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MODULE: Improving the writing experience and the writing process

Return to Perfectionism in Writing

Strategies to improve the writing experienceStages in the processSubmit the paper... for external readers

Strategies to improve the writing experience

Are there any aspects of writing a report, paper or thesis that are potentially helped by an uncompromising desire for excellence?

YES: tasks that have defined, uncompromising standards.

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Citations and References

Writers accept that the writing process is inconsistent

Most writers experience periods of intense work, and also periods of no observable work. Thinking is a quiet but necessary component in writing, and many scientists and academics need to discuss their ideas with others to clarify the task or their thinking.

The process of thinking-talking-writing is also “messy” work. What is on the page or screen is modified as one’s thinking becomes clearer, or new results are incorporated.

Writers develop the HABIT of writing

A place

A time of day

A duration: 90 minutes followed by a significant rest or other task, or a 3-hour block divided into three periods of around 50 minutes “on task” (thinking or writing), 10 minute break, or any pattern that works for you.

A clear concrete goal (e.g., a specified task, an amount or “output,” a diagram, an argument, etc.). lf you choose to specify a duration of time-on-task, then also track the “output.”

Writers learn to detach (somewhat) from their product

As a student, academic or scientist, it is expected that your work will be discussed, graded or judged on the merit of the written piece.

Your work ≠ your worth as a person!

See also: Coping with Anxiety.

Writers understand that writing does not need to be stressful

The university may have a “culture of stress” around completing writing assignments, but students can choose not to engage with that expectation. You can reduce the stress – even for students trying to harness their uncompromising pursuit of excellence – if you:

  • understand the assignment or task,
  • understand the writing process, and
  • use good time management habits.

Strategies regarding the writing process

Stages in the process

The writing process consists of several private stages including invention, research, outlining, drafting, initial proof-reading and editing. Refer to the Writing Centre’s Online Resources for information on creating an outline, developing a thesis statement, and writing particular types of assignments. The punctuation handouts are also useful for editing.

 Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) holds additional writing information.

The public stage is final editing, and submitting to your professor or editor.

By following the steps in the writing process described below, students who seek perfection in their written work can reduce their anxiety. Students will feel more in control of issues such as confusion about what is expected, knowing how to create the piece, and determining what they want to say in the paper.

Invention: starting the process

  • Clarify the purpose and audience of finished product
  • Create a rough plan of tasks, due dates, and choose a dedicated research/writing. See the Assignment Calculator for guidelines on planning the tasks and time frame for a research paper, or the QLC’s Online Thesis Manager for guidelines on thesis-writing.
  • Pre-write on what you already know and what you want to know more

Capturing ideas: use mind maps or bullet points

  • have a flexible, working sense of the focus before starting a literature search
  • narrow the topic, form a working position statement or thesis
  • start an Outline using a mind map, web or brain-storm format or more traditional linear format


  • In addition to data collection within your research lab or field work, the Research Librarians are extremely helpful in building a research plan and suggesting resource material.

Finish the outline

  • This step is critical for writers with perfectionist tendencies! Preparing an outline requires you to organize your thinking, so you’ll know what you will say.
  • Focus first on outlining the Big Picture Ideas, and agonize over the choice of words in later drafts.

Write the paper

Perfectionists take note:

With Draft #3, exacting standards should be applied to the editing of spelling and grammar errors, and accuracy of citations. Go for it!!

Submit the paper… for external readers

This stage marks the shift from writing “for your eyes only” to the final product which is submitted for evaluation.

Before you hand in the final version to your professor, tutor, or reviewer, you may bring it to the Writing Centre for a collaborative discussion about your structure, flow and style.

You can also have it read by a lab partner, or a naïve reader. Remember – it is the paper that is graded, not your value as a person.

Is the act of “submitting for grading or feedback” challenging for you? Perhaps you need to think about the different meanings of the word “submit,” and what each means to you.