Dr. Judith M. Newman

Writing Paradigms

Two Views of Writing

View 1: Writing As Communicating Information


    Writing as a two step process

  • First—figure out what you want to say
  • Second—put it into language

In essence this model looks like:

  • Figure out what you want to say
  • Don’t start writing until you do
  • Make a plan
  • Use an outline
  • Now begin writing

Writing as communicating information is most commonly represented as


  • Prewriting—organize your thoughts
  • Writing—prepare a draft
  • Revising—organizing the ideas in the draft
  • Editing—correcting grammar, spelling…
  • Publishing—developing a layout for the edited text

However this "communicating" model of writing is backwards

  • Instead of a two-step or five-step translation of meaning into language, writing is an organic, transactional process. You start writing at the very beginning—before you know your meaning at all
  • Only at the end will you know what you want to say and the words you want to use
  • You should expect to end up somewhere different from where you started—meaning is not what you start with but what you end up with
  • Think of writing not as a way to transmit a message but as a way of allowing your meaning to grow and evolve
  • Writing is a dynamic transaction with your thoughts, intentions, and words

View 2: Writing From The Inside Out



  • Preparation – reading, research, conversation, interviews,…
  • Incubation – the mulling around of ideas in the head
  • Articulation – the pen to paper phase of writing: drafting, amending, redrafting


  • We focus on the end in view, shaping the utterance as we write; when a “seam is played out” or we are interrupted, we get started again by reading what we have written, running along tracks we have laid down
  • Writers develop an inner voice capable of “dictating” in the forms of written language
  • We cannot inspect the source of the words or the procedures by which they come; we just let them come, and they arrive—we can only decide whether or not we want to use the words we have generated after they arrive
  • We have no control at the instant of word production, but we have control before and after

    Notice in this metaphor “writing” involves a transaction between drafting, amending, redrafting and that incubation goes on throughout the entire process. What we have is a description of the mental processes of the writer engaged in writing.


  • Writers aren’t outside the process but an integral, interdependent part of it
  • Writing is a process of transactions—
    • We enter into the act
    • We are changed during it, and
    • In turn we change our perceptions of the text being produced

From this perspective, writing consists of ongoing writing episodes, based on both our global and focal intentions—our often vague inner sense of purpose, audience, possible form, and potential meaning.

In this metaphor there is dynamic interplay among reading, collecting, writing, connecting. It puts forth the idea that these activities occur in no particular order and each is affected by development in the others.



  • A writing episode involves physically producing words on paper or screen; it’s an extended act of “transacription” which results in a progressive development of a piece of text
  • Each writing act/episode influences our current thinking—what is written (or revised) becomes new information for us to reflect upon
  • Writing episodes occur intermittently, although our thought is continuous—sometimes words flow, one writing act/episode immediately following another; more usually there are pauses of varying length between episodes because our thought is reorganizing for forthcoming episodes or because of interruptions or distractions
  • Writing is a learning experience—we discover what we “mean” through the act of writing


  • Intentions are the basis upon which a text is formed
  • We have
    • Global intentions—involving the purpose and overall form of a text
    • Focal intentions—about the next word, phrase, sentence to be written
  • None of these intentions is part of the text itself; the text remains to be produced
  • These intentions are not a model of what the text will be like—many aspects of a text may be different from our original intentions
  • We often have no intentions for what a text will be like until particular parts of the text are actually produced
  • All the intentions represent the specification for the text
    • The specification does not set out in detail what a text will be like
    • The specification will be sketchy
    • It includes:
      • Some general expectations or intentions for what the finished text will be like
      • Some guidelines about its form
    • Some parts of the specification may be quite detailed and specific (certain points will be covered ina certain order, even certain words or phrases that will be used)
    • In general, many details (whether something should be explained, how it should be explained) will be left until the actual moment of writing
  • The specification lays out the writer’s “problem”—the emerging text is a solution to the problem if it meets our intentions and expectations
  • The specification is never complete, it often has many blanks
  • The specification must always be flexible; at no point will we know everything about what we are likely to write—
    • We may have general ideas about a particular paragraph, but we can’t find the words or get the sentences ordered satisfactorily
    • Sometimes words flow but take us in directions we don’t intend
    • We must let the words come because they are relevant to the general concerns although we don’t know how to organize of constrain a particular paragraph
  • The specification is not an outline—it does not set out in detail the content and organization of a particular text; the specification for a text sets out the problems a writer has to solve in the process of writing


Composition is not simply a matter of translating a specification into words—the specification itself develops and changes as a text unfolds.