Analyzing the Writing Process 

Introduction:

In the research paper, A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing, scholars, Flower and Hayes attempt to quantify and analyze the writing process. To do so, they composed a series of interviews in attempt to figure out which decisions writers make when they write. To test their findings and explore alternatives, I recreated their processes using an English 14 student and studied her approach to writing in depth. Rather than focusing on the entirety of Flower and Hayes’ hypothesis which includes four key points, I am analyzing point one which states “the process of writing is best understood as a set of distinctive thinking processes which writers orchestrate or organize during the act of composing.” I have decided to look at this point closely because my experiments best outline the distinctive thinking processes that writers go through while they are writing. 

Additionally, I will be observing three key components of how writers get their information. Like Flower and Hayes, I will look at:

  1. The task environment: what the writer is asked to do 
  2. The writer’s long-term memory: the information that they know without having to research. 
  3. The writing process: planning, translating, and reviewing. 

Rather than viewing the writing process as a linear process, I will look to see if my subject combines a variety of these writing practices throughout the writing process. 

Methods:

  • Participant Selection: Convenience sampling 
  • To conduct this experiment, just as Flower and Hayes did, I prompted my participants to write an article for Seventeen Magazine. This article is open ended and gives participants freedom to address their audience by telling any story that they think would appeal to an audience that ranges from about 12-17 years old. 
  • The writer was given unlimited time to approach the task as they wanted, however was told that they were not expected to write for more than five minutes. I then analyzed their choices and the time they spent in each stage of the process, including thinking, pre-writing, writing, and editing. 
  • To analyze the writers’ processes, writers were asked to think out loud and explain their writing as they conducted the writing process. This included all brainstorming, corrections, and pauses while contemplating what to write. 
  • While writers were composing, I used my phone to videotape their computer screen while also recording the spoken audio. This way, the verbal dialogue matches up with the typed text on the screen and allows me to follow her thought process. 
  • Finally, I analyzed her writing process by observing the time she spent in each stage of the writing process and how these stages overlapped. 

Results:

Subject’s Final product:  

What went into the final product: 

Planning26 seconds
Translating6 minutes, 31 seconds
Reviewing  1 minute 
Thinking 18 seconds
Total time8 minutes, 15 seconds 

In total, my participant spent eight minutes and fifteen seconds on their article for Seventeen Magazine. In this time, she began with prewriting, started writing, edited along the way, and thought through sentences out loud which showed hesitations and moments of thought. 

Discussion:

Planning:

Though prewriting is often considered an essential stage of the writing process, I observed that my participant only spent 26 seconds out of 8 minutes and 15 seconds prewriting. In this time, she wrote out the prompt at the top with a question mark. This allowed her to focus in on what she was being asked to write. She also identified her audience. She chose to target 17-year-old students. During this stage, she used her long-term memory to identify a topic that would be interesting to this demographic. She knew that 17-year-olds were either juniors or seniors in high school and would be looking toward applying for colleges soon. This knowledge allowed her to create a story that fit the prompt. 

Translating: 

After prewriting, my subject began writing. While writing, she continued to brainstorm and came up with ideas along the way. This demonstrates that the writing process includes planning, translating, and reviewing, and that this process is not linear because it happens throughout writing rather than in sections. My subject used prior knowledge to determine which language to use when addressing the audience. She decided to use phrases that were easy to understand and were targeted at a young audience. She also used past knowledge when writing because she drew her ideas from experience. Rather than creating an abstract article, she wrote about her college decisions, including majors and nervousness. This allowed her to write quickly because she did not have to do external research. It also made the article more personal which is appropriate for the type of article she was prompted to write. 

Reviewing: 

Rather than editing the article at the end, my subject spent the majority of her time editing as she wrote. I found that this interrupted her writing process because she would often pause or say “umm” after fixing a spelling or grammatical error. I counted pauses after spelling and found a correlation. My subject fixed errors five times throughout the article and paused four times immediately after. This demonstrates that focusing on aspects of the writing process that are do not correlate to the prompt interrupts the flow of ideas. At the end she also stopped to think about how she needed to “wrap this up.” Though she had a conclusion, she added a new one that she believed better summed up the article. This should be considered editing her final draft of the paper.  

Conclusion:

When discussing the results of the study, it becomes evident that the writing techniques my subject used to create an article for Seventeen Magazine supports Flower and Hayes’ conclusion that knowledge develops as throughout the writing process. Students tend to spend little time during the prewriting period and tend to use their first draft as a sort of “pre-write.” This allows writers to build off of previous knowledge and develop new questions and ideas that were not available to them prior to starting to write.

It is also essential to look at writing as a process rather than a finished result. From this study, I found that the process was more important than the product because it showcased the writer’s thoughts, consideration of the audience, and rhetorical techniques, all which came together to create an effective final product. I believe that if more emphasis was put on the writing process, students would gain more confidence in their ability because there is no right way to write. This would also take the pressure off of the final product which will never be perfect because writing is always changing and adapting to new circumstances and audiences. 

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