Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL)




For more than a decade, the field of composition has been studying writing as a process. More specifically, process studies are expressed in terms of cognitive psychology, the social science most prepared in the early seventies to focus on individual writers as they wrote. On the one hand, studies of writers' cognitive processes have shown the value of attending not only to what people write, but also to how they go about doing so. Such research, for instance, has made it possible to imagine writing as a moment to moment affair, during which writers shift their attention from one cognitive activity to another, moving back and forth between what they've already written to what they're writing. On the other hand, exclusive attention to writers' cognitive activities ignores the fact that writing can also be thought about and studied as a social process. While an ethnographic perspective in no way discounts the importance of studying writing as cognition, it does raise questions about those studies of writers' cognitive processes which systematically decontextualize writers from the circumstances of writing. In fact, contextualized research argues that cognition cannot be isolated as autonomous activity, for what people think about and how they think is profoundly influenced by the situations in which they find themselves.