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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models

Author(s): Michael A. Pemberton

Source: College Composition and Communication, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), pp. 40-58
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
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Modeling Theory and Composing
Process Models

Michael A. Pemberton

In 1914, near the beginning of World War I, French philosopher Pierre D

expressed a profound disdain for scientists who used models as conceptua
In Duhem's view, models were a kind of mental "crutch," needed only by th
poor souls who were burdened with an "English mind"-a mind tha
careless, unexacting, and unable to manage complex systems of abstract
sentation. The "French mind," on the other hand, which was characteriz
"straitness," "clarity," and "method," did not require the clumsy simplificat
provided by models in order to apprehend reality (68-73). Intricate for
were its daily fare, if not its raison d'ttre. This ability of the French m
handle complex representational systems without the assistance of mech
or graphic aids was, to Duhem's way of thinking, not only a requisite fo
scientific thought but also another clear testament to the superiority o
French race over that of the English.
Duhem's argument, developed in The Aim and Structure ofPhysical Theory
interesting for a variety of reasons, not merely because it manages to comb
scientific philosophy with a rather quaint form of Frankish nationalism
also noteworthy for the contrast it provides to current critiques of wr
process models and their underlying epistemologies. To Duhem, meani
understanding was intimately linked to scientific rigor, mathematical e
tude, and representational precision; since models were simplifications,
descriptions were unreliable and their utility questionable at best. In
when positivism had not yet been supplanted as the dominant ideology g
scientific inquiry, Duhem criticized models for their failure to be posit
enough. To a number of present-day composition scholars such as Pat
Bizzell, Marilyn Cooper and Michael Holzman ("Talking," "Reply"), and
liam Irmscher, this view of models-in light of poststructuralist epistem
and reflexive methodological criticism-seems naive, a relic of a past age
"scientific" subjectivism masked itself as objectivity. In their critiques of co
tive writing process models, notably those models offered by John Hay
Linda Flower ("Identifying," "Writing"), Robert de Beaugrande, and Ma
Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter, these scholars suggest that the epistemo

Michael A. Pemberton is an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois-U

Champaign, where he also serves as Director of the Writers' Workshop and Associate Dir
the Center for Writing Studies. He and Sharon L. Quiroz are currently working to establish
journal devoted to issues in Writing across the Curriculum.

40 College Composition and Communication, Vol. 44, No. 1, February

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 41

assumptions embraced by cognitivists are far too positivistic. Cogniti

models, they argue, are too specific and too bound by the cogniti
in their purported descriptions of composing processes. By oversp
components of writing activities and showing a needless concern f
pattern upon some aspects of text production, these models are i
seriously falsifying the inherent complexities of writing behavior.
Questions about models and modeling ultimately strike at the h
purpose in studying composing processes. Presumably, part of t
mission in composition studies is descriptive-in order to teach wr
tively, we must know as much as possible about how people write
know how people write, we must observe them writing under a
conditions and describe what we observe them doing. Unless we ar
maintain that all writers approach writing tasks idiosyncratically
believe that there are certain commonalities among writers, and
commonalities, we should be able to represent or model them in some
what can be said about these models? How useful are they? Wha
meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them? Are these models l
so specific and paradigm-bound that they will falsify the rich matrix
ences that are brought to writing situations by individual writ
composition specialists assert), or, conversely, are they likely to be so
amorphous that they prove to have only limited practical applic
Duhem implies)?
These are significant questions for composition researchers, and th
a general tendency-indicative of composition's maturity as a speci
inquiry-to philosophize about the goals, directions, and methodol
field. A number of writing specialists have recently begun to address
logical concerns and struggle with the difficult issue of how kno
composing processes should be investigated and represented. Max
and Robert Connors, for example, have each addressed questions
influence of paradigms in composition studies, trying to establish, in
case, the nature of the paradigm shift composition studies has underg
the 1970s, and in the second case, whether composition studies can ev
to have a paradigm at all. Both Karen Schriver and Linda Flower h
the role of empiricalscholarship in our understanding of writing pro
as the contribution such scholarship makes to the process of theory-b
composition research. These discussions are further enhanced by
debate in composition's professional literature over how writing resea
be taxonomized (North; Faigley; Berlin) and what the richest and least
atic method for collecting and analyzing data about writing processes
These debates, it is interesting to note, are strikingly similar to d
methodology and representation in current anthropological resea
Marcus and Fischer; Geertz; Crapanzano; Rosaldo).
Comparatively little attention has been paid, however, to the issue
ing in composition studies, despite its central role in the interp

