Some Basic Terminology for The Writing Processes
Adapted from: Jolliffe, David A. Writing, Teaching , and Learning: Incorporating Writing Throughout the Curriculum, HarperCollins College Publishers, 1994, pp. 6-19. The publishers of this text, not having a policy on electronic publishing, refused permission to post an actual copy of the appropriate portions of the text. This is a paraphrase of the publication We have maintained the same headings since these are the important elements of understanding the writing process.
In most academic fields, the type of investigation scholars must undertake is constrained by the types of texts they must produce when they write for the field. Three specific examples will demonstrate this point. First, in the field of early childhood development, scholars and students must write case studies documenting some feature of the research subject's motor skills. An investigation that would lead to writing such a case study would permit the researcher to observe the child unobtrusively in a natural setting, noting specific behaviors. Since the genre of the case study allows the writer no opportunity to surmise why the subject is performing any behavior--for instance, the investigator is not allowed to write 'the subject placed his fist in his mouth because he was hungry"--the investigation is limited to physical observations. Second, in many of the physical sciences, scholars establish laboratory conditions whereby all the variables that can be are controlled, except for the experimental variable(s) that the scientists want to note the actions or reactions of. The genre of the experimental research report in the physical sciences provides writers no opportunity to discuss, say, the clutter of the laboratory, the distractions they faced, or what went wrong with the experiment, so the investigation is carried out as precisely as possible, with its conditions ideally modeling the exactness of the research report. Third, in the study of literature, scholars and students read texts in order to find "problems" in them: themes that previous investigators have not noted, distinctive patterns of characterization, curious motifs of diction and imagery, and so on. The genre of the literary critical paper allows the writer no opportunity either to discuss aspects of the literary work that don't fit--there is an ideal of unity in literary criticism--or to expound on his or her personal, emotional reaction to the text at hand. Thus, budding literary scholars learn to read poems, plays, novels, and stories dispassionately, marking how the various pieces can be fitted together in a unified, interpretable whole.
Even if students have completed introductory composition courses before taking an upper-division writing-intensive course, many may find the concept of audience in writing difficult to grasp. High school writing instruction typically pays little attention to audience, and studies have shown that most eighteen-year-old students are just reaching the point in their cognitive and intellectual development where they can fully understand and accommodate the perspective of another individual or a community of readers. Instructors in upper-division writing courses, therefore, should plan to teach students how audiences and writers interact in their field.
Students will probably be similarly unused to considering issues of purpose in writing. Too often in their earlier writing courses, they will have been led to think that their sole purpose in writing a college paper is to say everything they know about their topic and not to make any mistakes. Experienced writers realize the naiveté of this notion. Some papers do indeed require the writer to report selected, usually carefully sequenced, bits of information as objectively as possible; others require the writer to be introspective and raise questions about the issues at hand without necessarily resolving them; still others require the writer to shape an argument so that some individual or group of readers will think or act in some specific way after they read the text. And certainly none of these purposes need act in isolation: A well-crafted informative report can be subtly yet effectively persuasive, and the most convincing of editorials or essays can be richly exploratory and extensively informative. As with the concept of audience, students need to be taught to ponder the many purposes their texts can serve. As they begin to gain more experience in determining and analyzing the audiences with whom their texts must interact and in refining the purposes that their papers will accomplish, students will come to realize that no decision about the substance, organization, and style of a paper can be made without considering audience and purpose. This is not to say, of course, that a writer must have specific, fixed conceptions of audience and purpose in mind before she begins to write a paper. Indeed, the very act of composing will force the writer periodically to reconsider and redefine her audience and purpose. But she will learn that her text is not an independent, isolated entity; on the contrary, it is a document designed to do specific work with real readers. The dynamics of this situation will guide her to generate effective material--to invent, as the next section will explain, the best content. The interaction of the writer with her emerging notions of audience and purpose will also lead her to set goals that can be put into operation: what she wants the entire paper, sections of it, or even specific sentences to do, so that the paper will accomplish the purpose she had in mind with the readers she envisioned.
When writers come up against the problem, common among student writers, of "I can't think of anything to write," the processes of inventing come into play. Most invention processes lead a writer to raise questions that she can answer in order to generate material for her paper. Other processes lead the writer to write statements and propositions.
Invention processes can be divided into intuitive and systematic strategies. Intuitive strategies operate on the principle that if a writer can postpone any worries about writing correctly and simply tap into her knowledge base and let it "flow," she will generate more than enough material to begin writing. The simplest intuitive invention strategy is freewriting: The writer simply writes her topic on the top of a blank page and then writes, nonstop, whatever comes to her mind about the topic for a fixed time, usually ranging from three to ten minutes. The vital feature of freewriting is that the writer must never stop writing. If she can't think of what to write, she should write something like "I can't think of what to write" until she can return to writing about the topic. At the end of the freewriting period, the writer reads over what she has written and, ideally, finds the germ for further development.
A slightly more patterned version of the freewrite is the treeing exercise. When a writer creates a tree, he writes his topic in brief in a circle in the middle of a page, and then draws branches for subtopics away from the center circle. The tree diagram allows the writer to visualize what he knows about his subject, to lay out the components of the topic that he will eventually write about, and even to begin organizing his treatment of the topic in the paper.
Some writers find intuitive strategies like freewriting and treeing very liberating and productive; however, others need more structured exercises to help them probe what they know about their topics.
