If you can say it, you can write it. Can you?


Almost fifty years ago, Wilga Rivers said that the old saying “If you can say it, you can write it” was simplistic in its concept of the communicative aspect of writing. However, even today we tend to consider writing as a final product, too often for evaluation purposes. Therefore, from our teaching perspective, we are concerned about our students’ written product, but not the process they go through to create, organize and transmit ideas. Paying attention to a final product and not to the process of writing itself, makes us focus only on grammar, vocabulary, and spelling, that is mainly the use of the language.

In the eighties there was an important transformation in the way the development of our students´ writing ability was seen, going from focusing on the product to focusing on the process, a transformation that, unfortunately, is not shown in many of our courses today.

The first step we must take to see writing as a “process” is to pay close attention to how our students develop good quality ideas and how they plan to organize them within a text. Let me emphasize the phrase “good quality”. In general, and I have seen this in many university students, there is a misconception that writing in a foreign language prevents us from generating intelligent and solid ideas.

Students believe that when we write in English, the use of the language is what matters, not the content. Therefore, whenever a text is free of language errors, the quality of the content is relegated to a second place. Unfortunately, this lack of quality content will become a source of difficulties when students need to pass international English exams such as the GMAT or GRE, required to pursue graduate studies.

What then are the indicators that we should bear in mind if we want to develop the process of creative writing in our students?

  • Students have a lot of practice in the generation of ideas and how they relate to each other.
  • Students learn to analyse if the idea they are considering is powerful enough to be a “topic sentence” which in turn can be developed into a paragraph.
  • Students are taught how to plan, review, reread and rewrite each time they realize that they are not conveying their ideas clearly.

Becoming a good writer will give our students an invaluable competitive advantage for academic and professional life. So, what can we start doing?

  1. Develop in your students the ability to generate “powerful ideas” and then find logical relationships between them.
  2. Begin your writing lesson generating ideas by using brainstorming techniques.
  3. Consider quality content as a necessity. Content is as important as the use of language.
  4. “Think process”: teach your students how to review, rewrite, clarify and, why not, write it again!
  5. Always start by writing only one paragraph.
  6. Incorporate activities in which they can evaluate how coherent a paragraph is. That is, how clear and logical the ideas presented in a paragraph are.
  7. Train your students in the use of connectors and always recommend grouping them by meaning. For example: However, nevertheless, but have same communicative function.
  8. Provide students with good practice in the use of cohesive devices that allow them to connect words at sentence level.
  9. Style is important! Students must learn how to address different audiences by selecting the tone needed to convey their ideas: formal, business, informal, etc.

To develop good writing skills in your students you need to “Think process”. A good start is paying attention to how your students come up with good ideas and how effective they connect them rather than rushing to grade grammar and vocabulary.


DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor’s in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.

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  1. We are finishing the current series of topics with this reflections about writing. You are more than welcome to leave your thoughts!


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