It has been commonplace, since the late 1970s to 1990s, for writing teachers and writing textbooks to depict composing processes as involving four major steps:
- Prewriting: some preliminary planning and brainstorming
- Drafting: begin freewriting/getting words down on the page
- Revising: rethinking substantive rhetorical concerns, such as appeals to ethos, pathos, logos
- Editing: refining the language to ensure it conforms to Standard English.
Donald Murray’s argument in 1972 to Teach the Process not the Product represented a sea change on the part of middle schools, high schools, and universities in the U.S. In writing classrooms across higher education, faculty turned their attention from explicating the great works of literature to coaching students through’ drafts. Now, as illustrated in the diagram below, instructors coach students through multiple revisions and edits. They engage students in the writing process: They challenge students
- to think of themselves as rhetors
- to engage in preliminary research, rhetorical analysis, invention heuristics, and information literacy work
- to collaborate and peer review.
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.
To begin, despite the appealing simplicity of the prewrite, research, revise, and edit model, there’s no one correct, universal writing process. That oversimplification was a good slogan for the Compositionists as they fought to legitimize process pedagogy yet ultimately it wasn’t very helpful for writers. This simplified model of composing belies the complexity and recursivity and organicity of thinking. 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 stages is just about as accurate and helpful as defining the earth as a planet:
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).
See Also: Writing Studies > Composition Theory for more in-depth research and theory in the discipline of Composition Studies as it relates to writing processes.