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When writing a research paper draft, what should be the purpose? Is the goal to write the draft with the aim of producing a finished product but expecting that it may need changes? Or is the draft more of a glorified outline that shows the path in which the author is going to take?

I'm referring to the objective/intent of the draft writing. For example, writing the draft with the goal of creating a near completed product (assuming there will be edits) versus writing the draft as a mere outline of the "plan" you want to take.

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    It is possible to have 1, 5 or 10 or more drafts before the final version - it depends on what needs correcting... – Solar Mike Aug 8 '18 at 12:58
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    You have it backwards: How different should the final version be from the first draft? Answer: As different as necessary. – henning -- reinstate Monica Aug 8 '18 at 12:59
  • I added some content to help with clarity of my question. Maybe I should have changed the title as well. – Programmer Aug 8 '18 at 13:01
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    I'm a bit confused, for me that question doesn't make much sense. Paper drafts are usually written after most of the data was collected so writing an outline of the project doesn't make any sense. And if your goal would be writing a paper why would you aim for just a rough outline? – DSVA Aug 8 '18 at 13:14
  • @DSVA I know it sounds goofy, but the reason I am asking is because one of my instructors has stated that the draft is basically a glorified outline, ect... This goes against what I thought the objective of a draft to be but I wanted to get a better understanding on the purpose of a draft since this has made me question my previous drafts. The question you asked is the very thing I am wondering as well. – Programmer Aug 8 '18 at 13:34
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The draft itself is only the term for something that is surely not finished. The purpose depends on what you intend to do with it.

  1. Drafts are often shared with collaborators to have a common ground for further discussion, fixing some notations and in general keeping them up-to-date with the progress.

  2. Drafts can be just for personal use to keep track of ideas and what has already been done.

  3. Draft is also the version of the paper that is 5 pages over the limit and you know you will need to make changes to fit in.

Draft writing is normally not the goal itself, instead it makes sense to think about what the draft will be used for and then write a document that is useful for this.

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    I would add that it also makes sense to think about how to go about writing the draft so as to minimize the time spent editing, rewriting, and changing things for the final version. Since the draft is not the goal in itself, time spent polishing it should be minimized, and one should focus on certain things first (e.g. solidifying notation, put in a basic outline of the paper); maybe leave the intro, filler text, and conclusions for the end. – 6005 Aug 8 '18 at 19:10
  • Maybe it's a "culture" difference but in every (chemistry) research group I've been a "draft" was simply a version of a thesis/paper before it was either changed or decided to be the final version. I've never heard that a "progress report" or something similar which you would share with collaborators is called a draft. – DSVA Aug 8 '18 at 19:51
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It is a good idea to start sketching out the paper before writing it. That way you know what you want to write where. If you want to call that first sketch a draft, then the purpose of that draft should be a "glorified outline". Then you fill it in. If you are very good, or the paper is very simple to write, then you may get it right in one go. Probably, you will have many further drafts, which will (hopefully) gradually become closer to the final product. So, the answer to your question is in one word: both.

  • Christian Moller on the way Paul Dirac used to write his articles: "Often he sat alone in the innermost room of the library in a most uncomfortable position... He could spend a whole day in the same position, writing an entire article, slowly and without ever crossing anything out.” (page 9) – user68958 Aug 8 '18 at 13:34
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The purpose of a draft is to organize your thoughts about what you intend to say and how. You can continue to fix the language and flesh out the details as you work on it, but your draft should make clear what your paper is about and what it has to say on the topic. It should organize your ideas, arguments and evidence in a logical and understandable way.

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