In the context of written composition, "drafting" refers to any process of generating preliminary versions of a written work. Drafting happens at any stage of the writing process as writers generate trial versions of the text they're developing. At the phrasal level, these versions may last less than a second, as writers compose and then delete trial sentences; as fully developed attempts that have reached the end of a stage of usefulness, draft documents may last for perpetuity as saved "versions" or as paper files in archives.
In a book that became popular in the 1950s, The Elements of Style, Strunk and White characterize a first draft as a less-edited version of the final draft with the purpose of "foresee[ing]...the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape". In Writing Without Teachers, a more recent take on the role of draft documents, Peter Elbow characterizes a draft less as a first attempt at a predetermined final point and more as an attempt at exploring and where a final version might end up. As he puts it, “[w]riting is a way to end up thinking something you couldn’t have started out thinking.” According to Elbow, the best way to accomplish this is a series of drafts which come together to produce an emerging “center of gravity” that then translates into the main focus on the work—a holistic process, in other words, rather than the linear process envisioned by Strunk and White and early writing process theory. Elbow reasoned that if a writer "learns to maximize the interaction" among their "ideas or points of view, [they] can produce new ones that didn’t seem available."
Empirical studies of writers at work indicate that writers can be doing any or all of the following during phases of drafting:
- developing cohesion
- organizing their thinking in relation to text produced so far
- experimenting with phrasing
- explaining or linking examples/ideas
- generating transitions
- discovering a central argument/point
- elaborating on key ideas
- pausing to make adjustments to spelling, word-choice, and syntax
- The Elements of Style Fiftieth Anniversary Edition (2009), p. 15, ISBN 978-0-205-63264-0
- Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1973, 1998. p.15
- Elbow, Peter. Writing Without Teachers. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1973, 1998. p.50
- Leijten, Mariëlle; Van Waes, Luuk (2013). "Keystroke Logging in Writing Research: Using Inputlog to Analyze and Visualize Writing Processes". Written Communication. 30 (3): 358–392. doi:10.1177/0741088313491692.
- Flower, Linda; Hayes, John R. (1980). "The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem". College Composition and Communication. 31 (1): 21–32. doi:10.2307/356630. JSTOR 356630.
- Leijten, Mariëlle; Van Waes, Luuk; Ransdell, Sarah (2010). "Correcting Text Production Errors: Isolating the Effects of Writing Mode From Error Span, Input Mode, and Lexicality". Written Communication. 27 (2): 189–227. doi:10.1177/0741088309359139.