Writing Process Chalk Talk

Back when I taught writing to young college students, I gave what I called a chalk talk to help them prepare the semester’s first paper. I intended it as a quick refresher about how to write a short paper, and an introduction to my own standards of evaluation. Class members would understand that if they did not take enough care with their writing, it would be obvious to me.

I did then, and still do, believe heartily in the efficacy of sound methods. If the process is sound, so is the product. If you follow the recipe, you’ll have a good meal at the end. I called my method the writing function machine, a name intended to emphasize the method’s mechanical nature. Here’s the recipe. Follow it and you will have good results.

The name also recalls high school algebra. We all remember y = f(x), a formulation that threw me until I saw a little diagram that clarified the concept of a function:

Preparing a paper works the same way: start with your thoughts about a subject, run these inputs through the right process, then deliver your output, a paper that expresses your thoughts with enough clarity that someone else understands them. You need not have doubts about your output’s quality if you have confidence in the process.

Every writer creates in a different way. These various methods have elements in common, but key advice is to do what works best for you, based on your own habits, training, and requirements of the particular project in front of you. Meantime, the process sketched out in the chalk talk serves well as an all-purpose start. It’s a readily adaptable framework.

Remember, too, we want a method to compose a short paper, often two to three pages, sometimes three to five pages. For papers this short, a simple five-step process comprehends the entire recipe. The process is not recursive, nor do processes run in parallel. You do not want to impose a complicated development process on a short work product due in just a few days, or on writers who are beginners. You can apply more complicated methods to longer pieces later on.

These five steps, then, make up the writing process:

  1. Write notes.
  2. Outline.
  3. Rough draft.
  4. Revise.
  5. Proofread.

Let’s consider each of these steps with sufficient care in future posts.