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42 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

research data and the sheer number of models which exist to describe writing
behaviors. The explicit cognitive models proposed by Hayes and Flower, John
Gould, Charles Cooper and Ann Matsuhashi, Beaugrande, and Scardamalia and
Bereiter as well as the implicit expressive and social-constructionist models
offered by Peter Elbow, Alice Brand (Psychology), Charles Bazerman, and Ken-
neth Bruffee at once point out the variety of composing process models avail-
able and underscore the increasingly urgent need to articulate and comprehend
the epistemology of model-building or "formalist" inquiry, as it is called by
Stephen North. Before we can accurately interpret, evaluate, or employ any
model of composing processes-or fully understand how several such models
can coexist-we must be thoroughly informed with the knowledge of exactly
what a model is, how it can be used effectively, and what its limitations are. My
purpose in this article is, therefore, to broaden the discussion of epistemology
in composition studies by connecting it to research in the branch of scientific
philosophy known as modeling theory. In doing so, I will suggest some of the
important implications modeling theory has for composition studies, and also
provide a context for discovering what it means to construct models of writing

Models as Conceptual Frameworks

The use of representational models as tools in scientific inquiry has become so

widely practiced it can be considered a commonplace of empirical methodology.
It is now a matter of established routine for molecular biologists to construct
models of cellular processes, for structural engineers to build scale models and
prototypes, and for social scientists to generate models of phenomena such as
learning behavior and cultural development. As research in composition studies
has become increasingly theoretical, it has tended to adopt both the aims and
the methodologies of the social sciences. Writers are studied under a variety of
experimental conditions and circumstances, data are collected and analyzed in
various ways, and researchers search for regularities which will allow them to
generalize about the ways writers compose texts. By observing and describing
these regularities, by seeing how one set of patterns or behaviors interacts with
others, a researcher works to develop a general, comprehensive description of
the entire complex system of composing processes-in other words, a model.
But determining the specific features that constitute a "model" is more
complex and problematic than it may, at first, appear. Models are conceptual
frameworks which allow us to interpret, structure, and comprehend our environ-
ment. They assist us in making sense of the flood of sensory data we receive
every waking moment from the world around us, and they help us to system-
atize that world by revealing its underlying patterns and regularities. Yet philos-
ophers of science such as Richard Braithwaite and Patrick Suppes have
demonstrated how difficult it is to move beyond this rather vague characteriza-

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 43

tion and differentiate models from other related conceptual fr

precise and unambiguous ways. Conceptual frameworks can range
diate, localized observations to global, highly abstracted systems of
many possible gradations in between. They fall, as it were, along
whose divisions-into components we label "data," "models," "th
"paradigms"-are socially-determined constructs based upon an ar
tion of characterizing features. This continuum is illustrated in Figu

Local - L Global
Data -------Models -------Theories -------Paradigms
Figure 1. Conceptual Frameworks

Though this diagram is clearly a simplification of the relationships which

hold among dynamic representational systems, it helps to illustrate three crucial
features of this dynamic: hierarchy, interdependency, and contiguity. To begin
with, knowledge representation is largely hierarchical in nature, becoming in
creasingly more generalized and abstract the further removed it is from th
particulars of observational data. A model, for example, will attempt to describe
a select assortment of data by suggesting an underlying pattern; a more general
theory will characterize the operations and predictions of several illustrativ
models; and a paradigm will-theoretically-encompass all the theories, mod-
els, data, and methodologies that are jointly held by a given interpretive com
Further, we can observe that each of these conceptual frameworks is depen-
dent upon the others in the continuum for its specific meaning and application.
In other words, our understanding of a particular model is dependent upon the
data used to form it, the theory used to explain it, and the paradigm which
provides its general context. Our ability to interpret the Flower and Hayes
model of composing processes, for example, depends upon our understanding
of protocol data, theories of problem-solving, and the general tenets of the
cognitive paradigm. The interdependence of these conceptual frameworks is
reciprocal, operating in both a "bottom-up" and "top-down" fashion. Just as
theories are ultimately dependent on the data used to form them, the strategies
we use to interpret data are also determined by the theories we accept as "valid"
(Schriver; Flower; Goetz and LeCompte).
Finally-and perhaps most importantly-Figure 1 suggests that each of these
conceptual frameworks is contiguous with its "neighbors," sharing boundaries
that are loosely as well as arbitrarily defined. Because conceptual frameworks are
so thoroughly interdependent, the divisions between them are often blurred,
leaving it unclear, especially in boundary or transitional cases, whether a given
framework deserves to be called a "collection of data," a "model," or a full-
fledged "theory." Under some circumstances, more than one of these terms may

