Dr. Judith M. Newman

About Writing

Writing Is Creating Meaning

The wonderful thing about writing is that, contrary to popular belief, meaning is constructed as a result of writing not something worked out before you begin.

Writing isn't the transcription of pre-existent knowledge; every episode of writing requires an active construction of new meaning.

Purpose & Audience

You may not know the purpose of a particular piece of writing at the outset, although with most technical and business writing you usually have some general purpose as well as a specific or generic audience in mind. Whether you're writing an email or an in-depth technical report or proposal, at some point in the writing process you need to be able to articulate succinctly the purpose of a given piece of writing and you need to think about the assumptions you're making about your audience. As writing proceeds, both purpose and audience will become clearer; by the time you're done you should be able to say what it is you want your readers to understand.

Composing vs Revising / Editing

Composing is a constructing process; it's not transcribing thought that's already in your head.

When you begin, you may have only vague ideas about what you want to say—it's through writing that you sort out your thoughts, flesh them out, and organize them. Only after you've got a rough draft of your writing should you think about correctness: such things as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. That's why writing educators make a distinction between composing and editing—composing involves developing the material to make an argument or presentation; revising and editing are what you do once you have a rough version of what you want to say.

However, the act of writing really does combine all three aspects of the process. You will certainly find yourself revising as you go along—the important thing is to resist the temptation to make correctness your focus too early in the process.

Writing is Messy

Writing is a messy business.

I have notes to myself jotted on scraps of paper, on post-it notes, and on backs of envelopes. When I'm composing I keep paper handy so I can jot down ideas that I'm not sure I want to use or where I might use them. I have piles of reference material all over the desk and sometimes on the floor—I need that information handy so I can refer to something if I need to.

I write all over printouts of text; I save the mess because I never know if something I've thought of might be useful later. When I cut sections from a document, I paste them into an "out-takes" file so I won't regret having lost material.

There are false starts, and I get side-tracked but it's all part of the writing process. By the time I'm done, the document has been checked carefully for spelling, grammar and punctuation. It looks presentable; the mess is no longer visible. It's because the mess isn't visible in final versions that we forget that writing, of necessity, is a messy activity.