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The Process Movement


Britton, James, et al. The Development of Writing Abilities (11–18). London: Macmillan Education, 1975.

A study of about two thousand papers written by British schoolchildren between the ages of eleven and eighteen suggests that their writing falls into three categories: transactional (communicating information); poetic (creating beautiful verbal objects); and expressive (exploring ideas and relating them to feelings, intentions, and other knowledge). Most school writing is transactional, but this emphasis is wrong because children use expressive writing as a mode of learning. Transactional writing, with its complex sense of audience, can develop only from expressive facility. Transactional writing puts the writer in a passive, spectator role, whereas expressive writing encourages an active, participant role.


Cooper, Marilyn M. "The Ecology of Writing." CE 48 (April 1986): 364–75. Rpt. in Cooper and Holzman [446].

Cognitive-process models of composing rely too heavily on the image of a solitary author. A better, ecological model would situate the writer and the writer's immediate context in larger social systems, of which there are several. The system of ideas integrates private experience with public knowledge. The system of purposes links the actions of many different writers. The system of interpersonal relations connects writers in terms of social and linguistic conventions. The system of cultural norms reflects the attitudes of social groups to which writers belong. The system of textual forms marks generic conventions and innovations. These systems make up the material circumstances that constrain writers and are in turn subject to the writer's power to shape and change them through interpretation.


Emig, Janet. The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1971.

Eight twelfth graders were asked to "compose aloud" while writing three essays. Extensive interviews with one of the students form a case study showing that twelfth graders compose in two modes: reflexive and extensive. Reflexive writing concerns the writer's feelings and personal experience. The style is informal, and several kinds of exploratory writing accompany drafts. The student usually initiates reflexive writing and is its primary audience. Extensive writing focuses on information to be conveyed to a reader. The style is more formal, and much less time is spent on planning and drafting than in the reflexive mode. The directive to write usually comes from the teacher, who is the primary audience. Twelfth graders write much more often, though less well, in the extensive than in the reflexive mode. They should have more opportunities to write reflexively in school. This study has been influential because of its conception of composing as a process, its suggestion that the composing process should be taught and studied, and its method of composing aloud.


Faigley, Lester. "Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal." CE 48 (October 1986): 527–42. Rpt. in Graves [376] and in Perl [239].

Three theories of the composing process—expressive, cognitive, and social—characterize the discipline of composition. The expressive theory embodies a neoromantic view of process that invokes the ideas of integrity, spontaneity, and originality. Integrity—or sincerity—becomes an evaluative category; spontaneity suggests the organic unfolding of writing; and originality changes from genius to self-actualization. The cognitive theory uses notions of cognitive development to explain how writing is learned, while using a cybernetic model (feedback, memory, processing) of the individual composing process. Cognitive theory created a science consciousness in composition researchers. Several lines of research—poststructuralism, sociology of science, ethnography, and Marxism—combine to form the social theory, which explains writing as a function of the activities of the writer in a discourse community. These process methods are superior to previous methods; they validate student writing, examine writing behavior, and investigate the social systems that stand in relation to the act of writing.


Flower, Linda. The Construction of Negotiated Meaning: A Social Cognitive Theory of Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1994.

Literacy is a constructive process, an attempt to create meaning as part of social action. Literacy is shaped by literate, social, and cultural practices of a community, but, at the same time, it is a personal attempt to communicate. The issues of positioning within a community, communicative intent, and mediating social practices overshadow the mechanical concerns usually associated with literacy. A social-cognitive view of literacy, which situates the individual within a social context, explains more of the diversity and complexity of literate action. Such action occurs between the poles of thought (interpreting, problem-solving, reflecting) and culture (the texts, voices, and knowledge out of which interpretations are built). To examine an individual's thinking within the context of literate action can reveal the underlying logic of literate performance. Other metaphors for meaning-making, such as reproduction and conversation, are too limited to account for the individual's engagement in the process. Negotiation better describes the individual's agency within social constraints. Writers can articulate their strategic knowledge (goals, strategies, and awareness) to reveal their processes of meaning-construction in social settings.


Flower, Linda S. "The Construction of Purpose in Writing and Reading." CE 50 (September 1988): 528–50.

Purpose emerges from the interactions of individual language users with social and cultural contexts. A cognitive view of a writer's purpose would see it not as a unitary, conscious intention but rather as a web of intertwined goals and plans, not all of which are fully conscious or rationally attributable to immediate context and text content. The writer deals with this web through a constructive planning process in which goals are prioritized to help guide the composing process even as the goal hierarchy may be revised during composing. Good planners are opportunistic. A reader constructs a similar web or scenario made up of goals and plans (again not necessarily fully conscious) for using or responding to the reading. The reader's web also includes estimates of the author's purposes, forecasts of what may be coming next in a difficult or lengthy text, and so on. Framing such scenarios helps a reader group information and responses drawn from a text and isolate trouble spots that need more interpretation. Expert writers and readers generate more complex webs than do novices.


