The Difference Between a First Draft and Second Draft

"Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice." — William Zinsser


Intercom's recent post In Praise of Editing has me thinking a lot about how to improve the articles I work on. One common mistake I make is leaving my creative process on the page. I'll write in the order that I work, which means the reader has to sift through my writing to get to the part they care about.

I call this as sequential writing and it looks something like this:

  • Here is a problem I'm trying to solve
  • Here is some background on that problem
  • Here is where I found some research on the topic
  • Here is the solution I propose

That's fine for a first draft, but too many of us stop there. A good editor can help writers move the content around so that the reader doesn't have to work so hard. I find that when I do this, it reduces the need for lots of background information. It results in fewer words and a better reading experience.

The Evolution of a Draft

In the image below, the darker the green, the more interesting the content. A first draft helps you organize your ideas and get your thoughts on paper. It's for the writer. But a second draft should be organized for the reader. The key takeaways are exactly where they need to be. Readers should be able to navigate through the content without exerting themselves.

I'll be putting together some more visual aids like this soon. If you found this helpful, I'd love to hear about it. Just find me on Twitter.