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ENVS 161 - Water Security (Stewart-Frey)

The Writing Process

Before you write:

  • Brainstorm, "talk it out", think, ask questions, think some more.
  • Give yourself a frame - have a "dummy" thesis and a few key questions that you expect to answer - a bit of an idea of what you want your essay to look like.  Let your thoughts and questions rotate around that frame, and let the frame change to match your new ideas.

As you write:

  • Find gaps in your knowledge and make sure you plug them
  • Let the writing process "teach" you by "writing out" what you've learnt - let your understanding change as you process it.
  • Use your research actively - elaborate, argue and confirm

After you write:

  • Don't forget!  (Remember what you've learned by writing this essay - don't just let it be something you forget straight after you "need" it).
  • Have an opinion about that topic (and be prepared to change it), and notice when something new comes along
  • Look at where you can reuse the knowledge (and research) you attained for this essay - you can't reuse your previous words, but you can recycle the information and build on the understanding you gained.

Prewriting is an important part of the writing process. It encompasses all preliminary work done before writing your first draft of an assignment. Sometimes you will work extremely hard on an assignment only to lose points for not fulfilling the assignment requirements. Spending an appropriate amount of time prewriting can ensure you do not have to re-write sections, or your whole assignment, to properly address the assignment details. 

Choosing a Topic

It can often be difficult to choose a topic for your paper. You want to make sure that the topic is broad enough that you can find previous research on the topic. You also want to ensure that the topic is specific enough that you can form a thesis statement or hypothesis and present relevant evidence.  You also want to consider your interests. You will be much more successful if you choose a topic that motivates you to want to learn more.


After you have undergone the process of working through the expectations of the assignment and selecting a topic, it is time to brainstorm. Brainstorming generates the ideas that will eventually become your thesis statement and supporting points. Developing a clear thesis will help you know what to write and how to organize it. If you have writer’s block or do not know where to begin, brainstorming can be especially helpful.

Organizing Your Ideas

After you have brainstormed, it is necessary to place your ideas into categories and to select an arrangement for these categories. As with every aspect of the writing process, the method of organizing and the type of outline vary depending on individual preferences as informed by the assignment and the discipline.

Composing a Draft

While the specific characteristics of papers vary from discipline to discipline, the process of constructing an effective paper is similar: The writer gathers ideas or knowledge generated in the planning stage, determines the most effective form in which to present this knowledge given the audience and discipline, and determines the best methods of presenting the thesis within this form. Effective writing is not linear from planning to writing to final draft. Rather, effective writers glide between writing stages as they constantly re-vision, re-construct, and re-form ideas. This handout provides some helpful advice on the drafting process.

Thesis and Topic Statements

In an argumentative essay, a thesis statement states the point or purpose the essay is meant to establish. It is not a mere announcement of a topic, nor is it a question or a bare statement of fact. Rather, it is a statement standing in need requiring argument and evidence. In this way, the thesis statement helps to structure paper by giving it a clear and specific goal.

Other Resources:

Revising, Editing and Proofreading

The key to revising your own work is to be able to step away from the product, ‘get out of your head’ and approach your own writing as if it was the work of another person.  This is not always an easy process, but the following tips will help you to edit your work as objectively and productively as possible:

  • Allow enough time to revise
  • Break your work down and review it in stages
  • Reverse outline to assess structural issues (see below)
  • Do not rely on spelling and grammar checkers
  • Read aloud
  • Work from a printed copy

Evaluating Your Essay

You must always keep your audience in mind while you are writing.  What do you want them to learn from your assignment?

  1. What is the main idea in your paper?
  2. What is your position on this idea?
  3. What evidence (subtopics) do you provide to support this position? Does it provide adequate justification for the position?

The Reverse Outline

One approach is to number each paragraph in a section, then to write down the main point of each paragraph. Longer points may take several paragraphs to develop, but several ideas should not be presented in a single paragraph. Use the guide from The HUB Writing Center.


Citing your findings is very important and you should always be consistent. For that, APA is the format style that will be utilized in this class. Learn more about how to cite in APA with the following resources and videos.

Generate a Citation