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Your First Draft in 8 Easy Steps

Writing the first draft of a big paper can be really stressful, but one of the easiest ways to tackle a huge project is to break it into small, manageable bits. Try these eight easy steps for a complete first draft minus all the struggle.

Step 1: Clear your mind

Open a new document and type everything you know about the paper topic. It does not matter how much you know, just get it down. Let’s say you want to write about American culture in Japan, but you don’t know much about it. Make each thought a new text line like this:

  • American culture in Japan
  • World War II
  • Okinawa
  • Japanese culture in the U.S.
  • Food, music,
  • languages

Step 2: Research

Use your favorite research tools to look up your most exciting lines. When you find information that you like, copy and paste a portion directly into your document. Include URL’s and page numbers because you’ll need them for your APA reference page, MLA works cited, or other bibliography type later.

Your draft should now look like this:

  • American culture in Japan
  • World War II
  • Okinawa
  • Japanese culture in the U.S.
  • Food, music
  • languages
  • Jeans, bourbon, hamburgers https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-japan-copied-american-culture-and-made-it-better-180950189/
  • The victor’s secret weapon https://www.heddels.com/2014/07/japan-love-mid-century-america-much/
  • Japanization, Marie Kondo https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-united-states-of-japan

Tip: Change the text color or font of your original ideas. This will help you remember which researched texts need to be cited.

Step 3: Theme building

A minimum of fifteen to twenty lines is necessary before you begin this next step. Take a look at your lines and see what themes you can find. A good way to start is to ask yourself: What, Where, When and How. 

Example Japan/American Culture Themes:

History of the U.S. in Japan

Japanese culture in the U.S.

Examples of American culture in Japan

Japanese immigration to the U.S.

Step 4: Thesis statement

With your themes in mind, it is time to write your thesis statement. If you need help writing your thesis, check out this piece.

Example thesis statement:

From California rolls to closet organizing gurus, Japan and the U.S. have an ongoing cultural exchange that began with World War II.  

Tip: Feel free to begin from step one with a thesis already in mind. But note, the benefit of building your thesis from researched themes is that you know you already have facts to support it which can save a lot of time.  

Step 5: Organize

Place all research lines under the theme where it fits best. Like this:

History of the U.S. in Japan

  • The victor’s secret weapon https://www.heddels.com/2014/07/japan-love-mid-century-america-much/
  • World War II

Examples of American Culture in Japan

  • Jeans, bourbon, hamburgers https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-japan-copied-american-culture-and-made-it-better-180950189/

Tip: Depending on how your mind works, you might find it easier to switch steps 4 and 5. For some themes are easier to recognize after related lines are grouped together.

The Graveyard

It hurts to delete a good idea. Instead, put it to rest in a graveyard section at the bottom of your draft. These ideas that don’t fit any of your themes might be helpful in another paper. 

Step 6: Order your themes

Your themes are fully constructed with lines under each, but you still need to decide how your themes will be presented in your paper. One of the simplest ways to do this is to go from past to present like this:

History of the U.S. in Japan

Examples of American culture in Japan

Japanese immigration to the U.S. past and present

Japanese culture in the U.S.

Step 7: Lines in order

The single lines you have under each theme still need to be placed in order. You can do this however you like, but it is important to remember that some lines will make it easier for you to transition from one theme to the next.

Example of sorted text lines:

History of the U.S. in Japan

  • World War II
  • The victor’s secret weapon https://www.heddels.com/2014/07/japan-love-mid-century-america-much/

Examples of American Culture in Japan

  • Jeans, bourbon, hamburgers https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-japan-copied-american-culture-and-made-it-better-180950189/

Japanese culture in the U.S.

  • Japanization, Marie Kondo https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-united-states-of-japan

Tip: Be sure to give yourself a break between each step. Your work will be more efficient and effective if you allow yourself some distance. Make it easy to jump back in by typing what you’d like to do next at the top of your paper just before taking a break.

Step 8: Write baby write!

With all the correct information in order, all you have to do is put everything into your own words. A pro tip is to start with the theme that is the easiest or most fun to write. This will help you find your groove and get you ready for the more challenging themes.


Looking for a plagiarism definition? Wondering how subject verb agreement works? Asking what is an interjection?  The BibMe grammar guides have answers for you.

Published by

Devon Brown

Devon Brown has worked as a professional writer for over a decade. Her pieces have been featured in traditional print outlets like National Geographic Traveler and Time Out New York. Currently, her expertise lies in social media. Under the username whatdevondiscovered, she nurtures an active community on Instagram that focuses on education, lifestyle and travel. To find out more visit her on Instagram or Linkedin.