Composing Processes, The Simplified Model

  • Be more fluent & creative by better understanding writing processes

Writing instruction in the U.S. has a fairly long history, beginning with composition courses at Harvard University.

It has been commonplace, since about the late 1970s to early 1980s, for writing teachers and writing textbooks to advise students that they can best realize their potential as writers by following four or five major steps:

  1. Prewriting: some preliminary planning and brainstorming
  2. Drafting: begin freewriting/getting words down on the page
  3. Revising: rethinking substantive rhetorical concerns, such as appeals to ethos, pathos, logos
  4. Editing: refining the language to ensure it conforms to Standard English
  5. Publishing: sharing work with the audience(s)

Over time, this model of composing had a profound impact on writing instruction. Branded as The Process Movement, this approach led to a revolution in middle schools, high schools, and universities: teachers shifted the focus of their classroom discussions from explicating the great works of literature to talking about student writing. The required course texts shifted from the literary canon to a focus on the evolving student draft.

Composition courses imported the Iowa Writer’s Method, which involved having a student read her work out loud before the class and then the class discussed the work, critiquing its weaknesses and praising its strengths.

Students were put in groups of four or five and told they were were readers before they were writers, that they should give honest feedback. Writers meditated, freewrote, brainstormed, and drew issue trees as invention exercises. Rather than focus on error, on matters of punctuation, mechanics, and grammar, students were encouraged to embrace their creative potential, to focus on believing over doubting.

Below is a fairly standard way of defining writing processes. This depiction, which Joseph Moxley developed at the University of South Florida in the early 2000s, captures the renewed vigor for collaborative work and for having students reflect on collaboration and critiquing processes.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the process movement was that the act of writing was a way of thinking–and a vigorous way to develop new ideas.

As you read more about your topic (Research), discuss your topic and drafts with peers, instructors, and subject matter experts (Collaboration), your Purpose will evolve into a Thesis, a more specific claim or hypothesis. Sometimes you won’t know your thesis until the end of the writing process, which, somewhat unfortunately, often means you need to revise a final time.

While the process movement still largely defines the practices of current writing classrooms in the U.S. (see Fulkerson), the process approach to teaching writing has serious flaws. For instance, as post-process theorists such as Thomas Kent (1999) noted

  1. there’s no one correct, universal process writing process.
  2. the model of prewrite, write, revise, and edit belies the complexity and recursivity and organicity of thinking and composing. Activities such as planning and revising aren’t stages: they are ways of thinking that occur throughout the writer’s efforts to draft a text.

Ultimately, simplifying the writing process into four or five stages is just about as accurate as defining the earth as

The planet third in order from the sun, having an equatorial diameter of 7926 miles (12,755 km) and a polar diameter of 7900 miles (12,714 km), a mean distance from the sun of 92.9 million miles (149.6 million km), and a period of revolution of 365.26 days, and having one satellite. (Dictionary.Com 2019).

Writing Processes @ Writing Commons

We embrace much of process pedagogy, especially that

  • it’s reasonable to assume that prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing are meaningful behaviors that people conduct when endeavoring to communicate.
  • the focus on having students discuss their writing and writing processes is an invaluable alternative to having students read the classics. 

We agree with the post-pedagogy critics that its important to view the process organically rather than as a series of pre-conceived steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing do not occur in any pre-ordained order. Rather, we imagine numerous constenxtual constraints (the rhetor’s familiarity with the topic, genre, audience, e.g., defines needed composing strategies.

there is ample evidence that writing processes are situational.

Hence, at Writing Commons, we aim to dig into the details to give students a more robust understanding of how people generate, support and share knowledge claims. We aim to provide students with a more nuanced view of of writing processes and writing development. Ideally, by better understanding the diverse competencies involved in composing, students will have the tools necessary to realize your potential as a writer, researcher, and public speaker.

At Writing Commons, we deviate from the traditional view of writing processes. Rather than talking about stages of the writing process that has been so common in writing textbooks over the past 30 years, we inform students that communication (writing and public speaking) and deeper learning are the outcome of complex, recursive, psychosocial processes (see Writers Start Here).

Because we realize our approach is a bit unusual, we want to take a moment to clarify our rationale.