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44 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

be equally appropriate (Suppes 15). Modeling theorist Peter Achinstein ob

serves, for instance, that "[it] is sometimes, though not always, true that what
is called a model is also called a theory" (103).2
This terminological ambiguity is clearly evident in composition discours
and some of the best examples can be found in discussions which center
Flower and Hayes's cognitive processing model. In an early critique of th
model's original, unelaborated form, Cooper and Holzman ("Talking") tend
blur the meanings of these two terms, saying at one point that they intend to
discuss "the troublesome problems with [Flower and Hayes's] theory" (284)
focusing their commentary instead on difficulties with the model. A later elab-
oration of their arguments ("Reply") further confuses the distinctions between
these two conceptual systems, notably when they refer to such matters as "the
importance... of strictly defining a theory that would clearly model the pr
cesses being studied" (98, emphasis mine). Flower and Hayes also contribute
this confusion with statements that obscure rather than distinguish clearl
among the conceptual frameworks they employ: "Finally, a cognitive proc
model of the sort presented here is both a theory and a distillation of dat
(Flower et al. 21, emphasis mine).
It is not my intent to suggest that the writers who use these terms ar
confused or are applying the terms haphazardly. If anything, they prove t
truth of Achinstein's claim that several terms may be equally appropriate
characterize the nature of some representations. But it seems clear that they al
problematize any sense of what is meant-in concrete and specific terms-
the use of the word "model" in their texts. This elusive and frequently shifting
notion of what constitutes a "model" in composition studies argues for a clearer
definition of the term, and it is here that modeling theory can provide us with
a point of entry as well as some possible answers.

What Constitutes a Model?

What constitutes a model is as subject to debate as what constitutes a paradigm

or a theory. Philosophers of science and modeling theorists continue to explore
the precise relationship between these conceptual frameworks (notably in th
journal Synthese), often developing extended arguments which rely upon com
plex mathematical equations and symbolic logic. Besides being nearly inacces
sible to readers not already conversant with the terms of the ongoing dialogue,
these articles are frequently concerned with specialized aspects of modelin
theory, not general overviews. In this respect, some of the earliest contributors
to this field-Hesse, Harre, Bunge, and Apostel-remain the most accessible
and informative to those of us who are not, strictly speaking, logicians or
mathematicians. Apostel (126-27) and Hesse (9), for example, give models a
functional definition, claiming they serve as an important link between theory
and observation. Theoretical concepts may be so far removed from the world of

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 45

observation and experience, say these writers, that a model is ne

explicit the connections that exist between them. In this way, m
to provide "possibility" proofs, demonstrating (or failing to d
the results predicted by a given theory can actually exist withou
any known "laws."
Rom Harre is somewhat more analytical in his approach, de
distinct senses in which the term "model" is commonly used
this assortment of variant models, Harre employs a distinctio
useful to consider here. Models, he says, can be broadly classified
in which their subjects relate to their sources: "The subject [o
course, whatever it is that the model represents: that it is a mod
for .... The source is whatever it is the model is based upon
words, the subject of a model is that object or phenomenon or pr
being modeled (such as "composition" or one of its perceived c
prewriting, planning, transcription, or revision); the source o
rather general sense, the medium or analogous system on wh
based (cognitive psychology, mathematical formulae, comput
theories of social action, etc.). In this respect, Harre's term "s
equivalent to Kuhn's use of the term "preferred analogy" (see
The terms "subject" and "source" can therefore be used to
nature of the modeling relationship. We can assert, for instance,
we wish to model-be it a tangible artifact or an intangible pr
set of properties whose precise number is bounded, in part, b
perceive and identify them. The paradigm we use to investiga
the representational medium we use to model it-the source-w
own collection of properties, independent of those which exi
Insofar as some of the source's properties are analogous or eq
erties in the subject, then we can say that the source serves as a
subject. In the case of writing process models, for example, w
properties such as recursivity, causality, long-term memory
plans as important features of writing behavior. Since these
common to the problem-solving behaviors studied by cogniti
we can employ cognitivist assumptions and representational f
writing as a cognitive process.
Yet there are clear dangers associated with using such models,
for that matter. For one thing, models will always be partial isom
subjects. In other words, they will be similar in form to th
embody fewer of their subjects' constituent properties. Since no
ogy-or "borrowed theoretical construct," to use Stotsky's ter
a complete and comprehensive one-to-one mapping from sub
will always be possible to find certain properties in the subjec
will not account for. In addition, the model itself-or more pr
the preferred analogy which is used to shape the model-will e
of intrinsic properties that do not properly belong to the subjec

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46 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

In this respect, models will carry false information about their subjects and ma
therefore, unintentionally mislead researchers who try to make inferences fro
the model.

