Think back to ancient times, before the days of the PC and when 'word processor' was the punchline of jokes. This was the time when 'document' meant something important or legal, like the Magna Carta, and normal people wrote 'papers', unlike modern times wherein even a shopping list prepared in Word is a document.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A draft of something written is a variant, copy or revision. Written works could go through a series of drafts before being completed. Generally, the first of these drafts was called the rough draft, not for its texture but for its relative lack of sophistication and completeness. Working from the rough draft, the writer would revise and edit and ultimately produce the finished work. As such rough drafts were often covered in editor's markings, scribbles and red ink.

Now, however, in the days of Word, WordPerfect, ClarisWorks, StarOffice and their ilk, many people prepare their documents start-to-finish in the word processing program. Such a process precludes a formal rough draft. Others, though a small minority, still write a rough draft on paper and then work from that into the program.

and now for posterity, the old e1 writeup:
In the olden days before word-processors, when writing a document, one was forced to often make multiple copies, editing and re-typing or writing after revisions. Now, in the days of Word and WordPerfect (or Notepad, or vi, or emacs, whatever), this step is often overlooked in favor of on-the-fly editing.

A rough draft is something you dump on Everything to show everyone that you're a bona fide writer.

No, seriously, a rough draft is an important step in the writing process, even though you're writing on a computer and can continuously edit a piece.

After you're done writing a rough draft, that is, after your piece has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and you've said the basic things that you want to say, then put the piece aside for a while. Later, come back to it with the ability to read it and have it make a fresh impression on your mind. Even better, have someone else read it if possible. Either way, you should get a clearer idea of what it is you've actually managed to say with your writing than if you are continuously rereading it an changing a word here and there.

If you like what you've written after giving it a second reading, then you're lucky. Touch up some sentences here and there and call it done. More likely you've seen some paragraphs that need to be removed, some additions you should make, and some rearrangements that might make the work clearer or more organized. It's difficult work, revising things, but it definitely makes your writing better in the end.

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