Essay Guide

Our comprehensive guide to the stages of the essay development process. Back to Student Resources

Display Menu

The first draft

Two things first

Before you can start writing your first draft you should have done two things: (i) done all the necessary reading and made notes; and (ii) made an essay plan. You should have a pretty good idea of what you need and want to say. Now you are going to say it in the most effective way possible.

What should it look like?

The first draft is where you begin to express your ideas and organise your materials, putting them together under different section headings. It is where you sketch out the main points of your argument and illustrate them with examples. The writing is rough because you need to work through what you think, what your argument is, and what theoretical writing you are going to use at what stage.

You don’t have to start at the beginning

You don’t have to sit staring at a blank page or a white screen waiting for inspiration to strike so you can write the first line of your introduction. Why not start with part of the main body first? You need to write about Professor Bloggs’s theory of organizations in detail anyway so why not get on with it right away?

Keep going

The important thing is to keep writing. Remember: this is only the first draft so it does not have to be perfect. The important thing is to produce a chunk or chunks of text you can work with and start to shape into the piece of work you will eventually hand in. Thinking about your first draft in these terms will help to make the writing process less stressful.

Don’t struggle 1: how to unblock yourself

If you really are struggling to get started try some of the following techniques.

Write a short letter to yourself outlining what you want to say in the essay.

Write for 15 minutes about any aspect of the subject you need to write about. You could do several of these 15 minutes sections and paste them together into something longer. You will have the beginnings of a good first draft.

Try a relaxation and visualisation exercise. Sit in an upright position. Both your feet should be on the floor and your hands should be resting, palms down, on your legs. Breathe calmly and evenly. Close your eyes and imagine you are walking down the corridor to the room where you are going to write your essay. You open the door. Then imagine that all the superfluous objects are magically leaving the room until nothing is left but your chair, table, books and computer or writing pad. Then open your eyes and begin.

Don’t struggle 2: break it up & don’t get stuck

Writing is hard work. Don’t tell yourself you are not going to get up until you’ve written ten pages. Take regular breaks, perhaps every 30 or 45 minutes. If you find yourself getting stuck in the middle of a particular section stop writing. Make a brief note about what needs to go next e.g. “examples of how Hardy uses imagery”. Then start another part of the essay. You can always come back to the earlier section later.