What is the process approach to writing?

elt process writing Aug 26, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Learning English language in an exam-oriented environment, I was unfamiliar with the idea of revising and editing one’s writing. Essays were often written under time constraints and the focus was on producing an essay in one sitting. In this situation, I would stop writing when I reached the required word count.

Another common problem in the teaching of writing is the lack of pre-writing activities. Learners are sometimes asked to write on a topic that they are not familiar with. This means that they may not have the relevant ideas and/or vocabulary. One of the ways to support learners is to have them take notes as they read around a particular topic before drafting their essays.

A holistic view

The process approach to writing consists of four stages (Badger & White, 2000):
1.    pre-writing
2.    drafting
3.    revising
4.    editing

The main purpose of the pre-writing stage is to provide opportunities for learners to brainstorm ideas on and read around an essay topic. At the drafting stage, learners plan their essay structure and organise their ideas. Then, they start to write the first draft of their essays. At the revising stage, they read their first draft and reorganise their ideas, if necessary. An essay may go through multiple revisions. The final stage is editing. At this stage, learners proof-read their essays, focusing on grammar, punctuation and formatting.

Theory and practice

As a strong advocate of awareness raising, I believe that learners should be made aware that well-crafted essays cannot be written in one sitting. Also, teachers can introduce the four stages to learners in the classroom.

Depending on the availability and accessibility of technology, teachers can assign learners to search for information related to an essay topic on the Internet. If there is a lack of time or resources, they can provide learners with relevant reading materials.

Nunan (1991) states that a text is improved by reflection, discussion and reworking successive drafts. However, learners often neglect the revising stage. It is useful for teachers to provide a list of guidelines to help learners revise their own writing or to facilitate peer-review activities. I have included an example of guidelines here for editing (lower intermediate).


Badger, R. & White, G. (2000). A process genre approach to teaching writing. ELT Journal, 54(2), 153-160.

Nunan, D. (1991). English teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers. New York: Prentice Hall.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based independent researcher and an education consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Kris Tan