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Writing a First Draft

Staring at a blank document with a looming deadline is intimidating enough to give anyone writer’s block, but we are here to help! By breaking down the drafting process into a few simple steps, we can help you focus on one small task at a time and before you know it, your entire first draft will be complete!


Get a head start on your upcoming paper — the Citation Machine grammar guides can help you learn about research paper topics, a list of irregular verbs, and even what is a possessive pronoun. While you’re there, check out the Citation Machine plagiarism and spell checker to help take your paper to the next level.


Step 1: Dump your brain

Into a blank document, type every single thing you know about the paper topic without doing any research. Each idea you have should be a new line of text like this:

  • Meditation is awesome
  • It makes me feel calm
  • It’s super old
  • Yoga
  • Something about mantras
  • Science proves meditation is good

Step 2: Research

Look up the most exciting parts of your brain dump using your favorite research methods. Each time you find something that interests you, copy and paste a portion directly into your document. It’s a good idea to paste URLs and page numbers directly into your document too. This will make building an APA bibliography or an MLA works cited a breeze.

Your draft should now look like this:

Tip: Bold or change the text color of your ideas so it is easy to distinguish which content is original and which needs to be cited.

Step 3: Theme search

You should now have a minimum of fifteen lines of text. Look them over and see what themes emerge. Themes usually answer the question How, When, Where or What.

Example Meditation Themes:

  • History of Meditation
  • Benefits of Meditation
  • How People Meditate Now
  • What is Meditation

Step 4: Thesis statement

Now that you have some themes, use them to write your thesis statement.  For more help writing your thesis, check out this article.

Example Thesis Statement:

Meditation is an ancient practice with benefits for the modern-day human.

Tip: You can, of course, begin from step one with a thesis already in mind. But when you build your thesis from existing themes, you already know you have enough information to support it, which can be a big timesaver.

Step 5: Sort

Now that you have your themes, place every single line under the theme where it fits best, like this:

History of Meditation

Benefits of Meditation

Tip: Steps 4 and 5 can be switched depending on how your mind works. Some people may find it easier to identify themes after they have grouped closely related text lines together.

The Graveyard

Deleting good material hurts. Keep a graveyard section at the bottom of your draft for any lines that don’t fit your themes. Maybe they’ll be useful in a future paper.

Step 6: Order your themes

Now that you have all your themes built with lines under each, it’s time to decide in which order you’d like to present them. One of the easiest ways is to introduce your topic then go from past to present, like this:

  • What is Meditation
  • History of Meditation
  • Benefits of Meditation
  • How People Meditate Now

Step 7: Order your lines

At this point, the single lines of information under each theme still need to be organized. This can be done however you wish, but keep in mind some lines will make better transitions from one theme to the next.

Example of sorted text lines:

History of Meditation

Benefits of Meditation

Tip: Give yourself a break between each step. You will work more efficiently and effectively with some distance. It’s also a great idea to type what step you’d like to do next at the top of your draft. This will keep you from wasting time figuring out where you left off.

Step 8: Write it!

You already have the correct information in the proper order. Now focusing on only one theme at a time, rewrite all the information in your own words. Before you know it your first draft will be complete.


Well done! If you followed Step 2, you may want to visit CitationMachine.net! It makes it easy to turn your sources into a bibliography! Whether you need details about the Chicago style format, or an annotated bibliography sample, we’ve got you covered.

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