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A Process Genre Approach to Writing
Transactional Letters
By James Frith
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Why?

A writer needs to know the purpose or function of his/her is writing in order to make it meaningful. Hedge (1988) cites purpose as indispensable in kindling motivation. Genre analysts consider it pivotal to genre. Swales (1990:58) defines a genre as: ‘(comprising) a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes’. Badger and White (2000) add that:

Genres are also influenced by other features of the situation, such as the subject matter, the relationships between the writer and the audience, and the pattern of organisation.
( Badger and White, ELT Journal, April 2000:155)

So far then, we have been concentrating on the genre related knowledge that writers need, but what of writing process knowledge?

Writing Process Knowledge

This can be most effectively explored through describing the process writing approach, where linguistic skills are emphasised over linguistic knowledge. In this approach learners are encouraged to go through the same stages as skilled writers do. Richards (1990) identifies three key stages leading to publication: prewriting or rehearsing; drafting; and revising. The prewriting stage includes consideration of the audience and the purpose of the letter, generation of ideas and organisation of the text (Hedge 1988). It is important to note that this process is not considered as being linear (see, for example, White and Arndt 1991).

Although this approach may seem, at first sight, the ideal solution to the above-mentioned issues, it has attracted a great deal of criticism. Tribble (1996) points out that it does not provide EFL/ESOL students with knowledge about genre conventions while Badger and White (2000) add that there is insufficient input in terms of linguistic knowledge and propose a marriage between this approach and the ‘genre approach’.

Solutions – The ‘Process Genre Approach’

As already suggested, this is a hybrid of the process approach, discussed above, and the genre approach, which we will turn to now. The genre approach bears more to a passing resemblance to the product approach in that a model text is analysed and perhaps some controlled writing is carried out focusing on aspects of vocabulary or syntax. This is followed by some guided writing before a final free writing stage. Both approaches view imitation as important in learning. The main difference and the key aspect of the genre approach is that the model texts are seen as belonging to specific genres defined by social contexts and purposes (Badger and White 2000).

The process genre approach, according to Badger and White (ibid.), involves the provision of a situation from which the learners are helped to identify the purpose and consider the field, mode and tenor of the text they are about to produce. Texts within the genre (in our case transactional letters with a particular function) will have been selected and researched by the teacher who then encourages student research into the genre (Tribble 1996). Language awareness activities may be carried out. Perhaps with the help of flow-charts, the students will plan and organise their ideas before drafting and revising with the purpose and audience in mind. These latter stages will probably not be linear and students may jump between them as they find necessary. The collaborative aspect of process writing (as highlighted by Richards 1990), which in my experience has always suited the learning styles of most of my students, is maintained, as is the learner-centred approach (ibid.), particularly if the situation is chosen wisely.

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