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How to use this Book—Pedagogical Background for Students and Teachers

15.6 Writing as Process

Good writing is a lot of different things, and those things are largely dependent on rhetorical situation. But how exactly do we produce effective situationally appropriate writing with an always-moving target? The word “writing” itself can be both a noun and a verb: a piece of writing, or the act of writing. Awareness of process helps writers deliberately think through the process and techniques that leading up to that final product in that specific situation.

Take a few minutes to think about your own writing process. From the moment a writing project is assigned to the moment you turn the paper in and wash your hands of it completely, what happens? What are the ingredients you’ve found necessary to a successful recipe, so to speak?

Your answer might include the things you see on posters in high school English classrooms— pre-write, research, draft, revise, etc. —but it also likely includes some other factors—procrastination, dance breaks, coffee, existential dread, snacks, etc. You should especially account for the things that make your process unique. One great example is your environment: some writers prefer silence in the library; others listen to music at their desk; still others like working in a coffee shop with conversational hum in the background.

As you challenge yourself with new writing experiences, experiment with your process. By this point in your academic career, you’ve probably already found something that works pretty well for you, and you should give yourself credit for that. But it doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your process. If you’re someone who usually outlines before a draft, try a free-write or a mind-map—or just jumping right into the draft. If you usually listen to music, try a different genre. If you usually fall prey to procrastination, try to bust out an early draft, give yourself a day or two off, and then come back to it.

For all the differences in individual processes, every effective writing process is iterative: unlike the neat diagrams on posters in high school English classrooms, writing requires you to circle back, repeat steps, and bounce around in sequence. It demands that you write, rewrite, rewrite. It asks you to make revisions on every scale of your drafts. Like building muscle, improving your writing (as product) and your writing (as process) require repetition, dedication, and labor over time.
In summary, remember these three key ideas:

  1. SOAP and the rhetorical situation. Writing is never “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong” in and of itself: it can only be these things relative to the constraints of the rhetorical situation.
  2. Process. Writing is more than just putting words on the page. It begins with a careful consideration of the rhetorical situation and proceeds through recursive idea generation, drafting, and revision. Writing is often unfinished although projects are complete.
  3. What to expect from the book. It will provide you the opportunity to experiment within different rhetorical situations to help you practice for future rhetorical situations.

Alongside the work you do in class, the book will encourage you to work through complex writing and thinking processes to create rhetorically effective essays. These essays anticipate the kind of writing you will do both in school and beyond because they will give you the chance to practice asking the right questions of your rhetorical situation.


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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