The Hidden Demands of Writing

December 12, 2022

Writing is a complex, high-level task that incorporates and synthesizes many language skills from phonemic awareness to handwriting to critical thinking and analysis. In their research to confirm the efficacy of Self-Regulated Strategy Development, Steve Graham and Karen Harris asserted that “skilled writing was a highly demanding process that was self-directed, requiring the orchestration of a variety of cognitive processes such as planning and revising as well as types of knowledge including discourse and genre knowledge” (2009).  Likewise, with a nod to the influential reading infographic Scarborough’s Reading Rope, Joan Sedita of Keys to Literacy developed a similar infographic to highlight the many language demands inherent in writing. She calls attention to the overlap of reading and writing skills and highlights that, like reading instruction, writing instruction is most effective when explicitly taught.

Another way to think about the many necessary literacy skills inherent in written expression is to examine the hidden demands in the writing process: 

Comprehension: To write with clarity, students must understand what they have read, and they must also understand the prompt for writing. For instance, if the task is to explain three personality traits of a character, students need to know who the character is and be able to list his or her personality traits. They also need to know what “explain” means. If they lack a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do, students with LBLD may be unable to focus their writing.  

Study Skills: At all grade levels, students need to be able to manage their time, identify pertinent information, take useful notes, and organize their materials to be able to complete writing assignments. Poor planning and a lack of time spent on thorough writing and editing can have a considerable impact on the quality of a student’s written work.

Critical Thinking: As students move through grades, they need to evaluate, explain, discuss, and make comparisons and/or contrasts. They have to interpret and extrapolate evidence through inference when it’s not clearly stated.

Organization: Organization of physical materials is essential, but so is the information within students’ written work. Students need to identify the best way to structure their thoughts before they begin to write. They must understand that each paragraph needs a topic sentence, supporting facts presented in a logical fashion, and a conclusion sentence.

Text Structure: Students must also recognize how a piece of writing is organized. Text structure will dictate how the writing should be presented and what transitional words are needed. For instance “therefore” and “because” are appropriate in a cause and effect paragraph, but not in a contrasting one.

Voice: Students must understand the difference between informal narrative writing and formal essay writing. Additionally, understanding the audience and purpose for their writing helps to guide both students’ tone and vocabulary choice.

Oral Rehearsal: The link between discussing a topic and writing about it is critical. The more opportunities students have to talk about a subject, the more easily they can write about it. Discussion helps students develop critical thinking and analytical skills, clarify concepts, and identify new information. It helps them link topics and organize their thoughts, which makes their writing clearer and stronger.

Spelling, Fine Motor Skills, and Higher Levels of Language are also important to consider. Students who have difficulty with fine motor skills, which could affect the legibility of their handwriting or speed of their keyboarding, may produce writing that is less thoughtful and detailed. Spelling is also a constant consideration when writing. Spelling difficulties alone can impact higher levels of written expression, as students may choose easier words when they cannot spell the ones that they want to use. Lastly, effective written expression is directly linked to higher levels of language, including clear sentence structure, advanced and  specific vocabulary, and organized materials.


Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2009). Almost 30 years of writing research: Making sense of it all with The Wrath of Khan. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 24(2), 58–68.

Sedita, J. (2019). The strands that are woven into skilled writing – keys to literacy. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from

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