Flower, Linda S., and John R. Hayes. "A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing." CCC 32 (December 1981): 365–87.

The structure of the composing process is revealed by "protocol analysis"—asking writers to think aloud while writing and then analyzing the writers' narratives. The three elements of the composing process are the task environment, which includes such external constraints as the rhetorical problem and text produced so far; the writer's long-term memory, which includes knowledge of the subject and knowledge of how to write; and the writing processes that go on inside the writer's head. This last category comprises a planning process, subdivided into generating, organizing, and goal setting; a translating process, in which thoughts are put into words; and a reviewing process, subdivided into evaluating and revising. The whole process is regulated by a monitor that switches from one stage to another. The process is hierarchical and recursive. All writers exhibit this process, but poor writers carry it out ineffectively.


Flower, Linda, David L. Wallace, Linda Norris, and Rebecca E. Burnett, eds. Making Thinking Visible: Writing, Collaborative Planning, and Classroom Inquiry. Urbana, Ill.: NCTE, 1994.

A report on Carnegie Mellon's Making Thinking Visible project, a four-year collaboration among thirty-three high-school and college teachers, in which students and teachers attempted to document the processes of thinking about writing and teaching writing. Some of the twenty-seven chapters are brief accounts of classroom and teaching discoveries. Others are full essays, including Linda Flower, "Teachers as Theory Builders"; Linda Flower, "Writers Planning: Snapshots from Research"; David Wallace, "Teaching Collaborative Planning: Creating a Social Context for Writing"; Leslie Byrd Evans, "Transcripts as a Compass to Discovery"; James Brozick, "Using the Writing Attitude Survey"; David Wallace, "Supporting Students' Intentions for Writing"; and Wayne Peck, "The Community Literacy Center: Bridging Community- and School-Based Literate Practices."


Fox, Tom. The Social Uses of Writing: Politics and Pedagogy. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1990.

Case studies show how freshmen use writing to negotiate conflicts between academic values and values they hold as a consequence of race, gender, and class. Teachers' responses to the students' writing are affected, in turn, by their own culturally constructed values. These tensions between culture-based values can be the topic of study in an interactive pedagogy that helps students see how such socially constructed values as beauty, objectivity, and upward mobility affect their writing. Interactive pedagogy, moreover, seeks to replace evaluation with interpretation and to bring student and academic discourse together instead of seeking to move students to a univocal academic discourse.


Greene, Stuart. "Making Sense of My Own Ideas: The Problems of Authorship in a Beginning Writing Classroom." Written Communication 12 (April 1995): 186–218.

A detailed study of two students composing research papers shows that Vuong relied heavily on what he thought was the teacher's definition of the task, namely, to summarize the ideas in the source texts. He structured his paper as a comparison of different authors. Writing about cultural literacy, Vuong, a Hmong immigrant, had strong opinions about the topic based in his own experience, but he did not want to bring these opinions into his paper. He avoided acting as arbiter among the texts he summarized. On the other hand, Jesus initially defined his task as permitting the use of his own experience as well as source texts. He structured his paper as a set of topics addressing aspects of a problem he identified in a central source text. Unlike Vuong's paper, Jesus's paper expressed a strong point of view throughout, clearly distinguished from the ideas of the authors he discussed. Greene urges writing teachers to realize that different cultural and educational backgrounds may prompt students to choose different composing strategies. Explicit classroom discussion of the authorial roles students might adopt in their writing would be helpful.

See: John Hagge, "The Process Religion and Business Communication" [587].


McComiskey, Bruce. Teaching Composition as a Social Process. Logan: Utah State Univ. Press, 2000.

"Social-content" composition courses treat cultural theory as content to be mastered while "social-process" writing instruction situates composing within particular sociopolitical contexts. A balanced approach to the three levels of composing—textual, rhetorical, and discursive—leads students to the fullest understanding of their writing processes. The post-process movement in composition studies, characterized here as social-process rhetorical inquiry, extends rather than rejects the writing process movement. Informed by cultural studies methodologies, social-process rhetorical inquiry is a set of heuristic questions, intended to guide student inquiry and instructional practice, based on the cycle of production, distribution, and consumption. Rather than focusing on a single moment or text to analyze, social-process rhetorical inquiry focuses on both the processes and products of discourse. Students are asked to produce both critical essays and practical documents that reconcile competing discourses. Through assignments in critical discourse analysis, students are prepared for participation in postmodern communal democracies.


Nelson, Jennie. "Reading Classrooms as Text: Exploring Student Writers' Interpretive Practices." CCC 46 (October 1995): 411–29.

Students enter college classrooms with many strategies for responding to writing assignments that have been successful for them in past schooling. These strategies typically include "reading" the entire classroom experience for clues to the teacher's expectations. Interviews with several student writers reveal, for example, that professors' grades and written comments on papers influence how students define and pursue writing tasks much more than professors' statements about such tasks. Also, while overly vague assignments can confuse students, overly explicit ones can also do damage when they are interpreted as a "blueprint for the final product," thus short-circuiting students' creative thinking. Students write better when assignments and the entire classroom atmosphere encourage them to participate in defining their intellectual tasks.


