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Nature and Purpose of Writing


This lesson discusses:

1. What is writing?
2. Purposes of writing
3. Types of writing
4. What a writer needs to know

What is writing?

1. Writing is a method of representing language in visual or
tactile form (
2. A system for interpersonal communication using visible
signs or graphic symbols on a flat surface such as paper,
cloth or even stone slabs (Chitravelu,N. , 2005)
3. Written language is simply the graphic representation of
spoken language (Brown, H.D, 2001)
4. Different people may have different definition of writing

What is writing?

What is writing system?

A system of more or less permanent marks used to
represent an utterance in such a way that it can be recovered
more or less exactly without the intervention of the utterer.
(The World's Writing Systems)

A set of visible or tactile signs used to represent units of

language in a systematic way, with the purpose of recording

messages which can be retrieved by everyone who knows the
language in question and the rules by virtue of which its units
are encoded in the writing system.
(The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writings Systems)

What is writing?

Writing system:
Writing systems use sets of symbols to represent the sounds
of speech, and may also have symbols for such things as
punctuation and numerals.
All writing systems use visible signs with the exception of

the raised notation systems used by blind and visually

impaired people, such as Braille and Moon. Hence the need
to include tactile signs in the above definition.

What is writing?

Probably there is no one definition of writing can cover all

the writing systems that exist and have ever existed

(Steven Roger Fischer in A History of Writing)

He suggests a 'complete writing' system should fulfill all

the following criteria:

it must have as its purpose communication;

it must consist of artificial graphic marks on a durable or
electronic surface;
it must use marks that relate conventionally to articulate
speech (the systematic arrangement of significant vocal
sounds) or electronic programming in such a way that
communication is achieved

What is writing?

Writing systems are:

Functional - providing a visual way to represent language
Symbolic - they represent cultures and peoples.

As the most visible items of a language, scripts and

orthographies are 'emotionally loaded', indicating as they do
group loyalties and identities. Rather than being mere
instruments of a practical nature, they are symbolic systems
of great social significance which may, moreover, have
profound effect on the social structure of a speech
(Florian Coulmas in The writing systems of the world)

What is writing?

Writing is like swimming (Brown, H.D, 2001)

Unlike walking and talking, swimming and writing

are culturally specific, learned behaviours.

We learn to swim if there is a body of water and if
someone teaches us
We learn to write if we are a member of a literate
society and usually if someone teaches us.

What is writing?

We see various kinds of writing everyday (newspaper,

adverts, bills, notices, etc) that we sometimes take reading

for granted
We forget that not everyone can write (if not taught, or due
to certain cognitive conditions)
As a teacher we need to:

be very familiar with what writing is all about

know why people write
know what kinds of things they write and for what purpose
know what a writer of different kinds of writing needs in order to
write successfully
know the various stages in the development of writing skills


What are the Purposes of Writing?

Purposes of writing

1. to get things done
2. to inform
3. to persuade
4. to maintain relationships
5. to document occurences, events
6. to record feelings, experiences,
(Chitravelu,N. , 2005)

Purposes of writing

What Makes Writing So Important?

Writing is the primary basis upon which your work, your

learning, and your intellect will be judgedin college, in the

workplace, and in the community.
Writing expresses who you are as a person.
Writing is portable and permanent. It makes your thinking
Writing helps you move easily among facts, inferences, and
opinions without getting confusedand without confusing
your reader.
Writing promotes your ability to pose worthwhile questions.

Purposes of writing

What Makes Writing So Important? (cont)

Writing fosters your ability to explain a complex position to

readers, and to yourself.

Writing helps others give you feedback.
Writing helps you refine your ideas when you give others
Writing requires that you anticipate your readers needs.
Your ability to do so demonstrates your intellectual
flexibility and maturity.
Writing ideas down preserves them so that you can reflect
upon them later.

Purposes of writing

What Makes Writing So Important? (c0nt)

Writing out your ideas permits you to evaluate the adequacy of

your argument.
Writing promotes your ability to pose worthwhile questions.
Writing stimulates you to extend a line of thought beyond your
first impressions or gut responses.
Writing helps you understand how truth is established in a given
Writing equips you with the communication and thinking skills
you need to participate effectively in democracy.
Writing is an essential job skill.
(based upon brochures from Brown University and the University of Missouri)

Types of writing

Writing can be classified in several ways according to functions:

1. Most common in ESL literature, Brittens scheme (James Britten) divides
writing into three:
a. Expressive writing writing what one feels (the writer is as important
as the writing eg: personal letters)
b. Transactional writing information / transaction-oriented (writer
may not be as important than the writing eg: bills, agreement, reports,
schedules, etc)
c. Poetic writing concerns aesthetic aspects of writing (write to derive
or give pleasure)
These three functions may overlap eg: a poem about personal
experiences is both expressive and poetic / descriptive writing can be
both informative and pleasurable
HOWEVER, some writings are bound by conventions and cannot be
changed eg: minutes of meetings, legal documents, etc.

