Using Research on Writing


Marilyn K. Gillespie
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This article is not a research study, rather a brief literature review of writing research and its applicability to basic skills adults. It is part of a publication focused on writing and adults, and examines mostly the k-12 and college research base, applying it to improving adults' writing. The author provides research background on the differences between novice and experienced writers and highlights the need to focus on the writing process, not a writing formula , e.g. essays for the GED, as this process, according to Halbrook, leaves the learner "shackled to a form that denies the individual the ability to grow and communicate as a writer." The author shares research about the recursive process of plan, generate, and revise, sharing examples of research from cognitive psychology. She explains that adult writers, like younger writers, need to master certain basic skills (spelling and handwriting) to release the working memory for other aspects of writing. Helping the adults to make spelling, etc. automated allows them to focus on more sophisticated tasks. The difference between novice and expert writers is also explored in research in terms of the more simplistic knowledge-telling and more advanced problem-posing/solving in writing. Social aspects of writing are also recognized of how writing can provide voice to adults and empower them in their lives by allowing adult writers to change their beliefs about themselves as learners. In sum, the article shares the recursive nature of writing and that it is not linear, that writing should be encouraged often as part of goals and problem-solving-"as creators of language." Since much of the research on writing is on K-12, future research is needed to substantiate applicability of findings with children to adults.

What the experts say

Writing is an important outcome for adult education programs for employment, completion of the GED, continuing post-secondary education, participation as a citizen, and personal satisfaction. Increasing use of the Internet for all of these purposes increases the importance of writing. In addition, reading and writing are closely connected processes, so writing may support reading development.
One limitation is that the article does not discuss the instructional research that has been done with school-age students except for brief references to the work of Graham and of Berninger. If it is reasonable to apply research on writing processes to adults, it would seem equally reasonable to consider the instruction methods that have been found to be effective.

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