Writing process

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Researchers' first attempts to understand what is now called the writing process began in the early 1970s. Now a key concept in the teaching of writing and in the research of composition studies, "process" scholars were instrumental in shifting the focus of teachers' attention from students' written products to students' writing processes.

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]

Since writing interrelates with external pressures, students benefit most from writing instruction when it provides them with a sense of 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 Morison 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]

For many years, it was assumed that the writing process generally operated in some variation of three to five "stages"; the configuration below is typical:

What is now called "post-process" research demonstrates that it is seldom accurate to describe these "stages" as fixed steps in a straightforward process. Rather, they are more accurately conceptualized as overlapping parts of a complex whole or parts of a recursive process that are repeated multiple times throughout the writing process. Thus writers routinely discover that, for instance, editorial changes trigger brainstorming and a change of purpose; that drafting is temporarily interrupted to correct a misspelling; or that the boundary between prewriting and drafting is less than obvious.

Approaches to the Process[edit]

Cognitive process theory of writing (Flower-Hayes Model)[edit]

Overview of Cognitive model[edit]

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[edit]

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" (486). 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[edit]

"The aim of collaborative learning 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]

Orality as Social Process[edit]

Orality has been discussed and introduced in the composition classroom in several ways, one way as a comfortable mode of communication. Students are familiar with speaking and holding conversations, so teachers are often encouraged to provide conversational comments when responding to students and their writing because it is less threatening and more familiar for them. Robert Zoellner‘s article “Talk-Write Pedagogy” elaborates on one-on one conferencing. He refers to a student conference where this “cortical utterance” was useful for reiteration and clarity: ―what did you mean to say?[8] Zoellner‘s approach to conferencing is a strategy for a vocal-scribal dialogue between teacher and student aimed at the sharpening and expansion of composing.

Zoellner also questions the instrumental metaphor—The written word is thought on paper—in English composition, this notion that the act of thought with the act of writing work simultaneously. He proposes that 1) the theory and practice in English composition is dominated by such instrumental metaphors, and 2) this metaphor (treated more like fact) is outmoded and grossly simplistic. He asks how effective these metaphors are to the progress of teaching and practice of writing. Further, Zoellner also demonstrates how orality is empirically accessible—outwardly expressed (observable and manipulative) instead of internally limited— and valuable for research in order to breach the internal processes of the writer by asking students to verbally reflect on those thoughts.[9]

Jimmie Killingsworth also speaks of this approach when he states "product is to literacy as process is to orality." Killingsworth addresses the emergence of the "process, not product" slogan in the 1970s,[10] beginning the new era of writing instruction where workshops, conferences, and writing centers used orality as a means of process pedagogy. Scholars such as Charles Campbell, in his work "Think-Talk-Write: A Behavioristic Pedagogy for Scribal Fluency"[11] and Margaret Walters also lend to this conversation.

To attend to the notion of writing being product-driven texts that are private, oral pedagogies challenge such process, especially when referring to audience. Many scholars focus on the relationship between writer and audience, such as Walter Ong, Lisa Ede, Andrea Lunsford, Linda Flowers, and Doug Park. Margaret Walters states that students have to not only negotiate the intended text but also the intended audience: "synthesis between a real audience, with its focus on the reader, and an imagined or created audience, with the focus on the writer." She acknowledges Zoellner‘s pedagogy as an "Instrumental Concept for Composition Today".[12] This pedagogy is described as “dialogic problem solving by which the variance between what the writer intends and what the writer writes is subjected to a dialogue aimed at its resolution.” Theorist Makhail Bahktin accounts for a dialogic problem solving in The Problem of Speech Genres: "Thus all real and integral understanding is actively responsive…And the speaker himself is oriented precisely toward such an actively responsive understanding. He does not expect passive understanding that, so to speak, only duplicates his own idea in someone‘s mind. Rather, he expects response, agreement, sympathy, objection, execution, and so forth… Literary meaning, unstable and polysemous, depends on dialogue—that is, on the negotiation of meaning between text and interpreting reader and not the literariness of the text and its pure perception by the reader." [13] The writing process, thus, is a social activity that relies on the negotiation between writer and audience.

In considering both novice and professional writers, Deborah Tannen affirms that scholars in the field of writing use orality throughout their professional careers.[14] Many presenters, including graduate students and professionals, use this forum as a process method. They present at conferences to either introduce ideas or receive comments and questions that the speaker then takes into consideration as he/she proceeds to the product and/or publication (the print text). Ultimately, orality has played an integral role in the process of writing.

