Handbook of Writing Research

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

Chapter 3
Writing Process Theory
A Functional Dynamic Approach

Gert Rijlaarsdam and Huub van den Bergh

In this chapter, we present key elements of a theory of Writing processes based on our observations in the empirical studies we have conducted over the last 10 years. The theoretical framework rests upon two paradigms in cognitive psychology. One paradigm is the Writing process model introduced by Hayes and Flower (1980; see also Hayes's 1996 revisions), which is assumed in this chapter as known. The second paradigm is parallel distributed processing (Rumelhart, McClelland, & the PDP Research Group, 1999). Connecting both paradigms, we propose a functional dynamic system as the basic structure of Writing processes. The empirical data we present have three common features:

1. We adapted a weak novice–good novice paradigm. Much Writing process research has been carried out using an expert novice paradigm. However, experts can be defined in different ways (Torrance, 1996). Experts may excel in some fields of Writing because of their subject and/or genre knowledge. How experts became experts and the dimensions on which they differ from novices are not considered in most analyses. Hence, differences in Writing processes between these extreme groups may have many causes. In order to circumvent this fallacy, just one group should be considered, whether (relatively) novices or experts (In one subject area). In our studies, we investigate the writing process of writers about 15 years old and study the natural variance within this group.

2. Students in our studies wrote two argumentative, documented essays within a peeraudience-oriented contextual frame, while having access to documentation on the topic (clippings from newspapers and journals, tables and figures). Writing time varied from 60 to 103 minutes.

3. Students wrote under think-aloud conditions; protocols were fragmented into cognitive activities, and a jury evaluated the quality of the resulting text written by the student.

During our excursion to reach the final destination (the last section of the chapter), we visit six observation posts that serve as landmarks for a theory in development and can be considered as calibration points for a Writing process theory. In the figure captions, we refer to the original studies.


Observation 1: What Constitutes a Writing Process?

To determine the constituting elements of Writing processes, one may observe processes, and identify and categorize mental activities. One problem is how to define and se

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