The Process and the Elements
|Substance||Step 1 – Research
Step 2 – Plan
Step 3 – Draft
|Transmits a clear message in a single rapid reading…|
|Style||Step 4 – Revise
Step 5 – Proof
|…generally free of errors in grammar, mechanics, and mechanics|
This chart shows the elements of communication, the 5-step writing process, and their relationship to each other and the Army standard. The discussion below elaborates on the elements and the steps in the writing process and explains how they help you to achieve the Army standard.
The chart shows the elements of communication in order of their importance.
Substance is the most important of the elements. Substance includes your controlling idea and the support for it. It is the total concept you want to present. A good idea can survive mechanical flaws, but perfect spelling and grammar can’t save poor ideas.
Organization comes next. Organization is the pattern you use to present your idea and support. There is no single way to present ideas. You must decide which organizational pattern best communicates your ideas. Poor organization can obscure good ideas.
Style, the third element, is how you present your material. It has to do with concerns such as formats, vocabulary, and packaging. For more information on the style the Army requires, see Writing Guide I.
Correctness, the last element, is what most people think of when you ask them what good writing is–grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the other mechanical devices writers use. Correctness is important because errors can distract a reader from the ideas in the paper.
Step 1 — Research is the gathering of ideas. People gather ideas in different ways, so you must find the one which best suits you and your task. This means that as you gather ideas, you must keep in mind both your purpose and your audience.
Gather as many ideas as you can. It’s easier to throw out the ideas you don’t need than it is to go back and do more research. Once you have the ideas you need, go on to planning.
Step 2 — Planning is the step in which you take all the information you’ve gathered and put it into a logical order. Start by placing your ideas into groups. Then order your groups in the way that best supports your task.
From this ordering, develop a controlling idea. A controlling idea is a single declarative sentence which presents both your topic and a position about that topic.
Third Brigade’s readiness
is the best it’s been in ten years.
Once you have the controlling idea, add your support paragraphs and an introduction (if needed) and a conclusion (if needed). What you have is a rough plan or outline. Now you’re ready to write your first draft.
Step 3 — Drafting is an important step. The draft is the bridge between your idea and the expression of it. Write your draft quickly and concentrate only on getting your ideas down on paper. Don’t worry about punctuation and spelling errors.
Use your plan. State your controlling idea (the bottom line) early and follow the order you’ve already developed. When you have the ideas down and you’re satisfied with the sequence, put the paper aside. You’ve finished the draft, and you need to get away from the paper for a while before you start to revise.
Step 4 — Revising is looking at the material through the eyes of your audience. Read the paper as if you have never seen it before. Find where you need to put in transitions; look for places that need more evidence.
Then write another draft making the changes you’ve noted and using a simple style. Package the material so it’s easy to read by using short paragraphs and labels (if necessary).
Step 5 — Proof. Now you’re ready to proof the draft. At this point, forget about substance, organization, and style; concentrate on grammar, mechanics, and usage. You may want to have someone else read the paper, too. Sometimes other people can find errors you can’t because you’re too close to the problem.
When you finish, write the final draft, making the corrections. Mission accomplished.
NOTE: We called the final paper a final draft because, as a good editor once said, “You never finish revising; you just run out of time.”
The relationship of the elements and the process to the Army standard should be apparent now. A writer achieves quality, substance, and organization through research and planning. These elements ensure understanding and rapid reading.
Likewise, style and correctness, achieved through revision and proofing, ensure the material is generally free of errors.
The important things to remember are these: each of the elements depends on the others, the steps in the process are cyclical and function most effectively as a whole, and “good reading is… hard writing.” (Hemingway)
Together, substance and organization have the most direct effect on the understandability of a paper. A clear, well-supported idea with an effective organization communicates. A faulty idea, faulty support, or faulty organization can defeat communication.
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