Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The myth of the rough draft

When I was in school, I took the term "rough draft" very literally. My drafts were just that...rough. My computer caught most of my typos, but my concepts and arguments were rudimentary, and I did little if any wordcrafting. The final draft? That's where all my effort went.

Then I got a job. I prided myself on being fast, getting drafts out in record time, knowing that my supervisor would change anything he or she didn't like. And the drafts always came back with corrections. Lots of corrections. I hate being corrected, so I began spending more and more time on my drafts. I still wrote fast, but instead of sending it out right away, I reviewed my own draft over and over again, massaging a phrase here or there, selecting words carefully. Soon, the revisions lessened, and I learned a valuable lesson about rough drafts. They don't exist outside of the classroom.

Because in the work world, your drafts should never be rough. I'm going to be blunt—when I see work, no matter what stage it's in, with typos, mistakes, or missing information, I question the worker's ability to do their job. If you don't care enough to fix typos on a draft, then why should I care enough to fix your typos? On the flip side, I expect others to react to my typos and mistakes the same way, and therefore do everything in my power to make sure my draft is as polished as possible.

So what should a draft be?
  • A draft should not be incomplete. If you're showing your part of a joint project, sure you can leave space where the other person's work will go, but a draft that includes holes to plug more of your work in doesn't read as a draft at all. It reads as incomplete work.
  • A draft should never have typos, incomplete sentences, or bad grammar and sentence structure. Heck, nothing you show anyone else should, especially not in the age of spellcheck.
  • A draft should be a finished product. If the reviewer didn't have any comments, is it ready to go as is? If you answered no, then your draft is not ready to be reviewed. 
Early in your career, you shouldn't be afraid to ask for direction if you're trying out a new type of project for the first time. Even then, though, your work (and your notes) should be worked through and polished as much as possible since someone else is going to see it.

Drafts are an essential part of the work process, but presenting good work from the get-go makes things go much smoother.

How do you make the draft and review process go smoother?


  1. Hi Angeline, I just want to commend you and your blog.I read this blog every morning when i wake up and I particularly like that you are "REAL". Please keep up the good work.
    I will be moving overseas in a few weeks and i hope to continue reading your posts. Stay blessed.

  2. Yes! Preach it. Fair or unfair, I also judge job competence when I see a lot of typos. For example, I handle manuscript submissions to academic journals; if someone is careless with grammar and spelling in a cover letter or abstract, it calls into question whether he or she was perhaps careless with the data in the study. Not good.

    As someone with an editor brain, I have always struggled with the concept of rough drafts, since I basically edit every sentence as I type it. That can take a while to get something written, but at least it's pretty polished when I'm done!

  3. I try to write each of my script drafts as though it will be the final copy. I always end up with some changes whether it's for time or verbiage from my boss. It's important to me though, like you said, to turn in something that shows the caliber and quality of work that I am capable of. Love this.

  4. I like this tip, as it is important to think about how the work will be viewed by others. Very interesting - thanks!

  5. Agreed! One caveat... when you find someone with an incisive mind who is a stellar proof reader who challenges your ideas in memos and papers and it comes back with red... that is a glorious moment... because you know you have produced high quality work that has challenged someone else... I love that...

  6. Haha true! I've never realized that before. You may send a "rough outline" or a "rough idea" for a project but never a written document that is not as perfect as you can make it.

  7. @ my continuous improvement - Thank you so much for your comment, and I hope you keep reading! Good luck on your upcoming move, and hope to "see" you 'round here again. :)

    @ caroline - Thanks!

    @ Danamite - Absolutely...we can learn so much through edits and feedback, and it can go a long way in helping us develop professionally and intellectually. I think there is a bit difference in challenging ideas and collaborating (positive) and editing typos and grammar (negative). But you're right...the red pen is not always evil!

    @ Grace - Exactly! Even now when I make typos (hey, it happens) and someone else notices I am absolutely mortified! I'll even delete and re-type Facebook statuses that I've typed too fast and made errors on (now, if others would do that I'd be soooooo happy).


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