To see what this means in concrete terms, imagine, for example, a model of
the solar system that uses gears and pulleys to simulate the rotation of planets
on their axes as well as their movement around the sun. A model of this sort
will likely share a number of features with the actual solar system, among them
relative planetary size, relative location of the planets with respect to the sun,
and relative orbital periods. These shared features form the basis upon which we
can use a mechanical construct as a model of the solar system. Yet the solar
system has many additional features such as asteroids, comets, and manmade
satellites which will probably not appear in the model, while the model itsel
will likely have such features as gears, pulleys, chains, and an abundance of
plaster of Paris, which are not, in turn, constituent features of the solar system.
I use this illustrative example guardedly, and at the risk of reinforcing the
misconception that all writing process models are, at the heart, mechanistic. To
believe so would misconstrue the point I make about all attempts to describe
and represent writing processes. Clearly, the act of composing is a more complex
and problematic phenomenon than the more easily modeled motion of planets
around the sun. Nevertheless, the representational principles and concomitant
weaknesses inherent in descriptions of writing processes remain the same, re-
gardless of whether researchers prefer to engage in the "deep description" of
ethnographic research and case studies or the more overt modeling which results
from cognitive approaches. Certain features are distinguished, represented, and
characterized in relation to one another; other features are not.
Each of these epistemological weaknesses-one in which the source lacks
some properties that the subject entails (simplification) and the other in which
the source has properties that the subject does not (misrepresentation)-is
inherent to the modeling relationship and suggests a line of argument which can
be used to critique any model we might propose to represent any given subject.
The value of such critiques-when taken in context-should be immediately
apparent. They force us to admit that models are imperfect representations; they
are limited by their paradigmatic assumptions and are subject to constant
revision, reconsideration, and elaboration. The purpose of a model (and of the
very act of modeling) is to provide a starting point for our understanding,
simple, logical framework for guiding future research and interpreting experi-
mental data. Models are not intended to be thought of as anything more than
potential and reasonable explanations for observational data, explanations that
will either succeed or fail when subjected to further testing and careful research.
We must be careful, therefore, to guard against the urge to dismiss, pre-
emptively, the value of a model merely because it contains imperfections. Such
a tendency, reminiscent of Duhem's views, is unreasonable and shortsighted, yet
it nevertheless remains a practice that is subtly encouraged by some of th
common argumentative strategies we employ in our professional discourse. In

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 47

order to argue the strengths of our own models or paradigms, w

pains to point out the flaws and limitations in others, usually fa
that our criticisms may just as easily be turned against us. T
refutational strategies is commonplace in discussions of writing
and, unsurprisingly, they most often center on the issues of sim
misrepresentation. I can best illustrate the prevalence of th
approaches toward composing process models by focusing on h
on a single paradigm-in this case cognitive psychology-but s
could as easily be made of writing process models which dr
paradigms as well.

Models as Simplifications

Critiques which point out the simplifications inherent in cog

as frequent as they are enduring. Two representative examples f
and twenty-two years ago, respectively, should indicate the age a
of such critiques in our field. As early as 1958, a workshop
Communication" (reported in that year's October issue of Col
and Communication) found that the information theory m
describe writing behaviors was "too mechanistic," though the
committee believed that it did have some desirable properties
exploring (170). In "The Problem of Problem Solving," publish
Berthoff responds to Janice Lauer's argument in favor of co
research by claiming, among other things, that such approaches
istic and give short shrift to the social contexts of which writin
More recent considerations of cognitive models have also ca
their limitations and their tendency to overlook or ignore impor
composing. Writing in 1983, Carol Berkenkotter and Donald Mur
to the difficulty cognitive models have in representing affective
quately, a difficulty which is discussed in some detail by S
"Some Thoughts about Feelings: The Affective Domain and th
cess" and Alice Brand in "The Why of Cognition: Emotion a
Process." Cooper and Holzman ("Talking") also refer to the s
inherent in Flower and Hayes's description of writing processes,
strongly-though with questionable logic-that cognitive mod
count for the full range of activities that writers engage in as t
their writing.4
Most recently, in his 1990 article "The Idea of Expertise,"
points out that cognitive studies are intentionally reductive and
of their epistemology is, in truth, their greatest strength. The
mology, he argues, is grounded in the search for universal
knowledge about writing and writing processes. As such, its find
cannot be expressed in non-reductive terms. Carter juxtaposes th

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48 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

against that of the social constructionists, whose interests lie in the domain of
"local" knowledge and the detailed characterization of specific situational con-
texts. Because socially oriented writing researchers valorize local, highly-contex-
tualized descriptions of individual writers and writing situations, they are
frequently among the most prominent critics of cognitive methodologies and
models (265-66).
Cognitivist researchers are generally well aware of the restrictions their para-
digm and its accompanying epistemology impose. Mike Rose, known in part for
his descriptions of the cognitive factors which contribute to writer's block, refers
specifically to the dangers of "cognitive reductionism" in studying remedial
writers. Similarly, Flower has begun to address in concrete terms the limitations
of her model as well as the limitations which are natural to any model which is
"theory-based." Referring to cognitive theory as a "partial position" for the
study of writing behaviors, she says that

