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Summary of Composition Theories

First-Order Thinking

  • relinquishing control
  • careless, fast
  • intuitive, creative
  • does not strive for direction
  • heightens intelligence

Second-Order Thinking

  • imposing control
  • careful
  • conscious and directed
  • scrutinize each part
  • tough-mindedly critical

See this post for more on first and second order thinking: The Dangers of Thinking Carefully

Greek and Roman, Five Stages Process

  1. invention
  2. arrangement
  3. style
  4. memory
  5. delivery

Renaissance Ramist Rhetoricians

  • sought a purely objective discourse
  • redefined invention/arrangement as logical matters
  • led to the recent focus solely on the style component

Rohman and Wlecke, Three Stages

  1. pre-writing
  2. writing
  3. editing

Britton and Emig, Three Writing Types

  • poetic—produces literary artifacts
  • expressive/reflexive—exploration of one’s feelings about a subject
  • transactional/extensive—convey information

Writing Across the Curriculum

  • began in Britain in the late 1960’s
  • composing process is idiosyncratic
  • two approaches: journal centered (personal-style) and academic discourse (prioritize academic writing and Standard English)


  • impossible in speech, except as an after-thought
  • cues initiate changes which occur continually throughout the writing of a composition

Flower and Hayes Model

  1. set of thinking processes which writers orchestrate
  2. processes have a hierarchical and embedded organization
  3. composing is a goal-directed thinking process
  4. goals are developed at the beginning, but can change


  • an entire process is embedded within a larger instance of itself
  • like a fractal pattern
  • not linear

Also check out How Students Navigate the Writing Process


Works Cited

Bizzel, Patricia. The Teaching of Writing: Composing Process. University of Chicago Press. 1986.

Elbow, Peter. Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Teaching and Learning. Oxford University Press. 1986.

Flower, Linda and Hayes, John. A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, Illinois. 2003.

Nelson, Kimberly. The Great Conversation (of the Dining Hall): One Student’s Experience of College Level Writing. University of Iowa.

Sommers, Nancy. Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. National Council of Teachers of English. Urbana, Illinois. 2003.