Writing Process


  1. Choose a Topic.
    • In many cases, this step is already done for you.  If not, you need to pick something (or some things) to write about, such as an event, a person, a text, or a work of art.
  2. Do Preliminary Research.
    • Use the library and the Internet (but not the Internet exclusively) to learn about the broad contours of your chosen topic.  Find out what is out there and what piques your interest.  (In some cases, of course, you may simply be using the assigned readings from your course.)
  3. Narrow your Topic.
    • Often, your starting topic is too broad.  If you start with the American Revolution, for instance, you will need to do some reading to find a more manageable sub-topic, such as the so-called “Boston Massacre.”  As you do research on this narrower topic, you may find that you need to repeat this narrowing process multiple times.
  4. Form a Question.
    • The first step to developing an argument  is to form a question that you can answer.  This question should take both thought and research to answer.  Generally, questions about “how” or “why” will help lead you to an interpretation.  Questions that seem to center on basic facts, on the other hand, probably won’t lead you to an argument.
  5. Gather Evidence.
    • After you have formed a question, you need to review what you already know and seek out additional information in order to develop an answer.  With any luck, you will soon formulate a hypothesis that will help focus your search for evidence.  Your evidence will likely include facts and figures, examples, and perhaps some key quotations.  It is a good idea to gather more evidence than you need and then select the best specimens.
  6. Begin Writing to Explore Thesis.
    • This is the hardest step.  If you like, make a quick outline or brainstorm on a blank sheet of paper.  Do whatever it takes to get some ideas flowing.  Then start writing!  Write briefly about the broader context of your question.  Do some analysis of the relevant evidence that you have gathered.  Repeat this step multiple times in order to make sense of your evidence.  Step back and see what you have.
  7. Solidify Thesis and Revise.
    • You will probably need to repeat steps 5 and 6 until you have both an answer to your question and all of the evidence that you need to support your answer.  The next step is to turn your answer into a clear and concise thesis statement—a sentence (or two) that presents your argument.  You now have the main building blocks of your essay, but you still have plenty of work to do.  Your next step will be organize the material you have generated.  You will need an introduction to lead up to the thesis, paragraphs (with one main point each) to present your evidence, transitions to connect paragraphs, and a conclusion that pulls together your argument and reflects on its significance.  After you have completed a draft, you will then need to revise it!

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Writing Handbook for History & Humanities by David J. Voelker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.