[although] the Hayes/Flower cognitive process model... suggests key

places where social and contextual knowledge operate within a cognitive
framework, that early research did little more than specify that the "task
environment" was an important element in the process; it failed to
account for how the situation in which the writer operates might shape
composing.... (283)
Recognizing the limitations which arise as a part of model construction and
making those limitations explicit are useful and epistemologically necessary
steps for the subsequent act of deriving reliable conclusions. Such limitations,
however, do not necessarily preclude a model from attaining the status of a
theory-a status which Flower and Hayes, in fact, argue their model merits. All
conceptual frameworks, including theories and models, simplify reality through
inclusion and exclusion. The moment we decide what we want to investigate
and how we want to conduct our research, we automatically delimit our field of
inquiry and define its boundaries. The research paradigm we choose to adopt
will invariably restrict our vision, limiting not only the things we can observe
but also the very questions we can ask about our subject, a fact which scientific
"relativists" are quick to point out (Laudan).

Models as Misleading Representations

The second epistemological weakness suggested by the modeling relationship is

the likelihood that models may misrepresent the processes they intend to de-
scribe. Since any model of writing processes will embody properties which do
not accurately characterize or belong to the set of behaviors we would normally
call "writing activities," a degree of risk will always be present when researchers
try to draw conclusions or make inferences from the model. This risk derives,
principally, from the possibility that incidental properties of the illustrative
model or preferred analogy may be mistakenly attributed to the process or

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 49

phenomenon it is being used to explain. Let me illustrate this p

applying it to the model of the solar system I described earlier. Since
uses the preferred analogy of mechanical action to substitute for
and centripetal forces, it is possible to assume that people who know
the true driving mechanism of planetary orbits might conclude that
ments of the planets really are controlled by gears and pulleys, m
contemporaries of Galileo believed that the planets were kept in o
motive force of God's angels. Without explicit rules of interpretat
their use of the model and indicate which of its features are a part of
subject and which are not, these people would be unable to draw
conclusions about the solar system by using the model.5
In the case of writing process models, this danger of mistaken
intensified because a complex collection of processes (such as thos
writing behaviors) can often be modeled using a wide variety o
"preferred analogies." In Max Black's words:
The remarkable fact that the same pattern of relationships, the same
ture, can be embodied in an endless variety of different media ma
powerful and a dangerous thing of [models]. The risks of fallacious
ence from inevitable irrelevancies and distortions in the model are now
present in aggravated measure. (223)

Such dangers are clearly evident in (though by no means exclusive to) cognitive
writing process models, and composition journals abound with critiques which
refer to this particular epistemological weakness. In general, the arguments may
take two forms: (1) the terminology used to describe the models may lead to
faulty conclusions about the writing process, and (2) the "preferred analogy"
used to construct the model may carry epistemological assumptions which do
not accurately characterize writing behaviors. The first argument is perhaps the
easiest to exemplify. Consider the well-known diagram of the Flower and Hayes
composing process model.
Figure 2 is the representation Flower and Hayes offer to characterize major
components of the composing process. Since 1980, when this representation
was first offered, Flower and Hayes have elaborated extensively on many of the
model's features, particularly in the areas of PLANNING and REVISING, but
as an overview of their perceptions about the components of the writing process,
this diagram is reasonably accurate. (As a side note, I should point out that
although this model has a graphic representation, a diagram is not a requisite
for something to be considered a model. A model may be presented, for
example, in purely textual form.) In addition to the TASK ENVIRONMENT
(everything "outside the writer" which influences the development of a written
text) and the writer's LONG TERM MEMORY are the actual WRITING
ING. Each of these major components and processes is separated from the
others by closed boxes with descriptive names, the graphic representation sug-
gesting that these aspects of the composing situation can each be considered in

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50 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)




Exigency SO FAR




Audience, "
and Writing


Figure 2. The Flower and Hayes Process Model of Composing (From Flower and H
"Cognitive," p. 370)

isolation and that their activities can be described accurately by the terms
are used to label the boxes.