Expressivist Process Theory of Writing[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Writing process for students with disabilities[edit]

Teaching the writing process to students with disabilities can be challenging, however research suggests that a number of strategies can be used to help these students succeed both in the traditional K-12 settings and in postsecondary education.

Wery and Nietfeld discuss the implementation of self-regulated learning strategies for students with learning disabilities.[15] While much of their research focuses on students in K-12 settings, they do emphasize the importance of think-aloud protocols and point toward the use of multimodal composition strategies, including students recording themselves learning and writing about topics of high interest and using software to create pictures and diagrams as part of their writing process.

In fact, using technological interventions is a frequent suggestion from many researchers. Hetzroni and Shrieber take a close look at how basic word processing software such as Microsoft Word make a significant difference in the pace and comfort learning disabled students make in elementary and junior high settings.[16] They quote a longitudinal study by Owston and Wideman (1997) showing a greater degree of expressiveness and implementation of writing strategies not seen with the same frequency with pencil and paper tasks. They also point to Raskind and Higgins (1998) who see similar gains among secondary students, offering linkage to college students with disabilities in writing-intensive courses.

Marchisan advocates using computers as part of the revising process to minimize the frustration of surface-level grammatical errors. Montgomery and Marks (2006) write that students with learning disabilities see their writing improved by the use of word processing and graphic design software to help students grasp the writing process and ultimately produce longer and more fluid compositions. Applications of the technology include, but are not limited to, having students record their work on tape and play it back to themselves to help with writing, create stories pertaining to different moods and contrast electronically with other students’ work with their own have all shown to be effective.[17]

Furthermore, Mason, Harris and Graham reveal research indicating the effectiveness of Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) for adolescents who struggle with writing processes due to learning disabilities. There are six recursive strategies explored in this program: (develop background knowledge, discuss it, model it, memorize it, support it, and independent practice.[18] In order to effectively model the strategies, teachers must work out strategies aloud with student assistance. Teachers then help students memorize specific strategies by having students make personal statements about how they might be able to apply the strategies to their own particular writing. Part of this comes from the use of easy to remember acronyms such as POW (Pick my idea, Organize my Notes, Write and Say More) and the SCAN strategy for persuasive essays (does it make Sense, is it Connected to my belief, can you Add more, Note errors).

Troia and Graham [19] also emphasize the importance of teaching learning disabled students specific planning strategies to compensate for the more organic acquisition of these skills by neurotypical peers. Citing examples by well-known authors – such as Kathy Reichs who created the characters on which the TV drama Bones is based on – they illustrated the importance of goal-setting and pre-planning that many writers take for granted. By explicitly teaching three key pre-planning strategies of goal-setting, brainstorming and organizing.

Scott and Vitale (2003) [20] highlight the recursivity of the writing process by breaking the writing process down into five commonly referenced stages – prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. The steps are laid out on a writing wheel, creating a helpful graphic organizer to show how the different steps fit together. Interestingly, the prewriting stage takes up half the wheel with sub-categories of planning, setting goals and organizing. Each of these areas has further sub-categories, thereby emphasizing the importance of prewriting and visually attempting to stave off one of the most common challenges for learning disabled students – adequately planning out their work before delving into subject matter. On the back end, publishing is described as sharing work with the class, which in a post-secondary environment could be easily present in a wiki, blog or other collaborative documentation format.

Autistic autobiographies[edit]

As appealing as document sharing may be for students with autism in particular,[21] being able to contextualize one's life story in the context of their disability may prove the most powerful expression of the writing process overall. Rose illustrates [21] that creating narrative identity in a conventional sense is quite difficult for autistic students because of their challenges with interpersonal communication. The narratives of autistic students can sometimes be troubling to neurotyprical peers with whom they share their work, as Rose notes in quoting autistic autobiographer Dawn Price-Hughes, "Sometimes reaching out and communicating isn’t easy–it can bring sadness and regret. Some of my family and friends, after reading the manuscript for this book, were deeply saddened to learn how I experienced my world."

Rose points to the well-known work of Temple Grandin and Donna Williams as examples of autistic autobiographies and analogizes toward the usefulness of women's autobiographies championed by Susan Stanford Friedman to show women's inter-connectivity, suggesting the same can be learned through autistic autobiographies. She writes that such works can minimize the "pathologisation of difference" which can easily occur between autistic students and neuroytpical peers can be broken down by such autobiographies. As Rose directly says, "I argue here that awareness of the relationality of autistic life writing, and the recognition of its corollary status as testimonio and attention to the material relations of the production of these texts is particularly useful in assessing their social significance."

