Understanding the Writing Process

No matter what the purpose of a piece of writing is, or what form it takes – article, letter, memo, or even a full-length book – the writing process holds the same steps for every writer. The writing process is the step-by-step procedure of deciding on ideas, effectively communicating them, strengthening them, and finally delivering them in a form that moves the “audience” to action. This is true whether that audience consists of office co-workers or the readers of New York Times best-sellers. This article will discuss the elements of writing and help readers understand the process of executing a writing project.

  • The Writing Process: Detailed information on the writing process, breaking down the basic steps into several sub-steps with helpful diagrams and tips.
  • Writing Process Resources: A variety of educational resources on the writing process ranging from basic to advanced and covering a selection of topics.


Every piece of writing begins with a main idea. The main idea is the central concept that the writer wants to communicate to others. It may be something extremely complex about the human spirit, as in a novel, or something relatively simple, such as a request for more information from a company. The main idea and the purpose of a piece of writing are closely linked. The purpose is the writer’s goal: to persuade, to inform, to entertain, or some combination. The main idea, with its supporting details, gives rise to the themes that compel the reader to keep reading. By understanding the reader’s relationship with the main idea, anticipating their reactions and questions, and maintaining a clear purpose, the writer holds the reader’s attention and builds toward the goal of the piece. Having an idea, and some concept of its supporting details, is the first step in writing.

  • Starting the Writing Process: Advice from Purdue University all about starting a writing project, deciding on its purpose, and making the selections on which the work is based.
  • Online Guide to Writing and Research: Great guide on college-level writing from University of Maryland’s University College. Includes in-depth chapters on the writing process and several other topics relevant to good writing.


If ideas are the heart of a piece, then voice is its soul. Voice refers to everything that makes up the “feel” of a piece. Voice comes through in the stylistic decisions a writer makes and the way the writer chooses to engage the reader with personality and emotion. Over time, many writers develop their own distinctive voice, but there are also “voices” that may be more effective for different kinds of writing. Voice is important for any type of writing that’s intended to persuade, and can also be helpful for making difficult material accessible in an informative piece. Voice must match the intention of the piece and support the main idea. Voice is the personal expression of the author in the text, and is the crossroads at which things like word choice and sentence fluency meet.

  • The Most Important Thing to Know: Snapshot information on developing a voice, with a focus on the relationship between the last few steps of the writing process and finding a unique voice.
  • Writing: Individual Voice: Teachers’ resource on recognizing individual voice in writing and encouraging its development. Articles are presented in an accessible format that helps in quick evaluation of voice and understanding of its components. Similar articles are linked to on the same site treating the other aspects of writing outlined here.
  • Make Your Writing Talk: Brief but informative handout on written voice hosted at the Writing Center of Armstrong Atlantic University.


Organization is simply the order and structure of all the material in a written document. Often the first things that come to mind in this topic are a strong opening that grabs attention and a satisfying conclusion that serves to both summarize main points and call the reader to action. Organization will usually follow from the purpose that the piece is meant to achieve. Information in any writing must be organized logically and coherently, so that each new detail builds upon the last, throws more light on the main themes, and advances the main idea. Once a writer has decided on a main idea, organization is something that can begin immediately with an outline of topics to be covered. The final form that the organization takes, though, may evolve over many drafts.

  • Introduction: Organization: In-depth guide to organization in writing, including definitions, types of organization, and how to organize writing. Several other writing guides are provided by the same site, the Writing Center at Colorado State University.
  • Principles of Organization: Information on forms of organization, patterns, principles of exposition, and other elements. Also includes articles on grammar and style.

Word Choice

Writers often start thinking about ideas, voice, and organization before the first word is ever written. But word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions come out of the writing and editing phases. Word choice is probably the aspect of writing the average person thinks of most when considering whether someone is a “good” writer. But word choice is about much more than the careful turns of phrase that people remember from big name authors. Word choice starts with identifying the audience and choosing a vocabulary that’s most suitable to them. From that framework, the writer must be careful to use strong verbs and active language that can move the reader. Word choice is fluid and can take time to develop, sometimes requiring sentence-by-sentence attention to a piece that’s nearly finished. But all this work has the potential to pay off with a huge emotional impact. Word choice is what creates the right “mood” and leaves a lasting impression.

  • Word Choice: All about word choice and its common pitfalls. From the University of North Carolina Writing Center.
  • Word Choice and Voice: College-level article on the interplay between these two important parts of writing.

Sentence Fluency

Sentence fluency is often one of the most challenging aspects of writing. Most composition classes are built around the dynamics of sentence fluency, which are complex and adaptable. Sentence fluency is made up of such things as selecting a variety of sentence lengths and structures, the use of pleasing rhythm and meter, and “parallel constructions” that allow ideas to resonate through the text. In seeking sentence fluency, it’s beneficial to complete the first draft of a piece and read it aloud. Things that sound odd, awkward, or redundant in an oral reading are usually prime candidates for editing. Sentence fluency works hand in hand with word choice, and both are built on the voice that the writer selects at the outset of the project.

  • Revising Prose: Over a dozen concise, easily-applied tips on promoting sentence fluency from the Writing Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


Conventions are all those small, but important details that make a written work smooth and legible. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation may seem to have a lot of details, some easier to master than others, but without them none of the other features of a piece will work. Conventions can be helped a long way by electronic tools like spell check, but the only way to really make sure that everything is in order is by searching for mistakes one word at a time. Even with a large manuscript, many authors report success printing out early copies of a work and marking the copies by hand as errors are encountered. Since many people have more experience reading from a printed copy than on a computer screen, errors can be caught that might be “invisible” otherwise. This is usually the last step of the process, after everything else has been revised repeatedly.

  • Guide to Grammar and Style: Information on a huge variety of topics in grammar and correct writing style. Compiled by Professor Jack Lynch of Rutgers University.
  • Grammar Resources: Extremely large selection of high-quality guides on grammar, usage, style, grammar myths, and other related topics. Provided by the University of Chicago Writing Program.

Though there are countless forms of writing, the writing process applies to all of them. Thinking about the elements of writing before, during, and after you draft a work can help make it more cohesive and effective. This applies no matter what the purpose of the writing may be. The most important thing to remember about the elements of writing is that, though they may seem complex, each one is interrelated to all the others. All aspects of writing become easier with attention and practice.

  • 6+1 Trait Analytical Model: More information on the traits described here, as well as the “+1” aspect, which is presentation; that is, the way text actually appears on the page.
  • The Five Features of Effective Writing: Detailed articles on organization, style, conventions, and several other topics using a slightly different approach to breaking down writing’s basic elements. Includes indexed resources for finding out more.