Several critics of this model observe the dangers which underlie these as-
sumptions. North, for instance, takes issue with the use of terms such as
"GENERATING" and "PLANNING" to describe the broad range of activities
which writers are observed to engage in at various stages of their writing process.
Not only do these categories tend to conflate a wide variety of discrete activities
whose similarities have not yet been conclusively demonstrated, but the term
used to label the categories are also in "ordinary" use and carry with them an
number of connotative meanings.
The principal danger of ordinary language models [my emphasis], then, is
the potential for confusion they create in these areas for investigator and
reader alike . . . Despite the all-caps designation of the various processes
(which I assume is intended to mitigate the effect), such a formulation of
the model tends to lead us to fill our own experience into its terms, and so
to see "empirical" evidence in support of its validity everywhere: "Yes, I
plan, translate, and review, I generate, organize, and set goals," and so on.
But as the definitions they offer later in the same paragraph at least try to
make clear, the terms as used here actually have very special, much more
restricted meanings. They do not correspond to observed psychological
states or entities or processes. Rather, they indicate relations among the
as-yet unspecified elements of the model system being proposed. (249-50)

What North contends, in other words, is that the terms used to label many
the processes in the Hayes/Flower model carry semantic features that are, if not
entirely inappropriate for the writing processes they are being used to describe,

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 51

at least running the risk of misinterpretation. Similar argum

misuse of terms such as "PLAN" and "GOAL" in the Hayes/Fl
made by Cooper and Holzman ("Talking" 286-88) as well as b
51). The validity of their arguments may be questionable, since t
seem to misunderstand the way these terms are used by cogn
arguments themselves are emblematic of the ways in which unw
logical features can misrepresent processes and obscure understan
But the presence of superfluous features in a model's terminolo
sentation is not the only way in which a model can mislead
earlier, a second line of argument contends that cognitive models
writing processes because the cognitive paradigm itself is inappro
study of how people compose. Critics who employ this line
notably Dobrin and Stotsky, assert that the principles of cogn
are intended to apply only to discussions of "well-defined" m
logical problems, problems that have clear goals and clear criteria
ing successful solutions. Since writing problems are typically "ill
ing easily distinguished goals and criteria for completion, these c
how well cognitivist assumptions can apply to this new domai
Dobrin's critique of the cognitive framework is couched in
critique of protocol analysis, the research methodology mos
cognitivists to reveal underlying writing processes. In his analysi
tions to protocol analysis, he states that they have two specific f

First, you can believe that writing is in fact a problem-solving pr

it is so complex or so buried that protocols do not provide adequat
Second, you can believe that writing is not a problem-solving
you start with the first position, it's very easy to slide into the s
the first isn't obviously plausible, and by hypothesis, it's impo
support it empirically. (717)

Stotsky seems to agree with Dobrin's view and for the

Cognitivists in composition studies, she claims, are suffering
premise, namely "that components in the process of generat
meaning to achieve a purpose in writing correspond to the co
process of solving problems in logical, spatial, or quantitativ
(49). In terms of the modeling relationship described earlier,
this argument makes two assertions: (1) that the feature "we
lems" belongs to the source paradigm of cognitive psychology
"writing processes" which is being modeled, and (2) that the t
being investigated by a borrowed theoretical construct is cruciall
the construction of a viable model and should belong to the
An evaluation of the merit deserved by critiques which tak
form will hinge on our opinion of assertion 2 rather than on
assertion 1 merely particularizes a truism about models in genera
of features in a source or preferred analogy or "borrowed theore

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52 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

to use Stotsky's term, which do not belong to or characterize a subject un

study is-and I want to emphasize this as strongly as possible-inevitable wh
constructing a model. The mere existence of such incompatibilities is insuf
cient cause for rejecting a model, given the fact that all models will participate
in this epistemological shortcoming. On the other hand, the question
whether or not a feature such as "problem type" ought to belong to the se
shared characteristics mapped from subject to model through the medium o
preferred analogy is a philosophical one, perhaps as much a matter of perso
choice as a matter for theoretical consideration. (It should also be mentioned
passing that the basic premise of Stotsky's and Dobrin's arguments is incorrect.
Many cognitive psychologists do investigate "ill-formed" problems analogous to
writing processes. Though this oversight renders much of their critiques s
pect, it does not affect my point that models are frequently subject to criticism
on the basis of misrepresentation.)

Implications for Theory and Composition Discourse

Looking back on the argument I have presented in this essay, I might be accuse
of participating in an all-too-popular pastime in our field: carping at the
cognitivists. To this charge, I must plead a resounding "not guilty," though I do
feel obliged to justify my focus on cognitive models in this article. It is a virtu
truism that one of the main goals of cognitive research is the construction
models, and this goal has clearly been adopted and sustained by scholars w
study the writing process using cognitivist tools. A survey of the literatur
composition studies seems to reveal, in fact, that cognitive models are the only
type of formal models which have been proposed to describe writing processes.
This was the conclusion Stephen North came to when he lamented that "all
Formalist [model-building] work in Composition I can find has treated writ
as a cognitive process" (245).
Although one might argue with this assessment, I believe it is fair to say th
cognitive models are generally easier to distinguish as models with explici
stated premises and representations that define and quantify the "rules" of tex
production. Because the cognitivists' area of inquiry is narrowly defined,
cause their methodologies frequently adopt the empirical conventions of tr
tional scientific experimentation, because they are prone to present their mode
explicitly-either in graphic or textual forms-and because their represent
tions of writing processes tend to be "rule-governed," the epistemological tenet
of cognitive models are often easier to identify and therefore easier to critique
than the tenets which underlie other kinds of writing process models or th
ries. It is primarily for this reason that I chose to focus on cognitive models as
illustrative examples.
But the points I make about modeling per se are equally applicable to a
representations of writing processes, whatever their epistemological underp

