Using a writing process

A six-step process to get writing done.

Written assignments are one of the major requirements of university. Writing tasks at university vary greatly, but generally, academics expect that tertiary-level writing will:

  • Directly respond to the specific task requirements;
  • Adhere to the conventions of the writing task so that the writing fits the requirements of the genre;
  • Present a clear, supported response;
  • Demonstrate evidence of research; i.e. use of literature;
  • Demonstrate understanding of literature through critical analysis, not just description or summary;
  • Acknowledge all sources used; i.e. through referencing.

Here, we present a process that will help you meet these requirements. Note that it focuses on the type of writing found in Social Sciences and Humanities disciplines.

1. Determine the genre

Once you have received your writing task you need to determine the genre; in other words, what type of writing is required. For example, essays, reports, a literature review; annotated bibliographies and reflective writing are all common academic genres with their own requirements, organisation, structure, style expectations and language conventions.

For example; an essay generally consists of an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It is presented in paragraphs; does not usually have headings or titles; and is written in an ‘objective’ formal style where you may not directly refer to yourself in the writing. It also concludes with a Reference List or Bibliography.

If the requirements of the genre are not made explicit to you, or if you are unclear about them, you need to find out what they are. The Subject Guide or the ‘Assessment’ tab on your subject’s Canvas site often has this information.

2. Analyse the task

The next step is to determine what the task is asking you to do. Spend extra time on this step, as it will save you time and heartache later. Look carefully at the task question i.e. the actual statement or question you have to respond to. Writing tasks will typically have a question which consists of:

  • Topic words (what the task is about)
  • Direction words (which tell you what to do with the topic)
  • Focus words (which limit your topic to a specific area)


Analyse two theories of education and state a case as to which has the most relevance in today’s classroom . Illustrate how this could apply to your future teaching .

Legend: Topic words Direction words Focus words

Analysing these elements will help you to ‘get inside’ the question and focus on what it is at its core. Indeed, accurate task analysis informs all of the next steps.

3. Make a plan

After analysing the task, map out a plan. You can do this on paper or as a Word document, organising your ideas into logical sections.  Using the above assignment task as an example, a starting plan (not including Introduction and Conclusion) might look like this:

Example writing process plan

4. Research and write into your plan

Now you need to find information to use in your writing. You are looking for information include in your plan.

The website has two excellent resources you can use for research:

  • Discovery, on the Library frontpage, enables you to search across databases, catalogues and the digital repository for information sources.
  • LibGuides at provides excellent collections of resource materials specific to discipline, course and subject.

You may find as you research that you refine your initial plan; re-organise, change, delete and re-sequence ideas.

As you read, transfer ideas directly into your plan. Fill in the plan with bullet point information, including BRIEF reference details (author name, page number or URL). Don’t forget this – you can then easily go back and find the information if you need it again.

5. Draft your writing

Note that this step comes some way into the entire process. The benefit of using research-to-plan transfer is that when you are ready to start writing the actual paper, you already have information there! This is also a very effective way to prevent writer’s block.

One way to start writing is to try expanding the bullet points you have into sentences and to link related sentences into paragraphs. Writing is a step-by-step process; it doesn’t just happen all at once. Review the following orderly steps.

Steps in writing

  • Free write (1st draft): just write; don’t worry about the word count at this point; get ideas flowing on to the page.
  • Take a break – get away from it for a while
  • ‘Hack’ edit (2nd draft): come back and ‘cut’ into the work. At this stage, you might remove sections that are repetitive or irrelevant, shift things around, or make choices about things you don’t need i.e. if you have compiled six definitions, you may decide to cut back to three.
  • Take a break
  • Refine edit (3rd draft): come back and ‘fine cut’ the writing. Work on expression and clarity; check grammar and references; make sure the writing answers the question. At this point you need to look at the word count: are you within the +/- 10% range? (There is an expectation that the amount you write will fall within 10% of the word count. E.g. for a 2000 word essay, 1800 – 2200 words is acceptable)
  • Take a break
  • Final edit (last draft): do this 1-2 days prior to submission. Print the work and ‘hard edit’ it into the word count range. You are editing for:
    • Typos, spelling and grammatical mistakes
    • Formatting, including line spacing, page breaks, font consistency, headings if required
    • In-text referencing and Reference List correctly formatted; sufficient range of sources evident

Note: the breaks in between steps are very important. They allow you to create distance from the writing, feel refreshed and be able to have a clear, renewed perspective on your work.

6. Final step – submit the work

Make sure that the writing is ready on the due date. Check how and where you submit your work and the exact time and date. Take into account that ‘stuff happens’: printers jam, people get sick etc., so, be prepared.  If you can’t submit on time, talk to academic staff and be honest.

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