The Writing Process
By Alice L. Trupe

Before you read--
Reflect on your own writing practice(s). How do you like to go about writing a paper? How long does it take you? How many drafts do you prefer to write? Do you write rapidly or slowly? Are you typically satisfied with the text you've produced? What kinds of papers are easy for you to write? What kinds are difficult? Do you like to get feedback from others on your texts?

In classroom practice, teaching the writing process requires (1) a clear sense of what the writing process is (and a good answer to the question of whether there's just one writing process that all writers should be instructed to follow); (2) a clear sense of when and how much to intervene in the student writer's process; and (3) a repertoire of practices to use as needed to intervene for specific needs in working with individual students.

The writing process may be represented as simply as a three-stage process of prewriting (or invention, using the term from classical rhetoric), drafting, and revising, or it may be divided into the following six phases:

What do we gain by understanding these phases of the process? Understanding process helps us recognize where a student writer is in his or her process and offer help appropriate to that phase. We've seen classrooms in which "the writing process" became simply content to be mastered: teachers explained the writing process to students and expected them to know about the various stages, but making these stages into "content" on which students could be tested is of little use to our students.

When we talk about these six phases or stages, you should bear in mind that writing is a recursive process. Writers do not move neatly through each step of the process in sequence. For example, the writer who is revising and recognizes that she needs more information about one aspect of her topic will likely revisit the prewriting and planning as well as drafting phases as part of her revising process. Another writer may publish his text by posting it on the Web while he is still drafting; he prewrites, plans, drafts, publishes, revises the published version, possibly drafting more text to add, and so forth.

As practiced by most writers in professional situations, it's a messy process, rather than a neat sequence of steps. The writing process is also highly contextualized: one writer's best practice may kill another writer's ability to generate ideas or to meet deadlines, and what works for a particular writer in one situation may not work in another situation. It is probably a mistake to march all students through all the stages in lockstep, for example, requiring the same number of drafts and revisions at the same deadlines for all students. This is one of the many arguments for portfolio evaluation. When students have the opportunity to create many texts and the flexibility to choose which texts to include in a portfolio and how much revising needs to be done to bring those texts to the best possible realization, individual writing preferences and strengths are accommodated.

Go to Prewriting Practices

By Alice L. Trupe, posted Sept. 7, 2001