The Rough Draft: How To Get Started Writing an Academic Paper

Putting Together A First (Rough) Draft:

Writing academic papers is rough, but you can get through it. Also, this is not a button.

Writing academic papers can be daunting. The key word of response paper is “respond” and you think: “That’s no big deal,” but it feels different when you’re looking at the white, blank screen of your computer. In this part I’m going to help you get over the fear of the white screen and turn the ideas in your head into a rough draft.

If you played along with the pre-writing series, you’ve learned some important key words, then read your book and taken notes, talking about the book in class and then re-examined your notes, adapted them as necessary and created an outline. (Whew!)

From the outlines comes your first draft. (Whee!)

It’s Called A “Rough” Draft For A Reason:

Your purpose with the first draft is to take all the response stuff in your head (and hopefully in your outline) and turn it into an organized, intelligent paper. The rest is artifice, and we’ll talk about that more later.

Here you’re taking your outline and expanding on it.

You want to take one key idea (this turns into your thesis statement, and is found near the end of your introduction) from your outline and have three or four supports (these turn into body paragraphs).

Your rough draft should take the shape of:

  • Introduction
  • Body Paragraph
  • Body Paragraph
  • Body Paragraph
  • Conclusion

Order & Organization: No One Said You Had To Start At The Beginning:

It’s time to get to it. Time to get to writing academic papers. Now what?

White screen? You don't have to start by writing an introduction.

Step 1: Look at your notes, then look at a white screen, then your notes, then a white screen. Notes. White screen. Notes. White screen. It can be very confusing and potentially overwhelming. Remember this and feel the stress leave your poor, frazzled mind: No one said you had to start at the beginning. You do not have to write the introduction first.

Step 2: Write – It’s not where you start; it’s that you start.

Odds are you’ll find that once you start writing and putting words and thoughts together on paper – keeping an eye on your notes and outline – you may just be surprised. I’m not saying you’ll be writing gems and pearls of words, but you will have something. Get the ideas out now. Worry about editing later. You’re writing a rough draft, it is not time to polish anything yet.

It’s Hard To Map Out Unknown Territory:

Ever feel like that little dude before? I have.

I remember once and I’ll never forget when I was in college and meandering the halls, I stopped and heard a professor say to a student: “When you’re writing academic papers, and no one ever tells you this, and most people won’t think of it on their own, but no one said you had to start at the beginning.” It may well behoove you to write the body of your paper first.

Your introduction and conclusion are very closely related, they work like a map that guides your readers. However, it’s hard to write that map if you aren’t totally sure yet what direction your paper is taking. If you write the body paragraphs though, you know exactly where your paper is going. You can always save the introduction for later.

If the idea of writing a body paragraph makes your heart sad, remember: if you’ve been playing along, you’re more than prepared, by now. Here’s what should be accomplished:

  • You have read the book
  • You have learned more about the class, various opinions and interpretations from classroom discussion or peer groups
  • You have great notes and/or a good outline
  • You have picked three or four points you want to write about

You’re good to go, my friend, write paragraphs on those key points that support your thesis. Expand as much as you can now, you can edit out excess out of your rough draft later.

More About Paragraph Construction:

You want to take one main point from the book.

For instance: “I think that in Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew, Katerina pulls a fast one over Petruchio by ultimately making the unwanted arranged wedding work in her favor.” All you need now are a few instances that support your opinion for the wonderful Katerina.

These few instances are your body paragraphs. You want to write about why they support your thesis and if you’ve further developed these supports in class or in peer groups. We’ll talk more about building them later.

Your introduction and conclusion will have your thesis on Katerina. Each body paragraph will talk about a support from the text, lectures, or peer groups, all working together beautifully when writing academic papers.

The Introduction:

Your introduction is like a map: it tells your readers where you are going and what they can expect to gain from reading your paper. In a

It doesn't matter how many times you click this, it still isn't a button.

response paper, you want to give a thesis statement and list the key points you are using so that the reader has some clues as to what is going to happen.

About that handy thesis statement. You want one.

For more information, see this article about how to write a thesis statement.

The thesis statement is the big deal, the summarized core, the banana in your banana spit sundae. Your thesis statement belongs nearer the end of your introduction statement and it works with your key points. It’s your billboard and it answers these two questions: What is this paper about? What all can I expect to find here? Your supporting points expand on this.

The Conclusion:

Not many people realize how similar the introduction and conclusion are. Here’s something fun to make note of:

Writing an academic paper is good for the environment!

Introduction: “In this paper I will talk about…”

Conclusion: “In this paper I talked about…”

All the rest is glitz and artifice to make your paper pretty. We’ll talk more about prettifying your paper in Parts 2 and 3.

To learn a little bit more, click on this link about how to write an effective essay, where the author talks more about the introduction, body and conclusion.

All Together Now:

Writing academic papers is scary, but you can get the hang of it if you’re going one step at a time. Before you know it, this will be second nature to you.

Your first draft is called the “rough draft” and it has that name for a reason: It isn’t pretty yet.

To write the rough draft you want one key point (your thesis) and a few supports (body paragraphs) along with a few notes from your text, some things you learned in class, and your own reaction to the text to build up each body paragraph.

Yes, I like this picture entirely too much.

Each support is its own paragraph. The first and last paragraphs are called the introduction and conclusion, which are very similar, working like maps. The introduction tells the reader where they are going, and the conclusion that tells the reader where they have been.

And remember, dear reader, no one ever said you had to start at the beginning. The point is to get the greatness out of your head and onto paper. Start where you can.

To finish up your rough draft, have this sketch in mind for how your paper should look:

I: Introduction, Thesis, list of supporting points.

II – IV: Body Paragraphs that expand on the supporting points.

V: Conclusion – Re-list the supporting points, the thesis, and put in an ending sentence or two.

This post is part of the series: Writing A Response Paper: Making All Those Thoughts A Cohesive Whole

This series will take you through the necessary steps to writing a thought-out response paper. You will learn how to turn your outline into a rough draft, how to edit your rough draft (becoming the second draft) and how to polish your second draft. Finally, an article on how to avoid plagiarism.
  1. The Rough Draft: It Has The Name For A Reason
  2. Paper Editing: Strategies You Can Use When Revising a Paper
  3. Tips for Polishing Your Academic Paper: The Final Draft
  4. How To Avoid Plagiarism: Because Otherwise You’ll Go To Jail