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Free writing


Academic writing is demanding. It is easier to think brilliant ideas than to write them – especially in an academic way. Constructing a paper or chapter is difficult. One way to develop fluency in writing is to use writing in other ways, for example, to extend thinking or to create ideas. In other words, think through writing.

Writing to extend our thinking

Writing is a way of knowing. Most of us were taught to write only once we have something to say. But writing is a dynamic creative process linked to thinking and formulating ideas. “I write because I want to find something out,” says Richardson (2000:924), “I write in order to learn something that I did not know before I wrote it”. Keep a notebook, journal or even a file on your desktop to write down your thinking.

Writing to create ideas

When we write from in an uncritical freely associative state, we write to discover. Writing without criticism is focused on the message and is often lively and metaphorical. We find we want to write. Writing with our internal editor’s critical eye picking out errors makes writing a heavy, negative and grueling experience. At first, it is tough to let go of that critical voice.


Free-writing is a key technique to get your writing to become fluent and easy to do. The basic principle is that you set a timer and write quickly for a set amount of time (10 mins), without referring to sources, or censoring your thinking (Elbow, 1973). Do not cross out words, correct punctuation or grammar because that indicates your internal editor is still casting a critical eye. You suspend judgement during free-writing. You write to see what you think. No-one will read these pieces of writing but you. Once you have a collection of free-writes, you can gather them into a draft to revise.

Free-writing to generate ideas: Free-write to find out what you know about a topic or an article you’ve read. These are not notes but thoughts. You may want to begin with a vague idea and see where the writing takes you.

Directed free-writing: When you want to write a section of a paper. Free-write it first then revise and add in sources and quotes. Begin with what you know and then build in the references and authorities.

(Source: Badenhorst: Researchj Writing)


Richardson, L. (2000). Writing: A method of inquiry. Handbook of Qualitative Research. N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks, Sage: 923-948.

Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. London: Oxford University Press.

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