If you ever take up the topic of drafting with one of our Writing Center consultants, you might feel overwhelmed by the number of different ideas available to help us draft quickly. Once upon a time, I thought this information didn't apply to me, and that I produced better papers by editing the first draft as I wrote it. I thought that the time of drafting was the best time to be focused on the details. Little did I know the benefit to having draft earlier, to adding thoughts any time they occur, and to having more time to let the language evolve.
In the end, though, it turns out that I was taking a lot more time to draft than I thought. Imagine my surprise when, after learning to draft more quickly, I also found the texts to be stronger than my earlier drafts and to need less editing. I can't guarantee that everyone will experience such a drop in their project times. One thing is for sure, though. Writing consultants at all levels focus on unlocking this method of drafting text more quickly.
Once I realized the benefit of quick drafting, the question became how to quickly apply an outline or organization to my thoughts in a way that didn't reawaken the sleeping critical voice and thus begin again the wrestling match of ideas that creates most writer's block. If my earlier work hadn't prepared me to speak about a subtopic in a clearly organized fashion, I would end up with a lot of repetition, circular statements, and sweeping claims. So I needed a quick way to draft an order without going back into analytical mode. Blueprints, or generic structures that can be applied to a large range of topics, can be very useful in such moments.
Two Basic Blueprints: The Journalism Questions and Increasing Scales
Any of the brainstorming aids can be used as a generic order also. After all, if it meets the goal of speeding up the drafting, you can always change the order of the sections later. The most famous of these brainstorming aids is a group of questions called the “journalism questions.” I have seen very good drafts produced using temporal (time-based) order, spatial organization, and causal order. For me, it was useful to sort information from the personal outward, moving from the individual to families and small groups, to larger groups, and outward to the universal level (as far as truly applies).
For example, if I were describing the office of the President of the United States, I might start by describing the eligibility requirements and the individual powers (such as being commander-in-chief of the military). I would then describe how they act in small group interactions: the cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the media team. I could then progress to how the office connects to larger groups such as the State of the Union address to Congress, the selection of Supreme Court justices, and their relationship to mass media press.
By this point, my basic outline will be fleshed out sufficiently to give me a map for where I would include any new information and I would have a draft ready to be tweaked, revised, edited, and strengthened with citations. Using one or more of the generic outlines available, it is possible to greatly reduce the time you need to produce well-formatted text. Why not try it out on your next draft?