Moving from Idea to Written Draft

Imagining and speaking

So you are supposed to write an essay.  Maybe your instructor gave you a writing assignment. Or perhaps you are taking a test that has essay questions. But sometimes you feel like there is no point to writing something that nobody, or your teacher, or only a few people will read. Maybe you feel like your writing is not important. Maybe your purpose to write is only to pass a class or get a grade from a teacher. Maybe you just think, “I’m not good at writing.” These kinds of thoughts and feelings about writing, however, do not help you produce “well-formed” writing. Skillful, sophisticated writers—those who produce well-formed writing—have other, more important questions and concerns in their minds. Skillful writers use their imagination to think about what situation their words would be most important in. They imagine goals that their writing could accomplish in the imagined writing situation. If you want to become a skillful writer, you need to learn how to imagine a situation that begs for and demands your writing. Then, when you can picture this situation in your mind, your writing has new meaning and energy—to change and affect the listeners in your imagined writing situation through speaking to them.

Many student-writers, like you, feel that when they write, they are not being real. And it’s true. Real communication usually happens in real situations, among friends and family, among co-workers and colleagues, and among bosses and officials. When you sit down to write, these people are not present. You are actually alone, and you must produce argumentative writing on paper. This is hard. But, it becomes a lot easier when you first imagine the situation and the people who might be involved in the argument. Then, you can imagine how and why your argument would be important to those listening in the situation and how it might affect the people in the situation. Therefore, all well-formed writing grows out of a situation that the writer imagines: people are waiting for you to speak, your topic is important, and you can greatly affect the audience by speaking.

A lesson from a plant: writing grows out of a situation

Look at a plant. The leaves flow outward from the stems, and the stems spring up from the roots. The stems and the roots are easily ignored, but they are very important—even essential—to the health and the form of the leaves. In fact, if the stems and roots were not there, the leaves would not exist.

Look at an essay. The essay—like the leaves of a plant—does not exist on its own. The writing you produce/create should be attached to a supporting structure: a writing situation, like the stems and the roots of a plant.  In fact, the parts of the writing situation are 1) occasion (like roots), 2) audience (like stems), and 3) speaker-voice (like leaves), which includes the content and organization of your paper. In the writing situation, you, the speaker-writer use language in front of an audience for a real, specific purpose. The writing situation is the foundation out of which well-formed writing grows.

Many writers only think about making the pages of their paper look well. They do not think about speaking to listeners in order to achieve the goals of an imagined situation. They do not think about the occasion, the motivation for speaking-writing about their topic (roots), about the listening audience (stems), and sometimes, they do not even think about their own speaker-voice, how their own writing sounds (leaves). They only think about superficial trivialities, like “What’s my word-count?” or “How many points is this essay worth?” However, let’s learn a lesson from the plant: if we take away the stems and the roots, then the leaves die!

In this guide, there are five parts. You will learn about the writing situation in part 1, about occasionpart 2, about audience, and part 3 about speaker-voice. Then, you will learn more about the language the speaker-voice produces—the information units to include in your writing (part 4), and finally, the structure/ overall organization of your paper (part 5). These five parts can be conveniently remembered with the acronym OASIS. An oasis is a pleasant and peaceful place that contains water in the middle of a harsh and dry desert. This writing guide, with its five parts summed up by the OASIS acronym, is like a refreshing oasis in a dry land designed to help you, encourage you, and give you tools for writing well-formed discourse.