Embracing Writing as a Process
In my first post on applying to fellowships and grants, I covered processes and how reflection can enhance the content of an application. This post will explore how to integrate another crucial practice to create a successful application: the writing process.
Before starting this post, I had to think about what I wanted to write. I spun in my chair, went for a snack, then returned to my chair to spin some more. Then I paced around my office, deliberating. Most of the time, writing doesn’t happen on a keyboard — it’s more so thinking about what to write (or avoiding writing). We all have a writing process that changes as we grow.
I have researched writing, written numerous essays, and worked with many writers, and I will be the first to admit: writing may never get much easier, and we all have more to learn. Writing is challenging because we are trying to communicate interior knowledge, such as our research, to an outside reader. We may also be trying to persuade a reader to accept our argument, or with fellowships or grants, convince someone to award funds and provide recognition.
A document written for a high-stakes outcome, such as published academic research or fellowship applications, should be crystal-clear for an audience of nebulous readers who we will likely never meet. Such documents can be molded carefully by embracing the writing process.
Writing as Process
In my field, Rhetoric and Composition, we conceive of writing as an ongoing process rather than something that is completed instantaneously. No writer, no matter how accomplished, sits down and releases a stream of sentences that flow eloquently. Instead, a document goes through multiple stages before being shared with an audience.
Invention/Brainstorming: Before writing, think about what you are going to write. This stage can involve outlining, brainstorming worksheets and activities, and conversations with a peer, advisor, or mentor. For fellowship applications, I often help applicants brainstorm content through worksheets and prompts for reflection.
Drafting: After collecting ideas, you are ready to write the first draft. In most academic writing, especially at the graduate level, the first draft is not the final draft. Instead of striving for perfection, a draft should initiate more writing through ongoing revision. In competitive fellowships and grants, an initial draft will not convey the depth of thinking that a reader will expect from applicants. The best first draft is a completed one: because you have started writing.
Revising: Once a first draft is complete, you are ready to refine your thinking and make revisions that reflect those changes. Revision means complex changes, such as moving or removing sentences and paragraphs, developing ideas further, or drastically changing details or language to meet readers’ expectations. At the Office of National Scholarships Advisement, we encourage applicants to revise multiple drafts of their application essays by providing feedback that propels the revision process.
Editing: When the revised content is ready, it is time to edit and proofread the document. Generally, careful editing should occur when no more major changes are required. For example, it is not a good use of time to finely edit a paragraph that is eventually removed in revision. Editing is crucial to strengthening your credibility as an applicant and ensuring your message is clear.
Seeking feedback: All four steps in the process are recursive. While reviewing your second draft, many revisions may include brainstorming and drafting new content, such as a paragraph that explains your leadership position in a lab setting. Even minor edits, like trimming sentences, can make room for new content. Writers move between the four stages of the writing process depending on how they need to advance their document.
Strong writing does not typically occur in isolation; many writers seek feedback from others to enhance their revisions. Embracing the writing process for fellowship applications also includes seeking and applying feedback from outside readers. If you are writing for an external audience, such as experts in your field or reviewers who decide who receives a fellowship or grant, you should seek feedback on meeting your readers’ expectations.
Use your resources wisely! A field expert can critique the specifics of your research, while a fellowships advisor, such as myself, can provide feedback on avoiding clichés, clarifying information that may be unclear to readers outside your field, and including details reviewers seek in an application. Feedback from multiple readers will enhance your application materials and aid in your development as a burgeoning expert and academic writer.
When applying for a fellowship or grant, write early, write often, and seek feedback. I tell applicants that while they can choose to either spend a day composing the first draft or use three weeks perfecting that same draft, both attempts will likely receive the same feedback because a first draft is a first draft. To take your application to the next level, you want time to compose multiple drafts, apply feedback, and refine how you describe your goals, values, and research.
Coming up next
In my next post, we’ll explore embracing the application process for a fellowship or grant. I hope you will continue to read along!