Writing process

Writing process

The Writing process is both a key concept in the teaching of writing and an important research concept in the field of composition studies.

Research on the writing process (sometimes called the composing process) focuses on how writers draft, revise, and edit texts. Composing process research was pioneered by scholars such as Janet Emig in The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders (1971),[1] Sondra Perl in "The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers (1979),[2] and Linda Flower and John R. Hayes in "A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing" (1981).[3]

Writing depends upon external pressures. Students need a sense of meaning and how what they write can be connected to the world outside of the classroom. According to Ann E. Berthoff, the job of a teacher "is to design sequences of assignments which let our students discover what language can do, what they can do with language".

The rest of this page will focus on the writing process as a term used in teaching. In 1972, Donald M. Murray published a brief manifesto titled "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product",[4] a phrase which became a rallying cry for many writing teachers. Ten years later, in 1982, Maxine Hairston argued that the teaching of writing had undergone a "paradigm shift" in moving from a focus on written products to writing processes.[5]

Generally the writing process is seen as consisting of five stages:

In addition to these steps, there are several other steps one must take to have a quality business report (or message). The first step is research, which constitutes of finding relevant information through formal & informal research methods and brainstorming. This enables students to generate ideas from different types of sources; to better understand and define the topic, with the goal of informing the receiver.

The next step is to organize. Cluster diagrams, scratch lists and outlines are very effective processes to utilize after defining the main topic. Individually or in a group, this step allows student (s) to explore all the different components of a subject before beginning to write. These points can be categorized and structured with sub categories, sub clusters or sub headings to have a clearer picture. Where to place the main idea in a report is another important element about organizing. Direct patterns provide the main idea in the beginning of a business message which is followed by its justifications and proofs, targeting a content audience. Whereas the indirect pattern provides justifications and proofs first and is then followed by the main idea in order to minimize negative reactions to a discontent audience.

Finally the last step is to compose. Always start with a quickly written rough draft to get all your ideas on paper. Having a combination of short and long sentences with correct grammar is key to portray your idea. Breaking up a paper into paragraphs help separate each group of thought. There are direct paragraphs where the main sentence comes first to introduce something to your receiver and indirect paragraphs where the main idea is in the middle to portray persuasion and explanation. All sentences and paragraphs must be linked and consistent to one another.

These stages can be described at increasing levels of complexity for both younger students and more advanced writers. The five stages, however, are seldom described as fixed steps in a straightforward process. Rather, they tend to be viewed as overlapping parts of a complex whole or parts of a recursive process that are repeated multiple times throughout the writing process. Thus, for instance, a writer might find that, while editing a text, she needs to go back to draft more prose, or to revise earlier parts of what she has written.


Approaches to the Process

Dialectical process (Ann Berthoff Model)

As Ann Berthoff writes in her article "Learning the Uses of Chaos": "Learning to write means learning to tolerate ambiguity, to learn that the making of meaning is a dialectical process determined by perspective and context. Meanings change as we think about them; statements and events, significances and interpretations can mean different things to different people at different times." This suggests that meaning grows on the hinges of ambiguity, which raises the following questions: Can the writing process be taught? Can the writing process be learned?

Cognitive process theory of writing (Flower-Hayes Model)

Overview of Cognitive model

Flower and Hayes extend Bitzer's rhetorical situation to become a series of rhetorical problems, i.e., when a writer must represent the situation as a problem to be solved, such as the invocation of a particular audience to an oversimplified approach such as finding a theme and completing the writing in two pages by Monday's class. (472)

In "The Cognition of Discovery" Flower and Hayes set out to discover the differences between good and bad writers. They came to three results from their study, which suggests that good writers envelop the three following characteristics when solving their rhetorical problems:

  1. Good writers respond to all of the rhetorical problems
  2. Good writers build their problem representation by creating a particularly rich network of goals for affecting a reader; and
  3. Good writers represent the problem not only in more breadth, but in depth. (476)

Flower and Hayes suggest that composition instructors need to consider showing students how "to explore and define their own problems, even within the constraints of an assignment". (477) They believe that "Writers discover what they want to do by insistently, energetically exploring the entire problem before them and building for themselves a unique image of the problem they want to solve."

Criticism of Cognitive model

Patricia Bizzell argues that even though educators may have an understanding of "how" the writing process occurs, educators shouldn't assume that this knowledge can answer the question "about 'why' the writer makes certain choices in certain situations", since writing is always situated within a discourse community. (484) She discusses how the Flower and Hayes model relies on what is called the process of "translating ideas into visible language". (486) This process occurs when students "treat written English as a set of containers into which we pour meaning". Bizzell contends that this process "remains the emptiest box" in the cognitive process model, since it de-contextualizes the original context of the written text, negating the original intent and meaning. She argues that "Writing does not so much contribute to thinking as provide an occasion for thinking...."

