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Express Publishing (ELT) Teachers' Corner - "Writing"

What have you written lately? Why did you write it? Who did you write it for?

Today I have text messaged, written e-mails to friends and to book a holiday, made notes for this article, stuck a “to do” list using post it notes on the computer monitor, scribbled down a name and telephone number on a scrap of paper, noted a soup recipe someone gave me over the phone, corrected and commented on students’ compositions, made up a humourous (I hope) poem for a friend going into hospital for an operation and written various things on a whiteboard during lessons. Plus, now I’m writing this.

Each of the above pieces of writing is different in purpose. Perhaps I’m trying to entertain, inform, persuade or remind. The readership varies too. I may be the only one to read what I’ve written, I may have a specific reader in mind or the readership may be unknown. Such variables influence the form or style my writing takes. Those written to myself are not necessarily very cohesive or coherent texts, whereas those intended for others have to be more so to get the message across. The important thing is that the writing fulfils the task – it does what I need it to do effectively. The dictated recipe has no complete sentences, not even many complete words, yet I hope to be able to follow it well enough to provide me with something edible tonight. The text you are reading now, on the other hand, has to employ graphical resources (spelling and punctuation) as well as rhetorical resources (logical, grammatical and lexical devices) for you to get the message.

My writing ranges from the strictly limited tasks of noting down the telephone number and filling in the on-line holiday booking form to the open task of writing the poem. But even here I gave myself the boundaries of writing in a certain poetic form with a particular rhythm and rhyme scheme. You would understand the poem, but you might be rather lost with my e-mail to my sister. Here’s part of it:

Oops! Sorry about that. Should have remembered. But she’s quite doolally, so probably didn’t remember herself. Anyway, her fave flowers on the way. Interflora. Should arrive tomorrow. Complete: What is “wasteful and ridiculous excess”? “To……….refined gold, to ………..the lily. ”Which play?

Most guides to how to write suggest a three stage process of assembling, creating and editing. In the classroom, students are given a topic and encouraged to brainstorm around it, list vocabulary and points to include, draft and revise their product. I did none of those things when writing my e-mail. You were not the intended recipient. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to write before I started. In that, it is like most speech. You form your thoughts as you say them in a particular situation to a specific audience. My sister knows who and what I’m referring to.

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