How to Write a Rough Draft [Step-by-Step Guide]

How to Write a Rough Draft [Step-by-Step Guide]

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Writing essays or any literary piece isn’t as easy as it seems. 

If you go and jot down everything on your mind, things can end up pretty chaotic. 

You’ll probably be confused by the outcome or, worse, discouraged to continue writing. 

Good thing there’s what writers call a “rough draft.”

A rough draft is a version of your paper that is complete but not polished. It’s a powerful practice that allows you to craft a smooth and top-quality work that will not only impress your audience and professors but even yourself. 

May it be an assignment, a creative piece, an article for your school paper, a script, a speech, or even a book, having a rough draft is monumental for your success. 

Writing a rough draft 101

Here, I’m going to share with you the proven-effective way on how to write any piece through a rough draft.

A rough draft allows you to organize your thought and write a piece that has a proper flow and can deliver your message in a digestible manner. 

It’s perfect for those without any significant writing experience.

1. Choosing a topic

Whatever you are writing about, it must have a specific topic. 

You can’t express everything, or else it won’t have a title, nor can it attract any audience. 

Look at textbooks.

Each textbook has its field, and it focuses on that field or subject alone.

It won’t make any sense if your English textbook is discussing mathematical equations on the side. 

When choosing a topic, consider three vital things:

  • Interest
  • Knowledge
  • Purpose

Always start with things that you find interesting — that won’t bore you after the first few paragraphs.

If it’s a topic that you’re interested in, writing about it can be effortless and truly rewarding. 

Choose topics that bring you fun and excitement. 

However, you also need to make sure that you have some knowledge about the topic. 

You don’t have to be an expert, but you at least need to know its fundamentals to avoid a frustrating experience.

If you have no clue about the topic, even though you are interested, you might end up spending all of your time and energy on research. Although if you’re up to it, then go for it.

Lastly, know the purpose behind your choice.

What and why do you want to share this specific topic. 

Is it merely to submit your assignment?

Is it to test if writing is for you?

Is it to deliver a message that will move people?

Even if you’re not an expert about it, if the purpose is powerful enough, it can be a driving force that will push you to write a compelling piece. 

2. Gather information

After choosing a topic, you’re not going to write right away. 

You will have to read scholarly pieces and similar material on your topic first.

If you are writing a thesis, read comparable works.

If you are writing a creative article, look for some of them online.

If you are writing a book, read one.

If you are writing a speech, check out videos of them on YouTube. 

The purpose is to get familiar with the piece that you’re about to create.

It’s bold to start immediately and be original. But the truth is: there’s someone out there who has already tried whatever you’re just about to do. 

You can ignore them and not learn anything, or you can improve their piece and be better efficiently.

It’s not about working hard; it’s about working smart. 

Reading and getting inspired isn’t cheating or a form of committing plagiarism as long as you do not copy any of their material.

So read. 

Read until you are comfortable with the topic and know more than what’s necessary. 

3. Outlining your rough draft

When it comes to art, the outline is the subtle sketch that an artist draws to create the base form of his work. 

It’s the backbone.

So how do we translate that into writing?


We write the headings.

Whether it’s a short article or a long book, you can always fit headings.

Think of headings as titles for each section of your work. 

In books, you can call them titled chapters. 

You can write as many as you want in your rough draft.

These headings will soon form into a road map that takes your readers on a journey. 

An outline is crucial to avoid creating a confusing piece that jumps from one subject to the next without any context. 

In your rough draft, your headings do not need to be perfect.

Your headings need to share what that section is about. 

If you want an example, you can strip this article of all of its body (the text below each heading), and that’s it. 

Try to make your outline as systematic as possible.

Here’s what I mean by that:

  • Introduction
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Summary

You can always have things inserted in between to improve its structure further. 

This systematic approach is the typical format for writing scholarly documents. If you want a creative piece, you can try:

  • Set up
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action
  • Climax 
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

The goal of your outline is to organize your thoughts. So don’t be dismayed if things look so chaotic at the moment. 

Write all of the headings you have and their sub-headings, then try to arrange them until you are satisfied with what you have.

You can include brief descriptions and even materials that you found from reading that will make each section more profound.

4. Fill out your outline

Once you are satisfied with how you organized your outline, you now need to add meat to the bone.

Start from bottom to top. 

Doing so allows you to see and verify if the flow is smooth and easy to understand. 

Do not be afraid to make spelling or grammatical mistakes for now. 

Focus on just adding content to each heading as much as possible. 

It’s always better to be in excess as you can omit the extra or redundant information later on. 

This part of your rough draft is where you pour as much time as possible. 

I recommend that you always highlight or change some lines into italics or any format if you think they weren’t well thought so you can get back to them during the editing phase.

Remember, you are writing a rough draft.

It does not have to be perfect, and it should be far from it.

What it needs to have is a body where you can pour in your thoughts in an organized fashion — thanks to the outline. 


How long should a rough draft be?

Rough drafts are better lengthier than short. It’s easier to cut down the piece to have a concise message that delivers an impact. 

Editing with limited content is counter-productive and will end up in just adding more content and then cycling back and forth. 

If your professor requires a specific word count, add at least 20% than what he/she demands and then edit it down. 

What is the difference between a rough draft and a final draft?

A rough draft is the crudest and most unrefined piece of your literary work, while the final draft is the one that’s ready for submission or publication. 

Technically, your final draft is just the unpublished piece. 

Does a rough draft need citations?

That purely depends on what you are writing. 

Given that students are often required to show their sources, you should write your references during the earliest stages of writing your piece.

Now, creative essays may not require any citation, but it’s still ideal that you have them prepared rather than having them at the end where you have to revisit your research notes. 


Rough drafts are what they are: rough.

Your rough draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but it’s the first step to achieve perfection — or as close to it as possible.

When writing your rough draft, do not be consumed refining every sentence. You have plenty of time for that after you finish your rough draft.

Spend time on writing quality content that will give value to your reader. 

Trying what I recommend above will help you stay organized, and it’s a powerful method that will get you unstuck whenever you encounter a dead end.