Pen on written document

A writing process

By Vinetta Bell

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The drafting stage is characterized by increasingly less tentative efforts toward implementing a specific plan for written communication. The first draft takes shape according to the thesis or hypothesis, which serves as a clearly defined and articulated purpose for the work, and the outline or other form of graphic organization. With each successive draft, the work begins to assume more definitive form.

The drafting process: A historical example

a digitized document of a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written in the hand of Thomas Jefferson

The rough draft of the Declaration of Independence bears marks where Thomas Jefferson scratched out lines and wrote in corrections. About the photograph

The original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence on the Library of Congress website provides a high-profile example of a historically significant early draft. The contrasts between this draft and the final Declaration of Independence are significant — even the title is different.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with being the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence. However, Jefferson worked with several contributing writers of this document, including Benjamin Franklin, as Jefferson crafted multiple drafts before the final draft was approved. The difference between the rough draft and the final version of the Declaration illustrates the point that drafts of public documents must reflect the preferences in ideas, diction, sentences, and even organizational structure that represent the will of a team of contributing writers and the needs and expectations of the intended audience. In that way, the ultimate purpose, which is typically not the writer’s personal preference, is achieved.

Some scholars spend years, even their entire careers, researching the multiple drafts of such documents. Their research sheds light on the influences upon and intended meanings of the people who wrote and approved these documents. Thus, they reveal important information about the society in which these documents were drafted.

Students of the writing process could gain a more concrete understanding of the benefits of writing multiple drafts through a multi-disciplinary writing assignment comparing one or more early drafts of the Declaration of Independence with the final draft.

Improving clarity

Many students submit their first draft for final teacher evaluation. That draft is often written the night before the writing assignment is due. When the grade received for that first and only draft is commendable (e.g., an A or a B), or is consistent with the grade that is typically received by the student who has written several drafts before submitting the final or latest draft, then many students erroneously conclude that it makes no difference if the first draft is the only one written and submitted. That attitude reflects an emphasis on grades rather than on the writing process.

Writing multiple drafts of a writing assignment provides students with the opportunity to hone their craft beyond the level of mere proficiency. Multiple drafts demonstrate the dynamic process that guides all communication. The dynamic versus the static characteristic of writing is why the final product to be submitted for evaluation is still called a draft, not the conclusion of that specific writing process. All communication remains alive, even when it is recorded by electronic or digital means. Each audience is entitled to interpret that communication according to the varying purposes and contexts that define the audience.

It is the encoding and decoding process that informs the careful writer that clarity of expression and purposeful meaning can be improved or enhanced at all times. What one intends to communicate (the encoding process) is not always what the audience concludes has been communicated (the decoding process). To avoid confusion and possibly frustration, even anger, during this encoding and decoding process, the careful writer learns through the writing process to clarify meaning according to the writer’s purpose and the audience’s needs and characteristics. Multiple drafts best assure that this clarity of meaning and purpose can be achieved with the least degree of ambiguity and incoherence.