Types of writing

Writing can be classified in several ways according to

functions (cont):
2. Classification of Malaysian educators:
a. Personal informal, less structured, private (eg:
shopping list, diaries, personal letters, messages, etc)
b. Professional / Transactional well organised, pays
attention to message to be conveyed (business letters,
memos, proposals, rules and regulations, etc)
c. Creative Self-expression, leisure (poetry, anecdotes,
jokes, riddles, songs, stories, etc)

Types of writing

Writing is traditionally also classified according to modes. Generally

referred to as:
a. Narration contains sequence of events with characters and setting
(story, science fiction, etc)
b. Description detailed account of physical attributes as well as
qualities of persons, things, places (details of people, places, things,
concepts, etc)
c. Exposition presentation of facts, information and explanation of
things as they are (explanation, factual info, instruction, etc)
d. Persuasion contains writers point of view and statements to
convince the reader to agree with his/her view point (advertisements,
political essays, brochures, etc)
e. Argumentation discussive essay containing a proposition and
evidence of proof ( opinions, discussions, evaluations, etc)

Types of writing

Subcategories of writing:
Argumentative Writing - This form of persuasive writing has a
primary purpose of making a statement that the reader will disagree
with, then supporting the statement with specific details that will
convince the reader of the truth of the statement
Business Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary
purpose of communicating with others in the work place.
Comparison and Contrast Writing - This form of expository
writing has a primary purpose of showing the similarities and
differences between two subjects.
Expressive Writing - This form of creative writing has a primary

purpose of sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings on the topic.

Types of writing

Subcategories of writing (cont):

Informative Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary

purpose of providing information in a clear, concise manner.

Literary Response - This form of expository writing has a primary
purpose of providing a personal reaction to a piece of literature.
Personal Narrative Writing - This form of narrative writing has a
primary purpose of sharing an experience or event from the author's
own life.
Poetry - This form of creative writing has a primary purpose of
imaginatively reflecting on a subject, idea, or event. This is usually done
in stanzas rather than paragraphs
Process Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary
purpose of explaining the steps or procedure of something.

Types of writing

Subcategories of writing (cont):

Reaction Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary

purpose of providing a personal response to something.

Research Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary
purpose of reporting new information that has been learned by
studying available resources.
Technical Writing - This form of expository writing has a primary
purpose of conveying technical information in a simple, no-nonsense


What a writer needs to know


Writing is complex. They involve:

1. Subject matter writer needs to know info about the

topic s/he wants to write about (can be obtained from many

2. Purpose writer must have clear purpose for writing and
this affects the way s/he writes (eg: persuasive, informative,
3. Interaction and a sense of audience writing involves
interaction either with self (diary, etc) or with others
(letters, reports, etc). Interpersonal skills are important
here (consider readers level of language, knowledge, status,
culture, etc)

What a writer needs to know (cont)


4. Language writer needs a repertoire of language adequate for

his/her needs. This means knowing a range of sentence patterns,

words, awareness on of appropriacy of register, stylistic variants
in expressing different ideas, knowledge of English idioms,
discourse (and anything related to it), mechanics of writing, etc
5. Conventions since writing is a social activity, there are
certain conventions (format) to follow. Different purpose of
writing may have different conventions (eg: advert, memo, ticket,
6. Thinking Skills writing is a thinking process. Many thinking
skills are needed selecting what is important, discarding what is
not important, how to logically argues, creativity in making
writing interesting, etc.

What a writer needs to know (cont)


7. Organizational skills include well-formed paragraphs with

clear main ideas and supporting details, logical sequencing,

cohesive devices (eg: logical connectors), etc
8. Value systems writer lives by certain values and holds views
about everything what is important in a subject, what is
beautiful writing, appropriate way to communicate with someone
older/of higher order. All these affect the way of writing.
9. Mechanics handwriting, spelling, layout, punctuation
10. The Writing Process know processes to be a good writer
selecting a topic, getting ideas, drafting, revising, editing, proofreading, publishing, etc


What a writer needs to



In group of three:
1a. Read articles on the history of written language /

Download video clips on the same subject

2a. Collect samples of types of writing and justify the
Compile all of them in your course portfolio
Present and discuss in class


Read and find out more about:

What is writing?
Purposes of writing
Types of writing
What a writer needs to know

Compile them in course portfolio

Read Chitravelu, N. (2005). ELT

Methodolology: Principles and Practice,

Selangor: Fajar Bakti.