Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. MacArthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
New Directions in Writing Theory
John R. HayesOver the last quarter of a century, Writing researchers in Europe and America have been making fairly steady progress in improving our understanding of the cognitive and social processes involved in Writing. New theoretical proposals have stimulated empirical studies, and new empirical findings have led to the reformulation and improvement of theories.In this chapter, I have chosen to examine three quite different but interesting research initiatives that are shaping the evolution of Writing theory today. I could have chosen many, but these are the three I found most intriguing:
Research on the role of working memory in Writing
Studies of the efficacy of freewriting
Proposals to use activity theory as a framework for understanding the context of Writing

There is no underlying theme that unifies these three lines of research except for their potential for expanding our understanding of Writing. Working memory is essential for the functioning of the cognitive processes involved in Writing. Studies of freewriting may tell us how to use Writing to improve thinking. Activity theory may help to make sense of the complex social and environmental factors that influence Writing. These topics are being pursued by different research communities in different parts of the world. Research on working memory in Writing is being carried out by psychologists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Studies of freewriting, which started in English departments in the United States, are currently being carried out psychologists in the United Kingdom. Proposals for applying activity theory to Writing are being most actively discussed in English departments in North America. What I present is a snapshot of these three lines of research, with some suggestions about where they may be heading.


Research on the Role of Working Memory in Writing

Anyone who has composed a brilliant sentence and then forgotten the end of it before it could be committed to paper has experienced one of the problems that limited memory creates for writers. In this section, I discuss research on the multiple roles that working memory can play in Writing. Psychologists introduced the concept of working memory to describe the limitations that we experience in performing a variety of tasks that require memory. For example, we are very likely to run out of memory resources when we are asked to remember a list of 10 items or to multiply two three-digit numbers without the aid of pencil and paper.

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