Response to Cooper’s “The Ecology of Writing”

Cooper did a really good job highlighting some of the issues that come with teaching and studying the writing process. The second paragraph where she said, “Motivation for the paradigm shift in writing theory perhaps came first from writing teachers increasingly disenchanted with red-inking errors, delivering lectures on comma splices or on the two ways to organize a comparison-contrast essay, and reading alienated and alienating essays written from a list of topic sentences or in the five-paragraph format” (364). She goes on to say that methods were developed that focused more on content and less on form. This passage really resonated with me and my college experience. Through my college years I have realized just how ineffective my writing classes in high school have been because they focused more on the form and less on the content. Due to this, early writing classes in college have had to focus on teaching us to ‘unlearn’ what we had been taught previously instead of expanding on previous knowledge. Rather than focusing on developing ideas, and explaining said ideas in a clear and flowing manner, I instead focused on making sure each paragraph followed the correct format, even if that format disrupted the natural rhythm of the paper.

Since I am going to school for two degrees I have had the unique opportunity to explore the different writing styles that are allowed in two departments: English Writing and Religious Studies. The interesting thing about this is that an outsider might assume that the writing major would require one to follow a much stricter guideline in terms of style, format, etc., but that has not been the case at all. In the writing department I have been allowed much more freedom in terms of how I choose to write, whereas in the religious studies department I am expected to adhere to “writing rules’. Another example of this is when I took an Art History class last semester where I was docked for not following the five-paragraph format. In this sense, Cooper’s concept of audience and how it is such a complex relationship to “imagine’ within both the cognitive model and the ecological model. As Cooper puts it, “whether the writer is urged to analyze or invent the audience, the audience is always considered to be a construct in the writer’s mind” 370. Cooper then points out through the ecological model that “by focusing our attention on the real social context of writing, it enables us to see that writers not only analyze or invent audiences, they more significantly, communicate with and know their audiences” (371). This was an incredibly crucial line to me because it put into words how I viewed audience through my experience with different professors and different departments. Through the social context of writing I was able to better understand which professor I was writing for so that I could craft my writing accordingly. By working through those conflicting expectations I think I was able to improve my writing and increase the type of writing that I was able to do. Genre-wise, I now can better understand the difference between writing an academic article in the religious studies field meant for other members of the field versus writing an article meant for those outside of the field. In this sense, viewing audience through the ecological model, I was able to better see “the web” that Cooper spoke of.


Writing- a way of acting in a system created by writers

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This post is based on Marilyn Cooper’s article “The Ecology of Writing”.

Writing is considerably improved using different theoretical models over the years. Writing teachers also played role in revolutionizing traditional way of writing in which more emphasis was given on usage error than on content. Today, content, way of thinking and new ideas have become more important. Writers and readers both have “literary competence” and readers can infer the information intended by writers. I found this interesting as I had read a meme on Facebook:

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht  oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe”.

A detailed explanation on this meme is available at:

Increasing interest in writing led formation of new theoretical models. Cognitive process model is one of them and widely considered, but it concentrates solely about the writer. Cooper called them solitary author and they can form idea, pass the information they formed and make authors believe what they think. Such writers produce only what can they personally think. Hence, involvement of society, its activity, and structure are necessary to build information with great vigor.

The author purposed an ecological model of writing, which is differed from widely accepted “Kenneth Burke’s pentad (dramatism)”.


Burke’s pentad, source: Wikipedia

Unlike Burke’s model, ecological model includes interaction between writer and his system beyond his immediate context. In biology, ecology means study of interaction between an organism and its surrounding environment. Organism-activities are changing the surrounding environment and in response to changing environment organisms are changing. Such changes lead the evolution and we are result of evolution. Similarly, the system in which writers are working, is not imposed, writers create it. The system is dynamically interrelated, react with writing activity and structured by writers.

The question on audience in writing has always been challenging and ecological model helps to construct a satisfactory answer. This model suggests that in ongoing social context of writing, writers imagine, invent, communicate, and know their audience. Critic’s comments, reviews, feedback and revision on the text or information help writers to write audience-oriented writing. Hence, writing is a complex process, influenced by society, and written to influence society. Cooper states “writing is not simply a way of thinking but more fundamentally a way of acting”.


Romanticized Views of “The” Writer: New Words For What We Already Knew

Readers. Writers. Reading. Writing. Read. Write. People. No People. Panic. Identity. What do people consider writing? What about writing process? Process? Writing? Talking? What? Words. Are. Hard.

