How to Write the First Draft of an Essay

A first draft is a rough sketch of your future piece of writing. Sometimes your first draft may become the final one due to it being rather satisfactory, but in most cases, it requires further work. A first draft is a way to elaborate on the main points of your essay that were stated in your outline, giving them a sample form. It may seem paradoxical, but while being actually one of the most important stages of the writing process, most first drafts don’t require a tremendous attention to detail.

Steps for Writing a First Draft of an Essay

  1. Take a closer look at your assignment and the topic if it was given to you by your intructor. Revise your outline as well. This is needed for your clearer understanding of the tasks that you must accomplish within the draft, and to make sure that you meet the requirements of the assignment.
  2. Sketch out the introduction of your essay. At this point, don’t get stalled on form; keep in mind that an introductory part should inform readers about what the topic is, and state your point of view according to this topic. The introduction should also be interesting to read to capture readers’ attention, but this task has more to do with thoughtful and scrupulous writing, and thus should be left for later.
  3. Based on your outline, start transferring your ideas to paper. The main task here is to give them the initial form and set a general direction for their further development, and not to write a full paper.
  4. Chalk out the summarizing paragraph of your essay. Remember that it should not contain any new ideas, but briefly reintroduce those from the main body, and restate your thesis statement.
  5. Read through the draft to see if you have included the information that you wanted to, but without making any further corrections, since this is a task for the second and final drafts.

Key Points to Consider

  1. While an outline is needed to decide on what to write, the first draft is more about answering a question: “How to write?” In the first draft, you shape your ideas out, and not simply name and list them, as you did in an outline.
  2. When you start writing your thoughts down, it may happen that one idea or concept sparks new connections, memories or associations. Be attentive to such sidetracks; choose those of them that might be useful for your writing, and don’t delve in those that are undesirable in terms of the purpose of your paper (academic, showing opinion). A successful piece of writing is focused on its topic, and doesn’t include everything you have to say on a subject.
  3. Making notes for yourself in the margins or even in the middle of the text is a useful practice. This can save you time and keep you focused on the essence of your essay without being distracted by secondary details. For example, such notes could look like this: “As documented, the Vietnam War cost the United States about … (search for the exact sum of money and interpret it in terms of modern exchange rates) U. S. dollars.”
  4. When you finish crafting your first draft, it is useful to put it aside and completely quit thinking about writing for a certain period of time. Time away will allow you to have a fresh look at your draft when you decide to revise it.

Do and Don’t

Do

  • Do revise your first draft if it looks too long. Indeed, if your first draft is lengthy—which is actually a rough sketch—imagine how long your paper will become if you expand on each idea chalked out and fill it with factual data.
  • Do reread the draft several times and return to the requirements of your assignment and topic if you feel that you are getting stalled. Use brainstorming techniques to get out of writer’s block.
  • Do leave empty space in the text when writing. It may happen that you come across certain details that are necessary for your essay, but can be left out at the moment. To avoid being distracted by thoughts that are not connected with your focus, leave blank space in their place—you will be able to return to them later.
  • Do set a time limit for yourself. A reasonable deadline will help you work more intensely and make everything in time, and at the same time you will avoid overworking and intellectual exhaustion.
  • Do write the first draft as rapidly as you can. This point refers to the procedure of writing itself. When you stop to think over a certain phrase, you will most likely dig into details, analysis, and comparisons; you will start seeking for the best variant of this particular phrase, thus forgetting about the rest of the draft.
Don’t

  • Don’t pay too much attention to punctuation, grammar, spelling, word choice, style of writing, and other minor peculiarities which completely don’t matter in the first draft; your thoughts on the subject is what matters at this point.
  • Don’t write your thoughts down in details. Usually it is enough to write down a couple of concise sentences to be able to return to a certain idea later without losing the discourse.
  • Don’t consider crafting a first draft of an essay as unnecessary. Even if you have an outline written, a draft is still necessary; while an outline helps you to figure out what to write about, the first draft can help you understand how to write. The first draft helps you to shape out your thoughts, and thus is a crucial part of the essay writing process.
  • Don’t wait for a special occasion to come for inspiration to draft your essay. You may feel discouraged, but treat it as “do or die.” Otherwise, you will constantly find justifications for doing nothing.

Common Mistakes When Writing a First Draft of an Essay

- Editing and revising a draft in process of writing. If you stop after each sentence to think it over, you will most likely lose your flow; besides, many people have an internal editor or critic who can’t stand it if the material is written imperfectly. Therefore, first you should deal with the whole draft, and only after that proofread and edit it.

- Paying too much attention to secondary arguments, factual material, and other minor peculiarities. The main goal of the first draft is to sketch out your main ideas; you can fill it with details later. If you think you will forget about an important fact or remark, make brief notes in margins.

- Ignoring the role of a first draft in the essay writing process. Though it may seem to you that you are wasting time working on a draft, you are actually working on the essay itself. You need to understand how your outline works in full written form.

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Samples for the First Draft of an Essay

First Draft Sample

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