The Psychology of Written Composition

The Psychology of Written Composition

The Psychology of Written Composition

The Psychology of Written Composition

Excerpt

The subject of this book is the mental activities that go into composing written texts. For brevity we will often refer to the subject simply as writing, but the term should not be taken too literally. In this book we are not concerned with the physical act of writing, except insofar as it influences other processes. The mental activities of writing considered in our research are the same kinds of higher mental processes that figure in cognitive research on all aspects of human intelligence. They include goal setting, planning, memory search, problem solving, evaluation, and diagnosis. Writing is, of course, easily recognized as an activity in which a good deal of human intelligence is put to use. Its neglect, until very recently, by cognitive scientists is, however, easy to understand. Cognitive research has been gradually working its way from well-defined to ill-defined problems, from tasks that draw on limited knowledge to tasks that draw on large bodies of knowledge, and from tasks that are easily constrained experimentally to ones that are more susceptible to intentions of the participants. On all of these counts, writing lies far out on the yet-to-be-reached end of the continuum.

Theorizers about the composing process face a difficulty that is not faced by theorizers about even such closely related processes as reading. It is that people will judge your theory against an elaborate set of intuitions of their own, formed from their own experience as writers. Reading, along with many other cognitive processes, tends to go on with little conscious awareness of the process itself. But writers, especially when grappling with a difficult task, tend to be keenly aware of at least certain aspects of what is going on in their minds. This is no accident, we shall argue: Skilled writers need to be able to exert a measure of deliberate control over the process. As a by-product, however, experienced writers tend to have rich intuitive theories, in contrast to which the theoretical propositions emerging from a young science are . . .

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