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.


  1. Investigating
  2. Planning
  3. Inventing
  4. Drafting
  5. Consulting
  6. Reviews
  7. Revising
  8. Editing
  9. Proofreading


Investigating is the name for the tasks that people undertake in their work to access information and generate the database of knowledge from which they will write a report or paper. The standard view is that the researching, thinking, reading, and experimenting that scholars undertake are primarily distinct from "writing up" their findings, conclusions, and theses. This separation is misleading. Students will become better writers and researchers if they learn to integrate these activities. [I find that the best way to undertake a research project is to write the proposal in the future tense, and then to continually edit that as a living document, replacing future tense with past tense as tasks are completed. Sections and paragraphs are added as the writing continues until finally the report is complete at the same time as the research is coimplete.]

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.


Planning occurs when a writer determines what reader(s) his text must interact with and what purpose(s) his text must accomplish and then decides accordingly what to say and how to say it. One of the great drawbacks of traditional, product-oriented teaching, many writing teachers believe, is that it gives too much attention early in the writing process to the content and organization of a paper and not enough attention to issues of the audience and purpose of a student's text. This is not to say that a paper's content and organization are unimportant. Certainly instructors in all fields want students to write papers that are rich, distinctive, and correct in their substance and coherently and fully developed. But unless students are led to consider specifically issues of audience and purpose, there is a strong possibility that their writing will simply mirror back whatever content they have accrued through reading and research, without cueing a potential reader to what is distinctive or important about the subject at hand and without shaping the content so that its presentation serves any discernible purpose. The central principle underlying planning a paper, therefore, is that audience, purpose, and content are all related: A writer, as part of the process of composing, determines and refines her ideas of whom she is interacting with in her paper and what she is trying to accomplish; these emerging ideas allow her to develop the content-- what she wants to say--and her goals for influencing the readers--how she wants to say it.

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.


Inventing is the general term for the activities a writer undertakes to extract information from the "data base" of his memory, experience, or research notes and, in some cases, to categorize and evaluate this information in order to write about it. As scholars from the Renaissance onward have noted, inventing may not be the ideal name for this set of activities, since a writer may not always generate "new" information and data to write about. However, since the processes of invention can lead to new insights for the writer, and since the traditional Western canon calls invention the first of the arts of rhetoric, the term is appropriate.

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?


Drafting is the process whereby writers simply get something written on paper or computer file so that they can begin to craft their writing. One misconception that some beginning writers have is that the drafting process equals the writing process--that is, they believe that "good writers" simply sit down and write and "get it right" the first time, and "bad writers" similarly must live with whatever they produce as they initially draft. To improve, writers must come to see drafting as simply one activity in the overall process, not the whole thing. On the other hand drafting is not simply one activity, it is an on-going activity as features are added, revisions and corrections made, and formatting improved.

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.


Consulting is seeking the help of a "fresh" reader and asking him or her to respond to what's good about a draft, what is questionable, and what definitely needs change and improvement. Consulting is a crucial step in the writing process, but one that beginning writers, to their great detriment, often skip. An old adage says that there's no baby so homely that its mother doesn't love it, and that certainly rings true for writing. Writers always need feedback on the texts they have given birth to.

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.


It's extremely important to emphasize that the peer reader, the instructor and assistants, and the writing center consultants are not editors. The consulting reader's primary function is not to proofread the paper and correct mistakes. Such a band aid approach to improving a draft does little to help the writer learn how to avoid making mistakes in the future. In general, a consulting reader should address these major concerns:

Beyond addressing these four general concerns, a consulting reader might need more finely grained questions to ask about a draft. Here is a list developed by Maxine Hairston, an experienced writing teacher at the University of Texas:


  1. Is the primary purpose of the piece clear to you as a reader? If so, what makes it clear? If not, what could the writer do to make the purpose clearer?

  2. Can you tell from reading the piece who the intended audience is? If so, how can you tell? If not, what could the writer do to address an audience more effectively?

  3. What do you think of the main idea or ideas of the piece? If you were writing a piece like this, what idea or ideas would you develop? Would the writer of this piece benefit from hearing about your ideas and possibly incorporating them in his or her draft?

  4. How well developed are the ideas in this piece? What does the writer need to do to develop his or her ideas more effectively?

  5. How well arranged and organized are the ideas in this piece? Would you opt for a different organization? If so, why?

  6. Are the sentences in this piece complete? How easy are they to read? What specifically could the writer do to improve his or her sentence style?

  7. What do you think of the word choice in this piece? What different kinds of words could the writer use? Why should the writer opt for the kinds of word choice you recommend?

  8. Are there any problems with spelling. mechanics, or punctuation that detract from the effectiveness of this piece? If so, how can the writer correct these problems?

[Added by J.A.N. Lee] As part of the process of reviewing a draft, it is important to provide the author with corrections to the "manuscript" in the form of "mark-ups" or "copy editing". These indicate suggested changes to the text of the document in the form of identifying spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, run-on sentences, formatting changes, etc. While this is commonly a process undertaken at the time of publication, in today's world where the electronic version of the document becomes the basis of the published copy, copy editing is necessary at all stages of development. A set of guidelines to mark-ups is available from Prentice-Hall Publ. Co.


Revising is the general name for the activities during which the writer returns to his draft, rereads and rethinks it, and decides to change it in order to improve it. Revising is usually motivated by consulting: A writer decides to improve a text after she has read it herself with fresh eyes or after she has gotten feedback from another reader.

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.


Editing is the final cleaning up of a text before the writer must submit it for the instructor's, her peers', or the public's inspection and evaluation. Editing is typically seen as the process in which the writer goes over her text very slowly, looking for lapses in stand