Your only goal during the first draft is to get things down on the page so that you can start rewriting. The first draft has no other value. Regardless of how many faults it has, the first draft accomplishes its entire purpose merely by coming into existence. —Richard K. Neumann, Legal Reasoning and Legal Writing
Budgeting the time it takes to create an essay is really important, but it’s not usually explicitly discussed in classrooms. Consider the following advice as you map out your time between the date you’re given a writing assignment and the date it’s due.
- Plan on 20 minutes, minimum, per typed page.
- Start writing your rough draft as soon as you can. Once you have those first words on paper, the rest is much easier.
- Find your best time of day and write then. Never put off writing until you are tired or sleepy. Tired writing is almost always bad writing.
- For short essays, allow an absolute minimum of 10 minutes per paragraph. “Short” means fewer than 3 pages of typed text. Thus, for a four-paragraph essay allow at least 40 minutes for the first draft.
- For longer essays, allow an absolute minimum of one hour to produce every three typed pages of rough draft. You don’t have to write it all at one sitting, but budget enough total time to complete a rough draft without feeling any time pressure.
- Once your rough draft is done, leave it until the next day (at least!) before revising it. This way you’ll be able to look at it with “fresh eyes” and recognize room for improvement.
You and your classmates may assume that the first draft is the most important part of writing. Actually, the first draft is the LEAST important part. The analysis and reflection you do in the process of revision and proofreading are much more valuable contributions toward a strong final product.
- Allow at least the same amount of time for revision and proofreading as you did for writing the rough draft. The more important the writing project, the more time will be needed in revising and proofreading. This means that a very important three-page, typed paper would require a total of at least two to three hours to complete in final form.
- Revise first. Allow enough time before your final deadline to rewrite nine-tenths of your paper (or to start over with some components, if necessary).
- Leave enough time to read the text out loud or to have someone else read it out loud to you. This is one of the most important things you can do to as a scholar to ensure the quality of your text. Your ears will detect elements that are out of place more readily than your eyes will see them.
- If your mother language is not English, or if you have more than average difficulty with spelling, punctuation, or grammar, consult a tutor. While you don’t want anyone else to rewrite your paper, a native speaker of English can offer advice and coaching on wording things most effectively.
- Proofread last. The time necessary for this process depends on the length of the paper. The best method for this is to print out the paper, proofread it in hard copy (or, even better, have someone else correct it), make the necessary corrections on the computer text, and only then print out the final version.
- Save your final copy in several ways. Back it up on your computer files, through a cloud storage, on a flash drive, and/or in your school’s electronic class platform. You never know when the unexpected will happen. Almost every student experiences a major electronic data loss at some point, and it can be devastating.
- Keep secure, permanent electronic and paper files of all papers you write in college. You never know when you may need to consult them again.