Writing process

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The writing process is a term used in teaching.

In 1972, Donald M. Murray published a brief manifesto titled "Teach Writing as a Process Not Product",[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.

Autistic autobiographies[edit]

As appealing as document sharing may be for students with autism in particular,[5] 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 [5] 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.

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.[6] A more recent handbook for students is Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference.[7] 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.[8]

Proofread for

  • Spelling
  • Subject/verb agreement
  • Verb tense consistency
  • Point of view consistency
  • Mechanical errors
  • Word choice
  • Word usage (there, their or they're)[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Trimbur, John. "Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning". The Norton Book of Composition Studies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 733-747.
  4. ^ Williams, Joseph M. "The Phenomenology of error". The Norton Book of Composition Studies. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 414-429.
  5. ^ a b Rose, Irene. "Autistic Autobiography or Autistic Life Journal." Journal of Literary Disability 2.1 (2008): 44-54
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b Hacker, Diana. (2009). A Writer's Reference (6th ed.). Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 978-0-312-59332-2. [1]
  8. ^ "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".
  • 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]