Three Phases of Writing for Publication
Academic writing can helpfully be thought of as involving three different approaches or phases. A key to successful and positive writing is undertaking them all. The role of each phase is clear, simple and straightforward to grasp and practice.
1. Write for yourself to find out what you know, think, feel and want to say.
2. Redraft to communicate with your reader.
3. Edit for posterity to offer clarity, clear language, structure, grammar, correct references.
Each of these phases involves the writer in critical thinking and research (albeit different kinds of research). Each phase and stage develops the argument, the theory, as well as the exposition of the facts; none of the phases merely reports.
I give these phases in order 1-3: working through them in this order is valuable. Writers, however, move through these phases in very different ways. Some work straight through and complete, as if the phases were steps. Most revisit earlier phases to revitalize their writing as they go through: it is often a dynamically reiterative process. Many writers return to Phase 1 again with new material to insert into the text; they then work on this new writing through Phases 2 and 3. Some, moreover, do some of the initial phase in their heads, only writing when they are fairly clear what they want to say. Leaving out a phase, though, can make a publication dull, muddled, incomplete, and prevent it speaking to the appropriate audience.
Phase 1: Write for myself to find out what I know, think, feel, and want to say
Phase 1 is explorative, tentative and uncertain: Claire’s “scribbled mess”. The only thing that matters now is the content of what we jam down on the page: grammar, proper construction, intellectual ways of expressing stuff ‘properly’ are dealt with in Phases 2 and 3. What matters is that we now capture valuable content. We search for our theory by reflecting freely, as well as reflecting upon the data, and by sifting in an unfocused way through the literature (journal papers, books, internet sites, etc.) for material which informs the development of ideas and offers examples. This experimental and explorative stage enables me to grasp what I think, and what my data and research are telling me; it enables me to draw upon the wealth of my experience with a width and depth no other process can offer.
This phase is essentially relatively unfocused; a vital attitude enabling the capturing of insight, as well as marshalling thoughts and theories. One of the reasons academic writers miss out on this inspirational phase is perhaps because it goes against our training and all our perception of what being an academic is. I was forcibly taught to think in a logical and structured way, and to stop dreaming and reflecting. Yet critical thinking, as used by scientists, social scientists and all the arts disciplines, involves exploration and experimentation. Attempting to stay within the box and only use a small part of our thinking capacity (the logical), cramps and constrains our thinking to the boring. Here is what one writer found liberating: (see more)