Social model of writing process

"The aim of collaborative learning [...] is to reach consensus through an expanding conversation" (Trimbur 733). Trimbur claims that collaborative writing helps students to find more control in their learning situation.[6]

Even grammar has a social turn in writing: "It may be that to fully account for the contempt that some errors of usage arouse, we will have to understand better than we do the relationship between language, order, and those deep psychic forces that perceived linguistic violations seem to arouse in otherwise amiable people" (Williams 415). So one can't simply say a thing is right or wrong. There is a difference of degrees attributed by social forces.[7]

Expressivist Process Theory of Writing

According to the expressivist theory, the process of writing is centered on the writer's transformation. This involves the writer changing in the sense that voice and identity are established and the writer has a sense of his or her self. This theory became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to Richard Fulkerson's article "Four Philosophies of Composition", the focus of expressivism is for writers to have "... an interesting, credible, honest, and personal voice". Moreover, proponents of the expressivist process view this theory as a way for students to become fulfilled and healthy both emotionally and mentally. Those who teach this process often focus on journaling and other classroom activities to focus on student self-discovery and at times, low-stakes writing. Prominent figures in the field include John Dixon, Ken Macrorie, Lou Kelly, Donald C. Stewart and Peter Elbow.

Historical Approaches to Composition and Process

An historical response to process is concerned primarily with the manner in which writing has been shaped and governed by historical and social forces. These forces are dynamic and contextual, and therefore render any static iteration of process unlikely.

Notable scholars that have conducted this type of inquiry include media theorists such as Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Gregory Ulmer, and Cynthia Selfe. Much of McLuhan's work, for example, centered around the impact of written language on oral cultures, degrees to which various media are accessible and interactive, and the ways in which electronic media determine communication patterns. His evaluation of technology as a shaper of human societies and psyches indicates a strong connection between historical forces and literacy practices.


Editing is the stage in the writing process where the writer makes changes in the text to correct errors (spelling, grammar, or mechanics) and fine-tune his or her style. Having revised the draft for content, the writer's task is now to make changes that will improve the actual communication with the reader. Depending on the genre, the writer may choose to adhere to the conventions of Standard English. These conventions are still being developed and the rulings on controversial issues may vary depending on the source. A source like Strunk and White's Elements of Style, first published in 1918, is a well-established authority on stylistic conventions.[8] A more recent handbook for students is Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference.[9] An electronic resource is the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), where writers may search a specific issue to find an explanation of grammatical and mechanical conventions.[10]

Proofread for

  • Spelling
  • Subject/verb agreement
  • Verb tense consistency
  • Point of view consistency
  • Mechanical errors
  • Word choice
  • Word usage (there, their or they're)[11]

See also


  1. ^ Janet Emig, The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders, Urbana: NCTE, 1971.
  2. ^ Sondra Perl, "The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers", Research in the Teaching of English 13 (1979), pp. 317-36, rpt. in Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, 2nd ed., ed. Victor Villanueva, Urbana: NCTE, 2003.
  3. ^ Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, "A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing", CCC 32 (1981, pp. 365-87, rpt. in Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, 2nd ed., ed. Victor Villanueva, Urbana: NCTE, 2003.
  4. ^ IDonald M. Murray, "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product" The Leaflet (November 1972), rpt. in Cross-Talk in Comp Theory, 2nd ed., ed. Victor Villanueva, Urbana: NCTE, 2003.
  5. ^ Maxine Hairston, "The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing" CCC 33 (1982), pp. 76-88, rpt. in The Norton Book of Composition Studies, ed. Susan Miller, New York: Norton, 2009
  6. ^ Trimbur, John. "Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning". The Norton Book of Composition Studies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 733-747.
  7. ^ Williams, Joseph M. "The Phenomenology of error". The Norton Book of Composition Studies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 414-429.
  8. ^ Strunk, Jr., William; E. B. White (1972) [1918]. The Elements of Style (2nd ed.). Plain Label Books. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781603030502. http://books.google.com/books?id=Hd5o74IehyoC&pg=PA55.
  9. ^ Hacker, Diana. (2009). A Writer's Reference (6th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312593322. [1]
  10. ^ "General Writing". The Purdue Online Writing Lab (Owl). Purdue University, 2008. Web. 16 Apr 2010. <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/>.
  11. ^ Hacker, Diana. (2009). A Writer's Reference (6th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 9780312593322. [2]

Selected Readings

Brand, Alice G. "The Why of Cognition: Emotion and the Writing Process". CCC 38.4 (1987): 436-443.

Bruffee, Kenneth A. "Collaborative Learning and the 'Conversation of Mankind'" College English 46.7 (1984): 635-652.

Berthoff, Ann. [3] "The Making of Meaning: Metaphors, Models and Maxims for Writing Teachers".

Elbow, Peter. Writing without Teachers 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 1998.

Flower, Linda and John R. Hayes. "A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing". CCC 32.4 (1981): 365-387.

Murray, Donald. Writing to Learn 8th ed. Wadsworth. 2004

Pattison, Darcy. Paper Lightning: Prewriting Activities to Spark Creativity and Help Students Write Effectively.

Sommers, Nancy. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers". CCC 31.4 (1980): 378-388.

Guffey, Rhodes and Rogin. "Business Communication: Process and Product". Third Brief Canadian Edition. Thomson-Nelson, 2010.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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