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 53

nings. As I argued earlier in this essay, all forms of inquiry

existence of an interrelated set of conceptual frameworks to
research. In order to make observations and interpret them,
model of data; in order to make generalizable claims about ho
struct texts, one must operate from within a preconceived th
processes. Because of the imperfect match between subject an
through the medium of a preferred analogy, any model of writi
writing processes will, by definition, be a flawed represent
account for all the possible variables which influence writing
spectives which can be used to interpret those variables. Th
inherent in models, then, are natural consequences of the inte
cognitive models are no more or less guilty of this epistemo
than any other sort of model, be it expressive, social-constructio
or Freudian.
Consider, for instance, Alice Brand's The Psychology of Writing (1989), a
notable example of current work in composition studies which explicitly dis-
tances itself from cognitive methodologies and models. In her book, Brand
reports the results of a series of studies which focus on the emotions writers
experience as they compose. While presenting the theoretical background and
justification for these studies, Brand takes pains to point out the limitations of
cognitive frameworks for collecting data on affective responses and the inability
of cognitive writing process models to represent affective data in meaningful
ways. Citing Cooper and Holzman ("Talking") and Dobrin among others,
Brand begins her critique of cognitive approaches by challenging the utility of
protocol analyses, arguing that protocols are ineffective tools for recording and
accounting for emotions that writers experience as they compose (24-25). As I
have already discussed the nature of such critiques, I will not belabor the issue
further other than to reiterate the point that incompleteness is an unavoidable
epistemological weakness common to all models and all methods of data collec-

A closer look at Brand's own work confirms this. In her discussion of research
methodology and goals, Brand explains that she draws heavily on the work o
Joel Davitz, a psychologist who has generated a matrix of"twelve dimensions of
affective meaning within which fifty separate emotions are grouped" (63).
Adapting this matrix to the purposes of her own study, Brand clusters a number
of "emotion items" into three distinct categories: positive (adventurous, affec
tionate, excited, happy, etc.), passive negative (ashamed, bored, confused, de
pressed, lonely, shy), and active negative (afraid, angry, anxious, disgusted,
frustrated). At various stages of the writing process, respondents are asked t
indicate how strongly they feel each of these emotions, and results are correlated
according to a variety of statistical, situational, and demographic features.
Without question, Brand is very careful to consider the potential flaws in her
own methodology, particularly the difficulties inherent in having subjects self-
report on psychological states (69-75). She raises important questions about th

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54 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

reliability of responses her subjects provide, giving special attention to the

influence of the listed emotional categories on her questionnaires. Seeing the
word "afraid" in a list might, for example, trigger that emotion in the person
filling out the form, or it might characterize an emotional state which is only a
close approximation to the emotion which the writer is actually feeling. In both
cases, the writers' responses would be inaccurate reports of their true emotional
state, and the validity of the results could be called into question.
By the same token, the very selection of emotional "states" and "traits"
included on the questionnaires presupposes both a model of emotional psychol-
ogy and a model of emotional response while composing. The twenty choices
(plus an "Other" category) available on the questionnaires fail to represent all
the emotional states which it is possible to experience while writing and there-
fore demonstrate a conscious a priori decision on the part of the researcher
about the range and nature and number of emotions which can be reported on,
much like Flower and Hayes made a priori decisions about the components of
the writing process through which their protocol data could be interpreted.
Though Brand and Flower and Hayes are operating from within differing
paradigms, each constructs a model of composing process behaviors and iden-
tifies features which are believed to be important to those behaviors. Each
model uses a methodology which collects imperfect data, and each tries to
interpret that data from the perspective of a particular, self-selected epistemo-
logical stance. Each makes generalizations about writers and composing pro-
cesses, and each does so to achieve different purposes and fulfill different goals.
For these reasons, I would argue that discourse in composition studies which
tries to make a case for the superiority of one "inquiry paradigm"-to borrow
Janet Emig's term-over another is frequently misguided. Differing epis-
temologies will investigate different aspects of writing behavior, just as they will
validate different data, different research methodologies, and different modes of
interpretation. None of these epistemologies, accordingly, has the right to claim
ownership of a "higher" truth-merely a different one. I should make clear,
however, that I am not trying to make a case for wholesale relativism here; I
believe it is possible to subject competing models to close analysis and rigorous
testing in order to come to some conclusions about their respective and relative
merits. But by the same token, I feel that researchers who take pains to criticize
the weaknesses of cognitive models without subjecting their own models to the
same scrutiny fail to address, in significant ways, the epistemological issues they
claim to be raising.


