First draft

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After writing an outline, the next stage of the writing process is to write the first draft. This page explains what a first draft is and how to write one. There is also a checklist at the end of the page that you can use to check your own first draft.

What is a first draft?

A draft is a version of your writing in paragraph form. The first draft is when you move from the outline stage and write a complete version of your paper for the first time. A first draft is often called a 'rough draft', and as this suggests, it will be very 'rough' and far from perfect. The first draft will lead on to a second draft, third draft, fourth draft and so on as you refine your ideas and perhaps conduct more research. The paper you submit at the end is often called the 'final draft', and emphasises the fact that writing is a process without a definite end (as even the final draft will not be perfect). It should be stressed that a first draft is only suitable for writing where you have some time to complete it, such as longer, researched essays, rather than an exam essay where there will only be a single draft.

How to write a first draft?

As you write your initial draft, you should try to follow your outline as closely as possible. Writing, however, is a continuous, creative process and as you are writing you may think of new ideas which are not in your outline or brainstorm list, and these can be added if they are relevant. Your outline will probably contain a thesis, which is essentially a plan for the whole paper, and you should keep this in mind to decide whether ideas are relevant. It is possible to begin the drafting process at any stage, and some people recommend writing the main body first and the introduction and conclusion later. This makes sense as it can be difficult to introduce something you have not yet finished, though if your outline is detailed enough it is possible to begin at the beginning. When writing the first draft, the main focus will be the ideas and content, meaning you should not worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling. You may end up abandoning whole sections before the final draft, and slowing down to check grammar or spelling at this stage would be a waste of time. It is useful for the first draft to use double-spacing and wide margins on both sides of the paper so that you can add more details and information when you redraft your work.

In short, when writing a first draft, you should do the following:

  • try to follow your outline as closely as possible;
  • add new ideas if they are relevant;
  • keep your thesis in mind while writing;
  • begin where you think is best (e.g. main body before introduction);
  • focus on ideas and content;
  • do not worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling;
  • use double-spacing and wide margins for easier redrafting.


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Below is a checklist for your first draft.

Item OK? Comments
I have written a first draft.
The first draft follows the outline fairly closely.
The first draft uses double-spacing and wide margins for easier redrafting.


Oshima, A. and Hogue, A. (1999) Writing Academic English. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

University of Arizona (n.d.) The Structure of an Essay Draft. Available at: (Access date 1/4/18).

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Read the previous article about writing an outline.


Sheldon Smith

Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 02 March 2020.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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