Writing Process Overview
Approaching writing as a process can avoid many of these problems, and many introductory writing courses have taken such an approach to writing. In them, students invent, organize, and write over an extended period, moving back and forth through different stages of the process. Eventually, after a series of revisions, a final draft emerges. While this approach to writing may take time, certain elements can work for writers in business, education, human services, literary studies, and many other professions.
The notion of writing as process can work for many writing contexts. Although these comments are intended for use with the English language and American and Western European cultures, the principles can be applied for written tasks in other languages as well.
Much workplace and academic writing involves completing some sort of communication transaction, often within a limited time span. The job to be completed may be routine—interpreting a literary text, examining the impact of a writer’s life with that writer’s fiction, completing a pre-sentencing investigation, bidding for a contract, describing the diagnoses of patients in a hospital, answering a customer inquiry about an order. Often, even if the specific situation isn't one you've encountered before, simple literary analysis , using information gained in class and lectures, or on-the-job experience will provide all the necessary background.
Evidence suggests that, faced with the realities of such academic or workplace communication, effective writers move through a linear sequence rather than through the series of communication "loops" often associated with the writing process. But these writers do go through a clear writing process, and they characteristically spend more time on the other stages of that writing process than they spend generating the actual draft that others will see.
Most writers may go through the same operations. But the successful ones control that sequence. As a result, written communication becomes less threatening, and the messages produced do the job the first time. Awareness of what happens during the process of writing can help lead to that control.
The PASS System for Writing
The characteristic stages of writing involve four major activities:
Preparing to convey information
Arranging your ideas so that a reader can follow them
Saying what you wish in conventional written prose
Shaping that prose for clarity, correctness, and effect
The acronym PASS provides a convenient reminder of these stages of the writing process (described in table 1). Remembering the four stages and consciously working with each separately can make writing easier and more productive than trying to generate a completed written product in a single (often overwhelming) operation.
TABLE 1: STAGES OF THE PASS SYSTEM
Think through situation read texts carefully
Respond/react to message received or the writing task; read texts carefully
Review previous similar situations on file
Decide upon purpose/goals
Decide on persona/audience
Assess difficulty of communication situation
Match preparation to time available
Use formal invention strategies
Decide if you need to do research; if necessary, do that research (primary/secondary)
Consider familiar strategies (including files)
Organize from lists; try informal strategies like numbering the order of the ideas in the lists
Develop trees, grids, organizing diagrams, etc.
Develop subtopics, support
Select/delete the information you’ll use.
Check content against goals
Develop graphics, documentation
Revise for appropriate style
Revise for appropriate tone
Revise for suitable diction and syntax
Edit for correctness, grammar, mechanics, and usage, and correct translation aspects
Edit for conciseness
Adopt appropriate formats
Meet any special requirements (e.g., seminar paper policies and research practices)
Movement back and forth between the different stages--especially adjacent ones--characterizes much writing. Still, evidence suggests that writers in business and the professions tend to complete one stage at a time. If a piece of writing involves several sections, of course, each section can go through the stages of the process separately. During the final shaping, the entire message or report emerges. At this point, various features of word processing programs (such as the red and green underlines of Microsoft Word) can alert you to possible problems.
Each stage also involves a variety of specific operations. A controlled composing process includes using these operations in any number of sequences within a given stage of the writing process. Different people use different operations within each stage. As you become a more confident writer, you may decide to modify the approaches suggested in table 1 to reflect your own writing habits. If you encounter a problem as you go through the writing process, very often you can move back to the previous stage and find a step that will solve the problem without your having to rewrite the entire document.
Since the specific concerns are smaller with a process approach, writing becomes less formidable. Separating invention and thinking about the writing task, then organizing those ideas, next writing a draft, and then finally revising the draft and doing needed proofreading allows you to control the writing process. In some cases, you may find that adding headings can clarify organization or that analysis and careful reading may make research unnecessary. For all but the simplest tasks, approaching writing as a process can save needless work and generate a document—the product of this process—that does its job effectively.