Step 9: Research Paper Rough Draft
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.
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.
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.
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.