The most common systematic strategy is to ask the six journalistic questions about one's topic: Who? what? where? when? why? how?
For many writers, the move from investigating, planning, and inventing to drafting--actually producing words--is the most difficult moment in the writing process. At some time, nearly every writer has experienced the problem of not being able to get started writing. An instructor who wants to help students get started drafting can emphasize four points about it. First, students can be encouraged to think of their first efforts at drafting a paper as a zero draft an attempt simply to write as much as possible without being concerned about thesis statements, organizational patterns, sentence structure, details of grammar and usage, and so on. This is not to say that the student should expect to produce a completed product in this seemingly haphazard fashion. As the sections to follow on revising and editing will make clear, the zero draft simply provides rough material for the writer to craft into a completed product. But if beginning writers can learn to turn off their internal editors, those nagging voices that force them to be obsessive about correctness from the initial moment of drafting, and get something written, they should eventually produce a draft that they can refine.
A second, related point is that students should understand drafting as a process that allows them to try out ideas, passages, and words without feeling definitely committed to them. Only the most expert, gifted writer can know with any certainty how written language is going to look, feel, or sound before she writes it. A beginning writer needs to have the leeway to take some risks, to "live dangerously" in the drafting process, in order to learn how to produce correct, effective, and distinctive prose. A third and again related point is that a writer should understand that some parts of a paper may be easier to draft than others, and if he feels blocked on the difficult section, he should draft a section that seems easier. A writer drafting a scientific research report may find either the introduction or the discussion section difficult to draft, but the methods and materials section might be easier. Thus, if he drafts the methods and materials section, he might develop some fluency that will help him with the more difficult parts.
The final point about drafting is that writers need to learn to trust their ears and their brains. Throughout the drafting process, a writer will "hear" ideas, passages, and even phrases and words forming in her mind. She should feel comfortable "capturing" these fleeting thoughts. One strategy some writers use is to annotate the margins of their papers as they are producing a zero draft or immediately after they have finished it. Another tactic to capture these "mental rehearsals" is to keep a pad on the desk while you are drafting and simply jot down ideas, passages, and words separately and consult them for later use.
Writing a zero draft is a messy, imprecise process, but it does enable a writer to produce raw material for consulting, revising, and editing. Because the zero draft is such a wonderfully messy product, a beginning writer should be encouraged to "clean up" a zero draft a bit and produce a Working Draft in which the central ideas are relatively clear, the sentences are at least complete, and the usage is standard and correct before consulting with a reader.
The product is continually in "draft" form until ready for the final submission. Each time it is revised a new draft is created. Thus from this point forward the processof "drafting" is somewhat continuous.
A writer can act as her own consulting reader, or she can solicit the help of an instructor, colleague, or tutor. When the writer reads her own work, she can, of course, try to maintain some objectivity and serve as her own consulting reader, but she should do so only after letting the draft sit untouched for a day--or ideally several-- after completing it.
Rather than relying solely on themselves, however, and perpetuating the myth that writing is a lonely, solitary activity, student writers should be advised to seek the feedback of other readers. At least three types of people might serve in this role. One effective technique is to establish writing partners or writing groups, and members of these collectives can certainly read and respond to each other's work. When students read and respond to their peers' papers, the writer learns more about how his paper must meet a real audience's expectations, and the readers learn more about what their colleagues are thinking and how their own writing is contributing to the intellectual inquiry of the class. Nearly every college and university has some kind of tutorial writing center or writing lab where a student can find someone to read and respond to his paper. Some of these facilities require students to attend an orientation or make an appointment before coming in; others simply invite students to drop by. A writing-intensive course instructor can find out what services his institution offers and probably even consult with its coordinators ahead of time about what kind of help his students need on their papers.
Revision is not, as many beginning writers believe, correcting the mistakes in an edited draft and producing a "final copy." Revision is exactly what its name says: revision, or a re-seeing of the written product. James Thurber is credited with the aphorism, "the only good writing is rewriting." Indeed, writers of distinguished, excellent pieces of prose have usually revised and revised until the moment when they must send their text off to do the work for which it was intended.
It is helpful for young writers to think about different phases of revision being cued to accomplishing different goals. An early revision may attempt to fill conceptual holes--that is, to change the ways the central ideas are presented, supported, and defended, to address any important questions or issues that the text seems to overlook. A subsequent revision may focus on the organization of the paper. An extremely helpful strategy in this kind of revision is to outline the paper and see, in schematic form, how the piece breaks into parts and moves from one section to the next. A traditional sentence or phrase outline can be moderately useful as a writer plans to write an initial draft; an outline is much more useful as an aid to revision once a writer has hammered out a draft. Revision-oriented outlines especially help novice writers organize drafts of such discipline-specific genres as the scientific research report and the case study, which have clearly defined sections that must accomplish specific purposes. Finally, a revision near the time when a writer must submit her work might concentrate on making the style better--simplifying sentence structure, checking usage and spelling, and smoothing out mechanics and punctuation. Of course, a writer need not limit himself to any of these operations at any point in the process. There's no reason that a final revision can't completely lead to changes in the presentation and support of the central idea.
Just as they need guides to structure their consulting readings, so do beginning writers frequently need sets of heuristic questions to structure their revisions. The "Questions to Ask About Another Writer's Draft" listed above are ideally suited to this purpose.