From a rhetorical perspective the use for students with disabilities (not just autistic students) seems to be promising. It would appear to foster a sense of a community among students with disabilities and helping these voices be brought in from the margins similarly to the way Mike Rose (educator) refers to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their needs in Lives on the Boundary.


Editing has several levels it operates on (depending on the publishers process this is typically 5 levels). The lowest level is the only one most people think that editing really is but in fact is the least important of the various editing process.

See more at editing. However this is also incomplete with respect to many publishers full process.

The lowest, often called line 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.[22] A more recent handbook for students is Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference.[23] 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.[24]

Proofread for

  • Spelling
  • Subject/verb agreement
  • Verb tense consistency
  • Point of view consistency
  • Mechanical errors
  • Word choice
  • Word usage (there, their or they're)[23]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Zoellner, Robert. "Talk-Write: A Behavioral Pedagogy for Composition." College English 30.4 (1969): 267-320.
  9. ^ Zoellner, Robert. "Talk-Write: A Behavioral Pedagogy for Composition" College English 30.4 (1969): 267-320.
  10. ^ Killingsworth, Jimmie. "Product and Process, Literacy and Orality: An Essay on Composition and Culture." College Composition 44.1 (1993):26-39.
  11. ^ Campbell, Charles A. "Think-Talk-Write: A Behavioristic Pedagogy for Scribal Fluency." College English 31.2 (1969): 208-15.
  12. ^ Walters, Margaret. "Robert Zoellner‘s Talk-Write Pedagogy: Instrumental Concept for Composition Today." Rhetoric Review 10.2 (1992):239-43.
  13. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Marxism and the Philosophy of Language" The Rhetorical Tradition 2nd Ed. Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin‘s, 2001. 1210-15.
  14. ^ Tannen, Deborah. "Commingling of Orality and Literacy in Giving a Paper at a Scholarly Conference." American Speech 63 (1988):34-43.
  15. ^ Wery, Jessica J., and John L. Nietfeld. "Supporting Self-Regulated Learning With Exceptional Children." Teaching Exceptional Children 42.4 (2010): 70-78.
  16. ^ Hetzroni, Orit E., and Betty Shrieber. "Word Processing As An Assistive Technology Tool For Enhancing Academic Outcomes Of Students With Writing Disabilities In The General Classroom." Journal Of Learning Disabilities 37.2 (2004): 143-154.
  17. ^ Marchisan, Marti L. "The Write Way." Intervention In School & Clinic 36.3 (2001): 154.
  18. ^ Mason, Linda H., Karen R. Harris, and Steve Graham. "Self-Regulated Strategy Development For Students With Writing Difficulties." Theory Into Practice 50.1 (2011): 20-27.
  19. ^ Troia, Gary A., and Steve Graham. "The Effectiveness Of A Highly Explicit, Teacher-Directed Strategy Instruction Routine." Journal Of Learning Disabilities 35.4 (2002): 290.
  20. ^ Scott, B. J., and Michael R. Vitale. "Teaching The Writing Process To Students With LD." Intervention In School & Clinic 38.4 (2003): 220.
  21. ^ a b Rose, Irene. “Autistic Autobiography or Autistic Life Journal.” Journal of Literary Disability 2.1 (2008): 44-54
  22. ^ Strunk, Jr., William; E. B. White (1972) [1918]. The Elements of Style (2nd ed.). Plain Label Books. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-1-60303-050-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=Hd5o74IehyoC&pg=PA55.
  23. ^ a b Hacker, Diana. (2009). A Writer's Reference (6th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 978-0-312-59332-2. [1]
  24. ^ "General Writing". The Purdue Online Writing Lab (Owl). Purdue University, 2008. Web. 16 Apr 2010. <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/>.

Selected Readings[edit]

  • Berthoff, Ann. [2] "The Making of Meaning: Metaphors, Models and Maxims for Writing Teachers".
  • Biron, Dean. The Death of the Writer. Australian Book Review. 331 (2011): 36-44.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Guffey, Rhodes and Rogin. "Business Communication: Process and Product". Third Brief Canadian Edition. Thomson-Nelson, 2010.
  • 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.

External links[edit]