The prewriting process: where to start
Every writing instance is unique in terms of: (1) the specific subject matter that it addresses, and (2) its writing constraints (the audience, purpose and occasion). The extent to which you will be able to control those factors will vary depending on the writing situation. For instance, while some courses will give you very specific writing prompts to respond to, other courses will give you full control over the subject that you choose to write about. Usually, however, you will have very limited control over the constraints of writing, such as who will your text address (your audience, their prior knowledge, and their prior attitudes on the subject matter), the purpose of writing (to inform, persuade, etc.), and the occasion (context) of writing (the formality of the situation, relevant ethical, political, and economic contexts, expected deadlines, etc.).
Prewriting stages involve analyzing the above constraints and fully understanding what you are expected to deliver in your writing assignments. Spend some time reading and understanding the prompts, identifying the various elements that you cannot control, brainstorming ideas about how you will address the assignment, and thinking of ways by which you can display your creativity and critical thinking abilities. The thought process that goes into this prewriting stage will help you start the writing process with more efficiency and determination.
Developing your writing process: writing and rewriting your technical documents
As MSFEA students, you will be required to write a number of technical documents, such as lab reports, class projects, internship reports, and FYP reports. Although the topics and general format of those documents may vary from one course to another, the overall process by which you are expected to write such documents is very similar.
University students often confuse writing to mean the act of typing (or penning) text in response to a certain prompt. At MSFEA, we want you to rather think about writing as a process that extends beyond a single sitting in which you write down your text. The best written technical documents are those that are well-thought and that develop over several stages and iterations.
The purpose and tasks of the different stages of technical writing are summarized in Box 1. Early writing stages involve constructing your messages through researching various sources, organizing your ideas, and building your evidence-based arguments. The outcome of this stage should be a strong draft in which you have: (1) a clear direction for what you want to achieve in your text (your scope, research question(s), and purpose statement(s)), (2) the relevant messages that you want to communicate in your document (problem statements, general findings, evaluations of those findings, etc.), and (3) the evidence needed to support your main messages (the basis on which you have developed your messages and conclusions should be clear to your readers).
Later stages of writing (rewriting) involve deconstructing your messages for your audience (who will read the document). In other words, those stages should focus on re-organizing messages and ideas in a way that frames what is important for your readers. Those later stages involve revising (re-thinking the organization and content of your sections), editing (making paragraph- and sentence-level corrections), and proofreading (making final grammatical, punctuation, and formatting corrections). The outcome of this stage should be a strategic and polished document that appeals to your target audience and responds to the writing occasion and purpose.
|Box 1: The writing process involves writing and rewriting.|
- Early stages (message construction) include writing tasks such as:
2. Organizing information
3. Building strong and evidence-based arguments
Outcome: A strong draft with a clear direction regarding what you want to achieve in your text and the evidence-based messages that will help you achieve that goal.
1. Revising (re-thinking the organization and content of your sections),
2. Editing (making paragraph and sentence-level corrections), and
3. Proofreading (making final grammatical, punctuation, and formatting corrections).
Outcome: A strategic and polished document that appeals to your target audience and responds to the writing occasion and purpose.
You should give yourself the needed time and space to complete any kind of writing tasks. Do not expect to write well-thought and refined documents in single sessions. Each one of the above stages and tasks may require several iterations depending on the level of complexity of the subject matter, your knowledge and expertise, and your instructors' expectations. With each iteration, your document will be enhanced in terms of: content (your actual messages), style (message presentation), and form (the appearance of your text). The below sections will further explain the expectations relevant to those elements of writing at MSFEA along with some pointers to help you meet those expectations.