I find helpful during drafting is to set aside dedicated time for writing and eliminate distractions. By creating a conducive environment, I can immerse myself in the writing process and maintain a steady flow of ideas. I also remind myself that the purpose of drafting is not to produce a final, polished piece, but rather to generate material that can be refined and improved in subsequent stages.

Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism during Drafting

  • Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. Remember, you can always revise and edit later.
  • Set realistic goals and focus on making progress rather than striving for perfection.
  • Embrace the messy nature of drafting and embrace the creative process.
  • Remind yourself that writing is a journey, and the first draft is just the beginning.

By embracing continuous writing and overcoming perfectionism , I can harness the power of the drafting process to bring my ideas to life. The first draft may be rough around the edges, but it lays the foundation for the subsequent steps of revising , editing , and polishing my work.

Stage 4: Revising and Polishing Your Work

Once you have completed the drafting process, it’s time to focus on revising and polishing your work. This critical step in the writing process allows you to make big-picture changes , refine your ideas, and improve the overall structure and clarity of your piece.

During the revising stage, consider reorganizing paragraphs or sections to enhance the flow of your writing. You may also need to delete or add content to strengthen your arguments or provide additional support for your ideas. This is your opportunity to take a step back and evaluate your work with a fresh perspective.

After making the necessary revisions, it’s time to move on to editing and proofreading . This stage focuses on correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other minor errors. Pay attention to sentence structure, word choice, and overall coherence to ensure your writing is clear and polished.

Remember, revising and polishing your work may involve multiple rounds of review and refinement. Take the time to read your piece aloud, seek feedback from others, and make any necessary adjustments. By dedicating time and attention to this step, you can ensure your writing is error-free and ready for publication.

The Importance of Revision:

“Revision is not the time to doubt yourself; it’s the time to make your writing shine.”

Revising Tips:

  • Read your piece aloud to identify any awkward or unclear sentences.
  • Ask a trusted friend or colleague to provide feedback and suggestions.
  • Consider the overall flow and organization of your writing.
  • Focus on strengthening your arguments and providing ample support.
  • Edit for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

Proofreading Checklist:

  • Check for typos and spelling errors.
  • Ensure proper punctuation and capitalization.
  • Verify the consistency of verb tense and pronoun usage.
  • Review sentence structure and clarity.
  • Double-check citations and references if applicable.

Stage 5: Publishing

After putting in the effort to write a well-crafted piece, it is crucial to take the final step: publishing and sharing your work. This step allows your writing to reach a broader audience and establish your presence as a writer. Whether you choose to publish on your own website, submit your work to a publication, or share it on social media, the goal is to make your writing accessible and visible to others.

Self-publishing has become increasingly popular in today’s digital age. With platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing , authors can easily publish and distribute their own books. This gives writers the freedom to control the entire publishing process, from formatting to pricing. Self-published authors can also take advantage of online marketing tools to promote their work and reach potential readers.

Sharing your writing on social media platforms is another effective way to get your work noticed. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow you to connect with a wide audience and engage with readers. By sharing snippets or excerpts from your writing, you can pique interest and direct people to your full piece. Social media also provides an opportunity to interact with your audience, receive feedback, and build a community of readers and fellow writers.

It is important to note that publishing your work does not mean it is set in stone. Even after publication, you have the flexibility to revise and update your writing. This is especially relevant for bloggers who often update their older posts to keep them relevant and accurate. Publishing should be seen as a starting point, and the ability to make revisions allows you to continually improve your work and maintain its relevance over time.

Table: Pros and Cons of Publishing and Sharing

Publishing and sharing your writing is an essential step in the writing process. It allows you to connect with readers, establish your authority, and continuously improve your work. Whether you choose to self-publish or share on social media, remember that publishing is just the beginning; revising and updating your writing ensures its relevance and quality over time.

Related Articles

The Beginner’s Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples

The Writing Process: 6 Steps Every Writer Should Know

The six steps writing process is a valuable tool for writers of all levels and abilities. By following these steps, writers can enhance their writing skills, overcome challenges, and produce high-quality work. Each step plays a vital role in the overall writing process and should not be overlooked.

Embracing the writing process can lead to improved productivity, organization, and overall writing proficiency. Whether you’re a student working on an academic assignment or a professional copywriter crafting persuasive content, the six steps writing process provides a framework for success.

So, embrace these steps and take your writing to the next level! By utilizing prewriting, planning, drafting, revising, editing & proofreading , and publishing, you can enhance your writing skills and create effective, well-crafted pieces. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep honing your writing process and watch your skills soar.

What are the steps of the writing process?

The steps of the writing process are prewriting, planning, drafting, revising, editing & proofreading, and publishing.

Why is prewriting important?

Prewriting is important because it helps writers generate ideas, conduct research, and consider the  intended audience .

How can I plan my writing project?

You can plan your writing project by creating an outline, using mind maps, or engaging in freewriting.

What is the drafting process?

The drafting process is when writers start putting their thoughts into words, creating a rough version of their piece.

What is revising in the writing process?

Revising involves making  big-picture changes  to improve the overall structure, flow, and clarity of the writing.

What is the purpose of editing and proofreading?

Editing and proofreading focus on correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other minor errors to polish the piece.

How do I publish my finished piece?

You can publish your finished piece by uploading it to a website, sharing it on social media, or submitting it to a client or editor.

Can I revise my writing after publication?

Yes, you can revise and update your writing after publication, especially for blog posts that can be regularly updated.

Why is the writing process important for writers?

The writing process is important because it helps writers enhance their skills, overcome challenges, and produce high-quality work.

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    Here are the 4 stages of the writing process: 1. Prewriting. At this stage, the writer identifies everything they need to do before starting on their rough draft. Many overlook this step altogether and jump straightaway into writing, without planning and organizing their ideas. The result ends up being a sub-standard piece that takes a lot more ...

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    Stage 1: Prewriting. Prewriting is a crucial step in the writing process that sets the foundation for a successful piece of writing. It involves several key activities, including idea generation, research, and considering the intended audience. Prewriting allows writers to brainstorm ideas, gather relevant information, and plan their writing in ...