English Composition 1
The Writing Process: Drafting
John has been assigned to write an essay about the photograph Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange. Because he has completed several prewriting activities, John feels confident that he is ready to start writing a first draft of his essay.
Tips for Writing a Draft
- Give yourself some quiet time to concentrate on writing your draft. If
you try to write your essay with the television on, with music blaring, with
your cell phone ringing, and with three friends talking to you, you might
find it difficult to focus your attention on the task of writing a draft of
- Try to type your essay in your word processor from the beginning. Some
people still hand write an essay and then type it into the computer, but
this approach seems to regard the computer as little more than a fancy
typewriter. A word processor can be a handy tool throughout the writing
process, especially during the stages when you are getting your thoughts
down and trying to make some sense of them.
- Start anywhere. You do not have to start with the introduction. In fact,
it might be difficult to start by writing an introduction simply because you
do not yet know exactly what you are introducing. If you have at least one
good idea that you can develop, you could begin your draft by writing a body
paragraph on that idea. With word processors, you can copy and paste and add
text anywhere, so you can begin anywhere. Start by writing something that
you feel confident about. You can put the pieces together later.
- Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Most likely, no one but you will
see the first draft of your essay. The draft will undergo plenty of revision
before other people read it, so do not be afraid of making mistakes. Try to
let your ideas flow.
- Use an outline. Even a brief outline of your major ideas will give you a
sense of direction.
- Be open to discover and explore while you write. People can actually
learn about their subjects as they write essays on them, so be open to
discovering new ideas about your subject as you are writing a draft. If the
new ideas do not fit, you could just delete them later.
- Focus on the big things: the thesis, the organization, and the support and development of ideas. In other words, focus on the content--on what you are saying--as you write your first draft. You can strengthen how you are expressing your ideas later as you rewrite sentences, find better wording, and eliminate errors. As you are writing a first draft, focus on presenting some good ideas and on supporting and developing those ideas with specific evidence.
Prewriting Prepares the Writer to Begin a Draft
John has an assignment to write an analysis and interpretation of the Dorothea Lange photograph Migrant Mother. In an essay of at least 800 words, John is supposed to explain the meaning that he thinks is conveyed in the photograph and is supposed to support and develop his interpretation with descriptions of the photograph. (The photograph is at the right. Just click the image to see a larger version.)
John's prewriting activities have put him in a good position to start writing a draft of his essay. He has already put a lot of thought into his subject, giving him many good ideas to consider, and the prewriting has also given John a sense of how he might organize some of those ideas in an essay.
Most helpful to John is the outline that he created:
- The family is living in severe poverty.
a. The mother is a migrant--a poor farm worker.
b. It is 1936, during the "Dust Bowl."
c. Their clothing is dirty and tattered.
d. Some of the clothing is too big.
e. Their skin is dirty: they have not bathed recently.
f. They appear to be living in a tent.
- The mother is trying to care for her family.
a. The mother is at the center of the photograph--the center of the family.
b. Two of her children are resting on her shoulders.
c. The children appear to have recent haircuts.
d. A baby is asleep in her lap.
e. The baby may have just been breastfed.
- The mother is determined not to be defeated by her difficulties.
a. The mother is not looking down in defeat.
b. The mother is looking ahead.
c. Her hand on her cheek makes her look focused.
d. She is not even distracted by the photographer.
John does not yet have a thesis statement written down for his essay, but he does feel that the major topics of his outline, taken together, give him a clear and unified thesis: that while the photograph Migrant Mother shows a family in poverty, it also shows the strength of family and the determination of a strong mother.
John is ready to start writing.
The Writing Begins
John feels most confident about writing on the second major topic of his outline--how "the mother is trying to care for her family"--so John decides that he will begin his draft by writing a paragraph on that topic.
John begins his draft.
Good. This is John's first attempt at writing the paragraph, so there are plenty of ways that it can be stronger, but John at least has a good start here. He has a paragraph of about 175 words that focuses on one of the main ideas that he identified in his outline. John now feels some confidence in continuing to write his paper.
The First Draft
John uses the paragraph he has already written, along with his outline, to help him complete a first draft of his essay on the photograph Migrant Mother.
Below is John's first draft. Remember, at this point, John is most concerned about the big things--about having an essay that makes a clear point, that is organized logically, and that uses supporting evidence to develop the ideas that it presents.
The family in "Migrant Mother" is very poor. You can tell this by the clothes that they are wearing. The baby is wrapped in an old coat or blanket that is very dirty. The mother's clothes are also dirty and the sleeve of her shirt is torn. The child on the left has on a coat that is too big for him, it probably is a hand-me-down or a coat that someone gave him. Small holes can be seen in the sleeve of the dingy shirt that the child on the right is wearing. The dirt on the family also shows that they are poor. The baby's face is filthy, and dirt is smudged on the arm of the child on the right. The mother's arm is also dirty, and she has her hand up to her chin, like she is trying to think of how she can help her family. It looks like the family is sitting in a tent of some sort because you can see a canvas background. They probably do not have a home. They do not seem to have any water to bathe with. The photograph was taken in 1936. This is the time of the "Dust Bowl," when migrant farm workers were suffering. The photograph shows that this family is poor.
The photograph shows that the mother is trying to care for her family. The mother is at the center of the photograph, and she is the center of her family. Two of the children are leaning against the mother, one on each side of her. The children are leaning against the mother's shoulders. One child has his hands to his face, showing that he is sad about the situation. Both children are looking down because they are depressed. There is also a baby in the mother's lap. The baby is resting peacefully. It looks like the baby has just breast fed, showing that the mother is doing her best to care for him. It looks like the older children have recently had haircuts. It looks as if their hair were cut by putting a bowl on their head and cutting around it, but at least the mother made sure that they have their hair cut. The family is poor and suffering, but the mother is trying to be strong and care for her children.
The mother is determined not to be defeated by her difficulties. She is going to care for her family and help them survive during this bad time in their lives. The mother's determination is shown by her face. She is looking ahead and does not even notice the photographer because she has more important things to worry about. She is worried about the future. Her hand on her face shows that she is thinking, and her eyes are squinted, like she is thinking and worrying about something. When someone feels defeated, they might put their head down, but the mother does not do this. She holds her head up and faces the suffering the future will bring. She is strong and determined. The children rely on the mother for comfort because they know that she will help them get through the bad times. The mother is determined not to be defeated.
The painting "Migrant Mother" shows how important it is for a mother to be strong. The family is poor and suffering, but they will survive because the strong mother is not going to be defeated. 1936 was a bad year for many people, but this mother will make it through.
Good. John only has a rough draft of his essay, but at least he has a draft that he can now work on strengthening. John's first draft is about 650 words long, about a full page shorter than the length of three pages required for the assignment, but there will be plenty of opportunity for John to develop his ideas more fully as he begins to revise his rough draft.
On to the Revision Stage
As you read John's draft, you probably notice ways that it can be stronger. It is now time for John to review his draft carefully and to start revising the essay so that he can take it from being a rough draft to being a revised draft that he can be proud of.
It is now time for revising.