Notes on the Writing Process

Writing is a process or cycle: that is, writers figure out what to write (invention), write or type it out (drafting), review what they have written, make any changes they deem necessary (revision, copy editing, proofreading), and evaluate the ultimate success of the writing task (reflection), both the strengths and weaknesses of what's been written as well as use of the writing process.

The Writing Process cycle represented in a wheel-and-spoke diagram with Writing Process in center. The spokes are Invention, Drafting, Revision and Editing, Proofreading, and, Reflection.

Depending on the task, occasion, and available timeframe, the writing process may be straightforward or complicated; it may take place in 10 minutes, over 10 days, or over 10 months. It may prove easier or harder than you expected. At times, the process may frustrate, confuse, or perhaps even overwhelm you ("But I have nothing more to say on this topic!" "Why should I, much less my reader, care about this topic?" "How can I put all these competing thoughts into words?" "This issue is too darned complicated." "I have no idea how to make sense of this material and organize it—everything is interrelated.") But by using a writing process model, you can manage any writing task from initial concept phase to an effective and refined completion.

Researchers have learned some critical points about the process of writing:

  • The process is recursive, not linear. People don't do all their thinking first, then simply capture that thinking in well-formed sentences that are themselves organized into a logical sequence of paragraphs. The procedure varies as the writer moves back and forth among parts of the process. For example, the writer may think through what she wants to say and then compose a couple of paragraphs, but on review find them inadequate. She'll return to invention as she revises those paragraphs before moving on to the next step in the process. Good writers revise—that is, they assess the strengths and weaknesses of their drafts and visualize what a more effective version of the text would include. They size up how well the draft supports their point and then rework it: sharpening the focus of paragraphs, and deleting or adding sentences, paragraphs, or even entire sections.
  • A writer's process differs according to the particulars of the task. The process of composing a quick response to a friend's funny text message probably takes a matter of seconds; the words seem to come out spontaneously. Contrast that with the process of composing a text message to your best friend explaining why she saw you with another group of friends at the mall last night—the same night you had cancelled a movie date with her because you were "sick." Writing that text takes more forethought.
  • Writers can be taught strategies to facilitate each part of the process. There are a variety of strategies and tools for making the writing process easier and more effective. The next page provides links to some strategies will always prove useful (taking account of the rhetorical situation, for example); others will only be useful in certain situations. None are magic; all require thought and imagination.