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A Process Genre Approach to Writing
Transactional Letters
By James Frith
- 1


It is through the mastery of writing that the individual comes to be fully effective in intellectual organisation, not only in the management of everyday affairs, but also in the expression of ideas and arguments.

(Tribble 1996:13)

Writing is inexorably linked with power, especially in the workplace, and for many of our students, the workplace is where they use, or want to be able to use English, hence the focus on transactional letters. In this assignment, I am going to be looking at how we can guide our students on the road to the mastery of writing through the process genre approach, a blend between the genre approach, which I shall briefly describe later, and the process approach, which is worth explaining before we start, it being the approach which is probably most widespread in current classroom practice.

The process approach focuses, naturally, on the process of writing, as opposed to the end product, which had always been key to the product approach. Learners are encouraged to become collaboratively involved in planning, organising, drafting, revising (through ‘conferencing’) and editing. Language is concentrated on at a discourse level, in contrast to the sentence level focus of the product approach, and meaningful communication and quantity over quality are other features of this approach. The product approach has its methodological roots in imitation and mechanical grammar exercises (Nunan 1991).

I chose to look at the process genre approach because I have never felt comfortable with the prohibition of models in the process writing classroom and so I was naturally intrigued by the alternative suggested, although not named, by Tribble (1996). Typical problems students have in my experience are related to format and appropriateness of language. The process approach attempts to deal with these inductively, whereas I have always found a deductive model-based approach more effective. Other typical problems for learners involve lexico-grammatical errors, erroneous use of logical connectives and insufficient planning. This last point meant that a return to the product approach was never on the agenda for this particular writer.

These problems will be dealt with in the following sections, but now I would like to analyse some of the broader issues for learners involved in writing transactional letters. I shall do this by looking at what a skilled writer needs to know in terms of; the audience and their relationship to them, the type of letter and its content, the purpose for writing and writing skills.

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