It seems like everyone has his/her own approach to writing: some like to sit down with a notebook and pen, some like an outline, diagram of ideas, or page of preliminary notes, others want to plant themselves in their computer chair and type a working draft right away.
For those of you who need that plan, or want to learn how to plan before you draft, our ENC 1101 handbook and reader discuss preliminary strategies. I especially like the way the editors of your Brief Bedford Reader explain the writing process (ENC 1101 students). In chapter two, “The Writing Process,” they describe the writing process as having five (5) distinct phases: “analysis of the writing situation, discovery, drafting, revising, and editing” (Kennedy, Kennedy, and Aaron 33).
I perceive that within the first few days of receiving an essay assignment, my classes are in the first two phases: you are just receiving your writing assignment, and with or without realizing it, you will probably analyze the writing situation. You will think about the subject to be written about (subject), the order in which you will feature your ideas (purpose and organization), the reader who will evaluate your paper (audience), etc.
Then, whether or not you choose to write down your ideas, you will begin to comb your memory for examples and details you can include your essay. The editors (and I) suggest that you write down your ideas in the form of a freewrite, composition journal, outline, diagram, etc. In case you have never completed a freewrite, check out p. 38 in your reader. You basically suppress any anxiety you have about the writing task and let your thoughts accumulate on the page; afterward, you look at what you’ve written and determine if you’ve produced anything usable. Many students have told me that freewriting helped them. I like outlines, myself. Or I might freewrite, and then outline from that.
Another way to discover ideas for an essay is to use the “methods of development” (these are listed on p. 38 and the front flap of your reader; the handbook calls them the “patterns of organization” and describes them on pp. 34-39 in the C tab). These methods or patterns will probably seem familiar to you: narration, description, comparison and contrast, example, analogy, cause and effect, definition, argument and persuasion, etc. Using the methods or patterns simply means that you write about your subject in a particular way, so that your readers think of your information in a certain way. They might be entertained if you tell a story using narration; they might be convinced if you write effectively using argument and persuasion; they might be enlightened if you discuss your subject by comparing and contrasting it with a similar subject.
The handbook, A Writer’s Reference, can also help you plan and draft your essays. I recommend that you read sections C1- C4 before submitting your first essay to be graded.