Penrose, Ann M., and Barbara M. Sitko, eds. Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

Cognitive research, investigating the relationship between how writers think about the writing process and the way they engage in the process, reveals much about the factors that determine how easy and successful writing will be. Process research in the classroom—methods for critical reflection on ways of learning and writing—can lead to an understanding by students and teachers of the ways that writers choose and can improve their writing strategies. Ten essays explain cognitive classroom research and its application to teaching: Ann Penrose and Barbara Sitko, "Introduction: Studying Cognitive Processes in the Classroom"; Christina Haas, "Beyond 'Just the Facts': Reading as Rhetorical Action"; Stuart Greene, "Exploring the Relationship between Authorship and Reading"; Ann Penrose, "Writing and Learning: Exploring the Consequences of Task Interpretation"; Lorraine Higgins, "Reading to Argue: Helping Students Transform Source Texts"; Jennie Nelson, "The Library Revisited: Exploring Students' Research Processes"; Rebecca Burnet, "Decision-Making during the Collaborative Planning of Coauthors"; Karen Schriver, "Revising for Readers: Audience Awareness in the Writing Classroom"; Barbara Sitko, "Exploring Feedback: Writers Meet Readers"; and Betsy Bowen, "Using Conferences to Support the Writing Process."


Perl, Sondra, ed. Landmark Essays on Writing Process. Davis, Calif.: Hermagoras Press, 1994.

Eighteen essays, arranged chronologically, beginning with Janet Emig's "The Composing Process: Review of the Literature" (1971). Essays include Sondra Perl, "The Composing Processes of Unskilled College Writers"; Linda Flower and John Hayes, "The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem"; Nancy Sommers, "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers" [320]; Mike Rose, "Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of Writer's Block"; Sondra Perl, "Understanding Composing"; Ann Berthoff, "The Intelligent Eye and the Thinking Hand"; James Reither, "Writing and Knowing: Toward Redefining the Writing Process"; Lester Faigley, "Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal" [229]; Min-Zhan Lu, "From Silence to Words: Writing as Struggle" [462]; Elizabeth Flynn, "Composing as a Woman" [491]; and Nancy Sommers, "Between the Drafts."


Rose, Mike, ed. When a Writer Can't Write: Studies in Writer's Block and Other Composing Process Problems. New York and London: Guilford Press, 1985.

Eleven essays address the social and psychological constraints that contribute to serious hesitations and false starts in writing. They include Donald H. Graves, "Blocking and the Young Writer"; Stan Jones, "Problems with Monitor Use in Second Language Composing"; David Bartholomae, "Inventing the University" [144]; and Mike Rose, "Complexity, Rigor, Evolving Method, and the Puzzle of Writer's Block: Thoughts on Composing Process Research."


Rose, Mike. Writer's Block: The Cognitive Dimension. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1984.

A number of case studies of students who frequently experienced writer's block and some who seldom blocked show that writers who block frequently may rely on context-independent rules for good writing, edit individual sentences as they are being written, plan only after beginning to write, or interpret writing assignments too narrowly in light of their limited knowledge of discourse modes. Writers who seldom block are "opportunists" who treat what they know about writing as strategies, not rules, which can be varied in different writing situations. The capacities to write well and to enjoy writing are not related to blocking. This study suggests that no composing method should be taught as if applicable to all writing situations.


Schreiner, Steven. "A Portrait of the Student as a Young Writer: Re-evaluating Emig and the Process Movement." CCC 48 (February 1997): 86–104.

In The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders, Janet Emig compares her research subject Lynn unfavorably with established literary writers. Emig suggests that Lynn writes too easily because she relies on stale academic strategies and avoids personally painful topics. Hence Emig advocates a pedagogy that would encourage Lynn to work over her writing more and to delve into self-expressive topics—an early and influential version of writing-process pedagogy. But this pedagogy, following Emig, ignores how Lynn's (and other students') strengths as a writer emerge not just from natural talent but also from sophisticated schooling and conditions of race and class privilege that equip her (but perhaps not other students) to be considered as a potential literary writer. Thus, process pedagogy risks neglecting important educational and cultural differences among students.


Tobin, Lad, and Thomas Newkirk, eds. Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1994.

Sixteen essays examine the history, theory, successes, problems, and prospects of writing-process pedagogy. Essays include: James Moffett, "Coming Out Right"; Lisa Ede, "Reading the Writing Process"; Donald Murray, "Knowing Not Knowing"; Ken Macrorie, "Process, Product, and Quality"; Mary Minock, "The Bad Marriage: A Revisionist View of James Britton's Expressive Writing Hypothesis in American Practice"; Peter Elbow, "The Uses of Binary Thinking: Exploring Seven Productive Oppositions"; Thomas Recchio, "On the Critical Necessity of 'Essaying'"; and James Britton, "There Is One Story Worth Telling."