This drafting process is adapted from materials created by Patricia Weaver Francisco, faculty member at Hamline University and author. Over years of teaching and writing, she’s developed a dynamic way to approach the drafting process for any writing project, whether creative or academic. I’ve used this in my classes since she was generous enough to share it with me a few years ago. For many students it transforms the writing experience from a process that is stressful and overwhelming to one that is manageable and (more) enjoyable. By breaking up the creative process into feasible steps and students feel in control of their writing, experience a low-pressure process that offers space they can enjoy. Best of all students gain a model for an iterative process they can use on their own.

Overall I think the experience can be empowering, because students often surprise themselves with the quality of writing they are capable of producing. Below is my adaptation of her materials, and you can access an original copy of the explanation Francisco offers students here.

She writes:  

In my view, any piece of writing requires a four-draft mindset. In practice, this may mean more than four drafts, but a four-draft approach defines the tasks needed in each stage of the writing process. My formulation differs from the Plan/Draft/Revise/Proofread approach outlined in many reference handbooks. Again, there are many ways to break the writing process into stages. Here’s what makes sense to me.

To access this as a .pdf file, click here.

Imagine how you might build a house. The writing process is similar…

Step 1: The Exploratory Draft

Using the analogy of building a house, this draft is gathering the wood, the nails, and the porch posts, considering design possibilities and specs and then piling it all up on the site. Much time is spent walking around and staring at the materials until you realize what you want to build. 

This is the get-writing phase. An exploratory draft should be discursive, contradictory, a mess. In Natalie Goldberg’s phrase, “a compost pile” out of which a lovely thesis statement can grow. Generate ideas with notes from reading, lists of ideas or questions, bits of research, or freewriting about a subject.At the end of the Exploratory Draft, you want to have a working thesis statement or question – which you’ll work to develop later.

Step 2: The Structural Draft/s

So this is the stage where the house is “framed in” and the foundation poured, and the heating, cooling and plumbing installed. At this stage, an outside reader or observer can walk around and see if the design is sound, if the structure solid, and if the essay “works.” In addition, aspects of the structural draft may resemble scaffolding, platforms that will eventually be edited out of the final essay, but were necessary for its construction. 

Once you have a thesis statement or question, you begin to organize around that idea, arguing it, considering its limitations, and building a framework for the ideas and research you want to incorporate. During structural drafts, the writer is thinking strategically, less preoccupied with what to say than with how to get it across. What arrangement of elements will give a reader the best access to my thinking? How can I engage a reader who is tempted to argue with my point? Where are the weaknesses in my argument?

Step 3:  The Interior Design Draft/s

This is the stage that resembles picking the paint colors and arranging the furniture and decorative elements in a new house…

For many writers, this stage is the reward for the heavy lifting of the previous work. When your ideas are clear and you have an effective structure to hold them, the focus shifts to style: words, sentences, paragraphs, titles, images, voice. Your perspective emerges not only through the choices made in the first two stages of the process, but also in the way you construct the details. This stage of the process contributes much to the tone and effect of your writing.

Step 4: The Mechanical Draft

This is the formal inspection needed before a house can be sold. 

This final step allows you to focus on technical professionalism. Because proofreading is such a difficult operation, it needs to be given its own place in a writing process, separate from editing for content, structure, and style. Often, you’ll be asked to complete steps 3 and 4 independently in class, but it’s helpful to think of proofreading as a separate step from substantive revising that happens last. This step can also include citations, graphics, and other aspects of preparing a piece of writing for final presentation.

Step 5: Writing a Lessons Learned Paragraph

This is an added step that I’ve tacked on to the original 4. It’s a valuable opportunity for metacognitive reflection. In non-teacher talk, it’s a chance to think about how you think, and reflect on yourself as a critical thinker and learner. I find with metacognitive reflection that it’s best to build it in often and a little goes a long way. Plus, sometimes students find it’s cathartic to look back and give voice to the strengths and weaknesses they observed in their process.

This is not so much a step in the drafting process, as a moment to reflect after you’ve finished. Min. 150 words at the end of each major essay, below a clearly marked heading. 

This step is required of every major project for this class. It’s meant to be about a ten minute pause to reflect out loud on your process in writing. You’ll include a paragraph of at least 150 words at the end of your essay. Please include this in the same document as your final draft, after the formal essay and the works cited list. While you can reflect on any aspect of the writing process, here are some ideas: You might discuss what went well, and what was challenging; which elements of this writing process were successful for you; what do you want to repeat in the process; what would you do differently next time?


One thought on “A Better Approach to the Drafting Process: “Building an Essay”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *