The Writing Process

4 Write Your First Draft

After you have formulated your outline, you are ready to write the first draft of your assignment. Remember you might want to refine your outline, even after you have written parts of your first draft.

Your task now is to transform your outline into paragraphs.

Introductory Paragraph(s)

The opening of an academic writing assignment will vary in length, proportionate to the length of the entire assignment, from one paragraph for a shorter essay, to several for a longer one. A good opening typically serves two purposes: it provides context related to the assignment topic, and it presents the main or controlling idea, the thesis.

The context will make clear the genre of the essay: argument, compare/contrast, cause/effect, process. It will usually establish the topic’s broader parameters, and it might include essential background information related to the topic. The thesis, discussed above, presents the assignment’s central focus.

In the example below, the context is presented in the first two sentences and the thesis in the third.

Shin hanga means “new prints” in Japanese, and it designates an art movement by a group of gifted Japanese woodblock artists at work in the first two decades of the twentieth century. These exquisite works of art capture the human eye and command its attention until it examines carefully each square inch of the woodblock. The subjects—especially the quietly beautiful Japanese landscapes and seascapes—the clear and bold shapes and forms, and the glorious colours, in every shade and every hue, account for the excitement and enthusiasm shin hanga generates among discriminating art lovers.

Exercise Five

Write an introductory paragraph, based upon the outline you made for Exercise Four. Consider carefully the model introductory paragraph and the instructions for writing an effective introduction.

In small groups, share your introductory paragraphs and share constructive advice about the paragraphs’ strengths and weaknesses.

Your teacher might ask you to hand in your introductory paragraph.

Revise and edit your introductory paragraph, in light of your group members’ and teacher’s advice.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs of an academic writing assignment elucidate, augment, support, and develop the essay’s thesis. The body consists of at least three, and up to about a dozen or more, paragraphs, depending upon the requirements of the assignment. A minor 500-word writing assignment will typically call for three body paragraphs; a major 5000-word assignment, approximately twelve. Good body paragraphs in an academic writing assignment have three qualities: unity, coherence, and substance.

refers to the relationship of the content of a paragraph to its topic sentence. The topic sentence presents the main point of the paragraph. It is to a paragraph what the thesis is to the essay as a whole. For a paragraph to have unity, its content should develop its topic sentence. It may be stated explicitly—often, though by no means always, as the first sentence in the paragraph—or implied.

, or cohesion, is that property of written discourse that binds sentences and paragraphs together in the interest of clarity, logic, rhythm, and flow. The repetition of a keyword can establish coherence within a paragraph. A transitional word or phrase, such as “for example,” “on the other hand,” “in addition,” “however,” or “moreover,” can also establish coherence within a paragraph.

, or adequate development, is a property a body paragraph possesses when that paragraph contains enough sentences to develop its topic sentence to the readers’ satisfaction. Body paragraphs need examples, details, definitions, comparisons, contrasts, anecdotes, causes, and effects that support the thesis in order to be adequately developed.  One or any combination of these methods or patterns of development will typically be used to develop a topic sentence.

Here is the first body paragraph from an essay, the thesis of which is, “The chow chow is a great choice for a pet owner who wants a distinctive-looking dog; a dog who is fiercely loyal, if a bit aloof with strangers; and one who is intelligent and easy to train.”

1In its homeland in northern China, the chow chow is songshi quan, “puffy lion-dog.” 2The name suits the dog’s physical appearance. 3The chow chow has deep-set eyes; a large head; a beautiful, if squashed face; a pug nose; a bushy tail, which lies curled upon its back; and an impressive mane of hair, features which, together, do indeed make this breed resemble a stuffed toy lion. 4Chow chows are short and stocky, usually ranging from 43 to 51 cm tall. 5They have thick fur, usually reddish-brown, though, in some, black- or fawn-coloured. 6This is not an affectionate breed, but if one does lick your hand, you may notice that its tongue has a bluish tinge. 7Legend has it that when the god of creation was painting the sky blue, a chow chow licked the drops that fell from the divine brush. 8The chow chow’s straight hind legs are another distinctive feature unusual among dogs, who usually have curved hind legs. 9The straight legs give the breed a distinctive stiff gait, especially noticeable when chow chows try to run.

This is a solid body paragraph, exemplifying the unity, coherence, and development a good body paragraph needs. It has a topic sentence and sentences, including the first, that develop the topic. Each sentence relates to the topic sentence, establishing paragraph unity. Sentence 7, about the chow chow licking the blue paint, almost veers away from the topic sentence, but the writer does link the sentence to the dog’s blue-tinged tongue, one of its distinctive features.

Coherence is established by the repetition of the keyword “chow chow,” words like “breed” and “dog,” which echo the keyword, and pronouns, like “they” at the beginning of sentence 5 and “This” at the beginning of sentence 6. The transitional phrase “another distinctive feature” in sentence 8 also helps the paragraph cohere.

The paragraph is well-developed, hitting all of the right notes. It references the dog’s size, its colour, its facial features, its distinct physical characteristics. At nine sentences and about 180 words, it is the appropriate length for a school assignment body paragraph.

Exercise Six

Write a body paragraph (or more than one, according to your teacher’s instructions) based on the outline you made for Exercise Four. Consider carefully the model body paragraph and the instructions for writing an effective body paragraph.

In small groups, share your body paragraphs and share constructive advice about the paragraphs’ strengths and weaknesses.

Your teacher might ask you to hand in your body paragraph(s).

Revise and edit your body paragraph(s), in light of your group members’ and teacher’s advice.

Concluding Paragraph

The purpose of a concluding paragraph is to establish a sense of closure for your readers, to assure them that you have provided them with the information promised in your introduction and/or presented your argument in a forceful way that urges readers to consider your opinions carefully. This process may include a reaffirmation of your thesis and a summary of the essay’s body.

Here is a concluding paragraph for an essay, the thesis of which questions the use of wind power as a viable source of renewable energy.

While there is no doubt that wind can be harnessed to produce a source of renewable energy, evidence cited here suggests that environmentalists have reason to curb their enthusiasm for wind power. Wind farms are a blight upon the landscape, a source of noise pollution, and a danger to birds. And when the wind dies down for a day or two, the TV turns off, the freezer thaws, and the lights go out.

Note that this concluding paragraph reaffirms the essay’s thesis in the first sentence; then it recapitulates the points the writer made in the body; then, especially in that phrase “the lights go out,” it establishes a sense of closure.

There is an old adage of communication theory: tell them what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you have told them. It’s too simplistic, of course, for the complex challenge of writing a school essay, but useful insofar as it reminds us of the function of introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs.

Exercise Seven

Write a concluding paragraph, based upon the outline you made for Exercise Four. Consider carefully the model concluding paragraph and the instructions for writing an effective conclusion.

In small groups, share your concluding paragraphs and share constructive advice about the paragraphs’ strengths and weaknesses.

Your teacher might ask you to hand in your concluding paragraph.

Revise and edit your concluding paragraph, in light of your group members’ and teacher’s advice.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Composition and Literature by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book