In case you educate college students only one factor about writing –

(Arguably) The most important step of the writing process

from Terry Heik

If you’re only teaching your students one thing about writing, you could be doing worse than teaching them how to prescribe effectively.

Of course there is more to it than that. The writing process is a sequence of goals (also with their own purpose), each with its own application, usefulness and nuance.

Clarifying the purpose of a piece of writing—what it is intended to achieve—is probably the start of most writing, whether it’s a classroom assignment or something in the “real world.” And it all starts with effective pre-writing.

The purpose of writing

Years ago I was 150 pages busy writing a book when I realized the content wasn’t exactly what I intended. I wrote for myself and not for the reader. It took me six months to fix a bug that could have been avoided with a few days of prep work. I was so eager to write that at first I was only a hair off my intended purpose and a few chapters later I was completely off course.

As a teacher, I often read beautifully written essays by students who had completely missed the point of the assignment, which was fine because it showed me what that student needed – more effective prescribing – while they had already effectively finished a draft.

I explained it to the students by imagining someone painting a house and they did a great job. It was a beautiful shade of lavender, exquisitely painted – but the homeowner had asked for blue. I would tell them the writing was strong but imprecise.

In other cases, on items testing the expanded response, the students again had a very well-written answer that incorrectly answered the “question” (or responded to the prompt) or not the prompt itself but something close to the prompt , responded.

See also 10 metacognitive prompts to help students reflect on their learning

The purpose of the writer

What is the difference between Writer’s Purpose and Author’s Purpose?

A writer’s purpose is the main reason he or she writes – usually a student in a classroom, but the term really could apply to any writer. (Although one could argue that these terms are identical, the connotation of “author’s purpose” has more to do with the analysis and scrutiny of an actual author’s writing, while the “authors” develop writers as students. We’ll explore what Educators typically do in another post labeled “author’s purpose.”)

Some questions to clarify an author’s purpose (or the purpose of the writing product itself) might be:

Why are you writing?

What message do you want to convey? If readers don’t understand otherwise, what’s the one thing you need to take away from your reading?

What effect is the Scripture intended to “cause” or produce?

What should the writing product do? How will you know if it’s successful or not?

If the purpose is not achieved, what is at stake?

How might the purpose and audience inform the genre, structure, and other elements of the writing so it’s more likely to achieve its purpose?

The purpose is of course closely related to the audience: who are you writing for? Who wants or needs to know the information/ideas in writing? Who would benefit?

See also 25 ways schools can encourage literacy and independent readers

The writing audience

An equally important step in the writing process is establishing a clear audience — who wants or needs or would benefit from the information or ideas contained in the writing. Audience and purpose together form the basis of classroom writing—ideally, writing that leaves that classroom to serve authentic purpose to an authentic audience. That too is mandatory.

So what is the “most important step” of the writing process? This is of course subjective and depends on grade level, purpose of writing, experience and skill of a particular student/writer, etc. But prescribing it as a concept or definition is easy—anything the writer does to prepare for writing. Drawing without this preparation will not bring success to students.

Ask them if they would drive across the country without a map or try to make a complicated dish without a recipe. These types of rhetorical questions can underscore the critical importance of effective pre-writing. And note that these must be pre-writings that the student understands and believes in– pre-writings that they can rely on to guide them, and not cursory research and vague, imprecise outlines that can only be conveyed through the movements go.

Good pre-writing provides the writer with everything they need to successfully achieve their goal. It can also save a lot of time to revise work that missed the mark in a critical way.

And that makes it as important as every step of the writing process.

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