2 Recursive Writing Process

lead vehicles in marathon
“Lead Vehicle” by Kaushal Karkhanis is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



Image result for marathon runners
marathon runners from Pixabay









Good writing: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint!

Sometimes in college, your instructors will ask you to write several paragraphs, or even an essay, in a short period of time. Examples include short-answer exam questions and timed writing exercises. This kind of writing allows you to show that you have read and understood the assigned material, or that you have practiced writing in a particular style. You may only have enough time in the class period to write a quick first draft for these types of writing assignments. The purpose of this type of writing is to get your message across clearly and quickly.

However, many times, you will have longer essay assignments which require more reflection and analysis. These assignments will often require that you conduct research to find evidence to support your ideas, and you will be expected to do most of this work outside of class time. This type of assignment uses the recursive writing process. This means that you will follow several steps in your writing journey, pausing along the way to go back to a previous stage, then moving forward, then returning to the beginning, then moving forward again, and so on. Good writers regularly use these steps all the time; you will want to practice using them too. One key to success is to start your journey right away when you get an assignment; do not wait until the paper is almost due to begin your work, because then you will not have enough time to work through the writing process.


Activity ~ Finding Your Writing Process

Directions: Discuss with a small group: What is your writing process? How do you start working on a writing assignment?

Discuss the graphics below with your partners. Have you used any of these steps in the writing process? Which graphic do you like better? Can you draw one that works better for you?


Figure 1: The Writing Process
Graphic labeled "The Writing Process." A line of brightly colored circles are connected by gray arrows wrapping around them. From left to right, they read: Topic, Prewrite, Evidence, Organize, Draft, Revise, Proofread.
Figure 2: Image of Writing Process

Good academic writing takes time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are many steps to writing well. One of the first steps is to make sure that you understand the writing assignment. Your instructor may give you a writing prompt with specific directions; ask for clarification if you do not understand something.

The next sections discuss basic information about some of the stages of the writing process. Remember to practice each of these with all of your writing assignments in our class.

Pre-writing: Why am I writing? What do I already know? What do I want my audience to know/learn?

Before you start drafting your essay, do some pre-writing. Brainstorm ideas, talk to a friend, complete a graphic organizer, draw pictures, freewrite, create an outline and a working thesis statement. At this stage, include all ideas that occur to you; do not edit anything out. You will probably want to return to your pre-writing ideas later in the process.

If you are writing a researched essay, this is the stage to start reading and researching about your topic. This means finding reliable sources and keeping track of them so that you can responsibly incorporate other scholars’ ideas into your own paper.

Drafting: What do I want to say? Where do I need more research? 

Once you have some ideas, you can start drafting your essay. You can start with any section: Introduction, Body Paragraphs, or Conclusion. Or you can just start writing a paragraph, and decide later where it might fit. If you wrote an outline in the Pre-writing stage, now you can write paragraphs that fit into your outline.

Feeling stuck? Return to pre-writing. Look at the notes you created earlier in your first pre-writing phase. Is there anything there that you want to write a paragraph about? Is there anything there that you can expand on?

Try some more pre-writing; see if you can discover some more ideas, now that you have started drafting.

At this stage, it is useful to take a break. Put your essay aside for a day or two. After that, you may think of new ideas to incorporate.

Revising & Editing: Which areas need work? 

When you revise, you ‘look again’ at your work. This is the time to edit your draft by deleting or changing words, sentences, and paragraphs that do not fit, or by moving them to a better place in your essay. This is also the time to add more information where you need more explanation or support. Return to your Pre-writing ideas, and do more brainstorming, freewriting, etc., if you need to expand some of your sections. Ask a writing partner or tutor to read your draft; it can be very useful to hear a reader’s reaction and advice at this point.

At this stage, remember to re-read the essay prompt. As you read your own essay, ask yourself: Does my essay answer the questions in the prompt? Is my thesis clear? Are all of my ideas connected to my thesis?

Consult this useful Revision Checklist from The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (opens in a new tab).

Proofreading & Publishing: What mistakes can I fix? 

One of the very last steps in the writing process is proofreading: checking for errors in grammar, mechanics, and formatting. When you are satisfied that you have done your best, you are ready to publish your work by handing it in to your instructor.

When you post an essay in Canvas, your instructor may allow you to use the plagiarism detection tool. This can help you to find areas where you have unintentionally copied from another source. If your instructor allows this step, be sure to leave yourself enough time to submit the essay and make any necessary adjustments.

Remember: good writing takes time. IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT!


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female on work break signpost” from publicdomainvectors.org
Is this chapter: 
…about right, but you would prefer to watch and listen? –> Try this video from Mometrix Academy on the “Recursive Writing Process.” Or would you like to read more? –> Open this handout from MIT’s Writing & Communication Center: “Resources for Writers: The Writing Process.”

“The Writing Process” (figure 1) has been released into the public domain (opens in a new tab) by its author, Luqa Primary. This applies worldwide. In some countries this may not be legally possible; if so: Luqa Primary grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.

“Image of Writing Process” (figure 2). Authored by: Kim Louie for Basic Reading & Writing for Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution

Note: links open in new tabs.


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ENGLISH 087: Academic Advanced Writing Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Hutchison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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