Useful Tips on Writing Drafts
What are drafts? It can be convenient to think there are two main stages to any writing task i.e. the first or initial draft and the end product. This misconception is often rooted in the structure of graduate-level seminars and advanced-level courses for undergraduates. There is a draft paper and there is a term paper. In truth, a final term paper draft is not the “finished” product. It is simply the last stage of a particular project within the confines of a given term or semester. You should put your best possible effort into writing about the topic at this stage, which is not to say that the project must be continued … just that it could be continued.
A lot of people find it difficult to understand that this same principle applies to a first or initial draft. A first draft should be representative of your best endeavors when writing about a particular topic up to the point where you submit it. This makes it easier for readers to provide constructive feedback so that you can make further improvements to your paper.
Almost every faculty has its own view on “raw” work and to what point they are willing to read and comment on it. This applies regardless of whether it is a term paper or a chapter from a dissertation. The following are a few points to keep in mind:
- Drafts are like a single chapter or an entire paper in terms of their structure. They are not outlines or sets of questions you intend to address in a paper. Neither are they compilations of research materials or notes, nor sets of confused thoughts and unconnected reflections. They have thesis statements and they present arguments in support of those statements. They are written as prose, complete with fully developed sentences and entire paragraphs.
- In drafts, the writer can highlight any points they need or would like help with, but they cannot ask readers to do their thinking. Writing a comment or note is perfectly acceptable, e.g., “I do not know if this is the right place for this quote” or “I am not entirely sure if this is the best way to write my conclusion.” However, it is not acceptable to put the following type of note: “How should I say this?” Your readers should have something solid to go on. Additionally, if you request help too often, you could again be seen as asking or expecting your readers to do the work that you should be doing.
- It is permissible for drafts to have a limited number of incomplete parts. Some sections can be left unfinished, parts of a draft can be left in outline version, and some claims can be left unsupported. However, there should not be too many gaps like these and it is not reasonable to expect readers to help with these.
- It is acceptable to leave references incomplete in drafts. A first draft need not have fully complete citations and references, but it should be clear what parts are your own writing and which are taken from other places. Moreover, it is recommended to get into the habit of consistently and correctly citing sources as you go along. This will help you avoid the tedious task of cleaning up later and it can prevent avoidable mistakes that could lead to accusations of plagiarism.
These pointers are not to say you should allow the quest for perfection to immobilize you.