The implications of modeling theory for future research in composition studies

are many, but I think that one in particular is worth emphasizing here. In order
to assess the predictive and practical value of any writing process model and to
"place" that model within the broad range of composition inquiry, the episte

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Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models 55

mological tenets and assumptions which ground the model mu

in explicit terms. Such articulation is especially important fo
those drawn from expressive or social-constructionist paradigms-
less "formal" in their representations than cognitivist models. Re
to address questions such as: What are my methodological ass
factors are likely to be included or excluded by my mode of
assumptions shape the way I make my observations and interpret
my representations likely to simplify writing processes, and how
to misrepresent them? How do the epistemic tenets which g
compare with or connect to the tenets that ground the models o
by answering these questions in straightforward and unambiguou
be possible to bridge paradigmatic gaps, to evaluate the merit of
process models, and to eliminate much of the unnecessary int
that often dominates discourse in our field.


1. Ending this continuum with "paradigms" at the highest level is, of course, an
arbitrary decision on my part, and even extending it this far presents epistemologi
difficulties. As Connors has pointed out, the concept of paradigm has fallen into so
disrepute, even in the domain of the physical sciences to which it was first intended t
apply. It might be possible to extend this continuum to include even more abstract
knowledge structures such as "disciplines" or "Weltanschauungs," but the problem
inherent in ascribing features to amorphous conceptual frameworks such as these a
nearly insurmountable.
2. Achinstein provides not only an explanation for the frequent confusion betwe
these two terms, but an indication of the crucial epistemological difference betwe
them. He suggests that a model and a theory are closely linked because they share t
same basic set of assumptions; they differ primarily in the implications which can
drawn from each. To propose something as a model, says Achinstein, is "to suggest it
a way of representing X which provides at least some approximation of the actu
situation .... "; to propose something as a theory "is to suggest that X's are govern
by such and such principles" (103). In other words, while models portray a best guess,
plausible explanation for a set of observations, a theory purports to be the actua
explanation, a description of the way things truly are.
It is possible to characterize the nature of this difference further by drawing from the
work of Thomas Kuhn, who suggested that models comprise "preferred analogies" a
"ontologies." By preferred analogies, Kuhn means the representational system bein
employed to construct the model, examples being the movement of water through pip
to represent the flow of electricity through wires or, in the case of cognitivism, t
principles of information processing and problem-solving to characterize writing pr
cesses. By ontology, Kuhn refers to the degree of "metaphysical commitment" which
assigned to the model. Though metaphysical commitment is rather loosely defined
Kuhn's overall scheme, it reflects the degree to which a given scientific community (o
interpretive community) believes a certain representation to be "true," an accurat
reliable description of objects and processes. By applying Kuhn's terminology to
Achinstein's definitions, then, we can say that the greater the degree of metaphysi
commitment given to a model by an interpretive community, the closer it gets t
achieving the status of theory.

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56 College Composition and Communication 44 (February 1993)

3. These senses are:

a. A model is something which "exhibits certain features" of something else.
b. A model represents an ideal type (e.g., a "model" student).
c. A model is someone who wears something in an exemplary fashion.
d. A model is something crafted from a particular medium (e.g., clay).
e. A model designates a specific type (e.g., a new model of a car).
f. A model may be a sentential representation of reality, such as a verbal descrip-
tion (Aristotle's sense of the word).
g. A model may be a symbolic or iconic representation of reality (e.g., mathe-
matical models, flow charts, etc.). (Harre 36-40)
4. Though Cooper and Holzman make a number of insightful arguments about the
difficulties of using and interpreting protocols, I find that I agree with Flower and
Hayes ("Response") as well as Steinberg that their critique is deeply flawed by its
conflation of introspective reports, retrospective reports, and protocols.
5. Such unmerited inferences are among the dangers inherent in the use of any
model to describe any process, and modelers should take pains to inform others of the
limitations their models embody. An example of this sort of warning can be found in a
study of decision-making undertaken by L. R. Goldberg (qtd. in Faust). Goldberg
noted that he was able to construct a selection of relatively "simple" models that
described and simulated the decisions a number of his subjects made in a performance
task. Goldberg made special issue of pointing out, however, that there were
no assurances, nor even strong reason to suspect, that the actual judgment
strategies or steps used by individuals closely resemble those used by their
models. For example, because of certain statistical properties, linear models
can sometimes duplicate judgments that individuals actually perform using
nonlinear or configural strategies.... The general conclusion that can be
drawn from these studies is that linear models can reproduce judges' deci-
sions, even those purportedly reached using complex processes. (qtd. in
Faust 75)

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