Writing is applied in essentially every aspect of one’s life. Students are always taught a rhetorical construct that explains the specific steps, and their order, in writing that must be followed in order to write effectively. These steps are known as the writing process. This step-by-step construct of linear writing does not hold, however. Once the students write in college the steps get disorganized and revisited, and the linearity quickly converts into a more recursive configuration. Transitioning from one writing mindset to the other can be stressful, confusing, and upsetting to young writers. A transitional phase from learning the linear process in secondary school to learning a recursive process in post-secondary school is necessary for effective writing development.
There are many different standpoints on what a writing process actually is. The broadest definition, according to the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance’s Institute of Education Sciences, is “the means through which a writer composes text.” The Institute goes further describing that, “components of the writing process include planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, and editing. An additional component, publishing, may be included to develop and share a final product.” These are the organized steps that form the process secondary school teachers have taught young writers for years.
Collegiate constituents choose to define the process in a much different way. In a broad sense, Donald M. Murray defines writing as, “the process of discovery through language.” The more conceptual thinkers in this area define the process as an approach that “recognizes that there are many stages to writing and that these stages are fluid and overlapping.” They further explain, “This method emphasizes the recursive processes of prewriting, drafting, editing, and revising.” (Kamehameha Schools, 2). These definitions provide a more flexible, individualized process.
The trend tends to be that secondary school teachers stick to teaching the more linear fashion of the process while college professors prefer students to engage in the recursive fashion of the process; thus, linear writing is just a construct young writers have adapted to and must modify in order to become successful writers. In other words, a writing process is not a process at all- yet an experience that changes with every writer.
The linear writing process is not improper and it does have supporters. Those who argue for the process typically are the ones that utilize it and praise it for its benefits. Michael Becker wrote that he breaks his process down into the six stages of brainstorming, organizing, outlining, drafting, revising, and proofreading. Becker claims:
Having a process to follow bestows confidence. It helps you know that someone somewhere has been through your situation before and has survived or at least finished her product. The process can give you a direction to go if you’re lost and can reassure you if you’re struggling. (6)
It is because of these particular benefits that secondary teachers implement this method of writing in their classrooms so often. Orlean R. Anderson, a teacher, admits that she has taught linear writing in her classroom for years. She refers to the conversation on linear writing stating that, “structure is good for the kids who aren’t gifted, kids who just don’t know where to start.” (2). The linear version of the process is not outdated. The argument here is not that the linear technique is old-fashioned, yet that it is too much “in” fashion. Though some find the linear process advantageous for certain learners and in certain circumstances, there are other options and many who oppose this version of the writing process.
Opposition to the linear process comes from several areas: professors, students, and even those who teach it. Referring back to Anderson, it is apparent that she recognizes some flaw in teaching linear writing because she claims that, “As teachers, we seem to find comfort in clearly delineated steps, formulas that we can outline and evaluate. Maybe it is this need for control that has led so many of us to mold a messy creative phenomenon into a checklist.” Anderson also explains that by calling it “the” writing process, teachers suggest that it is a process with correct steps that are the same for all writers (2). College professors engage in, and expect their students to engage in, a totally different process. They take the steps that have forever been tied to “the” writing process, and use them in a different order, go back and forth, and rearrange them every time they write in order to clearly express what they need to. The fresher and more applicable process, though derived from the original linear process’s steps, has been successful and praised just as it’s predecessor. This newly improved, more effective process is known as the recursive writing process and it ultimately destroys the construct of linear writing.
The recursive version of the process is essentially an adapted form of the linear process. The same steps are implemented, however they are not in a set order. Once one step is complete, it can be revisited if need be in the future. The Writing Process, published by Capella University, describes the recursive writing process best. It expresses that recursive writing “helps writers produce stronger, more focused work because it highlights connections and allows for movement between research and the phases of writing. Writing does not have to be a one way path.” (3). Recursive writing refers not only to the actual “words-on-paper” procedure, but the production of the whole paper. Writers do not just revise their words, but also their strategies and purpose for writing (Kamehameha Schools, 3). This version of the writing process gains more and more supporters each year, and thus again confirms the construct of linear writing is flawed.
Some may argue that the recursive writing process is too complicated for young writers to comprehend. As discussed previously, the linear process provides a guide for struggling students. Though that argument is understandable, it does not account for students that do not struggle. If those students never get accounted for, they enter college writing with no knowledge of how to write like their professors prefer. Therefore, the students who were limited with the linear writing process in secondary school now become the struggling students in post-secondary school. Basically, opposition to the recursive writing process exists where there is a misunderstand as to why teaching that process is necessary and among the undergraduate students that have been thrust into a new world of writing.