From my understanding of Katie’s reading of Cooper’s piece, I can see the resistance of an often romanticized view of what it means to be a writer. What I think is funny about all of it is the idea that it appears we’re trying to blame some sort of psychological cognitive process on something I fully believe is a socially constructed idea of what a writer is. I’ve talked about it in plenty of classes (probably mostly in my early American lit classes). We see this “tortured soul” writer who needs to be alone and grapple with their thoughts to create writing. Psh.

I think that we typically like giving that as a portrayal of what a writer is. This then tricks younger people into thinking they should isolate themselves to write and creates some sort of hierarchy where people think they need to keep writing separate from all others in order to achieve the highest level of writer-dom. Gross.

This makes for a specifically difficult time working with people who are then forced to interact with others in regards to their writing. Whether that’s in group “peer editing” sessions, workshopping, or in sessions at our campus’s lovely Writing Center. Resistance exists to adopt an identity as a writer that involves writing being a relational act. This makes me think about the importance of discussing this with younger people about this. In order to avoid this kind of mindset, the pedagogical practices of those instructing students grades k-12 need to shift in some way to help us acknowledge that writing is better done when reading, talking, and doing it all over again.

As for the ecological model of writing, from my interpretation of the piece it centers mostly around the context of the writing. It mostly makes me think about the “triangle of rhetoric” that we attempt to use to simplify what this relational act of writing is. Here’s a variation I found on the internet in case you aren’t as familiar with what I’m referring to:

Image result for rhetorical triangle

Cooper states: “Writers may play a number of different roles in relation to one another: editor, co-writer, or addressee, for instance. Writers signal how they view their relationship with other writers through conventional forms and strategies, but they can also change their relationship-or even initiate or terminate relationships-through the use of these conventions if others accept the new relationship that is implied” (370).

To me, this shows a constant switching of rules. I don’t necessarily see how this works completely separate from everything else I’ve been taught in our English department at MSU. I feel like it’s something that’s encouraged, the constant switching of roles in writing in order to truly be able to communicate with each other and eventually contribute to this conversation. Cooper directly talks about Burke and this is the structure of the Burkean parlor where you need to listen to contribute. You can’t just start talking without the context.

Maybe I read the article incorrectly, but overall I think it pretty much falls right into place with everything I’ve learned the past two and a half years at college. It’s just a different name.


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Response 1: Helpful Paradigms Developed in Writing Ecology

Katie Kelly

Marylin Cooper develops a new model for understanding the process of writing in The Ecology of Writing. The current model that poses writing as a cognitive process is illustrated by a solitary author who develops his or her writing in privacy away from the external influences of the world. The issue with this model as Cooper points out is that it assumes an isolated system away from the source of information as well as potential audiences. I fully agree with this issue as a solitary author would be impossible to achieve. However, I do believe there is merit to the cognitive process used to describe writing that is used by the solitary author, only this is done in conjunction with other writers in a larger system. This is expanded on by Cooper which leads into a full model of ecology for writing that describes writing as a system rather than a process. The latter portion of the article discusses an important element in writing, especially in relation to professional writing: audience.

While there are many tools and paradigms developed in writing, it is the specific set of readers that make up the audience that best dictate which should be used. What I find fascinating is the fact that structure and rules actually better free up the use of a writer’s mind to best convey their message. It is shown in many other instance, project management particularly, that have structure to the process or reports allows for greater freedom and flexibility in achieving a goal (Project Management: The Managerial Process with MS Project by Larson & Gray). That can be applied to many other tasks including that of writing. When a specific audience is expecting a certain format it also implies that there is to be certain information pertained in a particular portion of the writing, this helps guide the writer in organization. The type of audience also can dictate the form of rhetoric used, enabling the writer to narrow in the vocabulary in which to convey the information. This and many other tools are only available and applicable by the system provided when writing.

A system is a collection of entities that are continuously interacting with other entities within an environment. Cooper dictates these writing entities in the system as “engaged writers” who are constantly in contact with not only one another via written word, but the world in which their subject matter exist, the potential audience in which they wish to reach, and other extraneous entities with opinions or contributions on the topic or its method of conveyance. Not only does the engaged writer become influenced by its interaction with these other entities, the engaged writer also influences the rest of the entities in the environment either directly or indirectly. Cooper expands on this with the example of a college president sending a holiday email to the faculty. This would then affect the structure in which the faculty communicates within the university, perhaps trickling down to the students.

While I support Cooper’s model and understand that the article was meant to encompass all forms of writing, I believe the importance and helpfulness of the paradigms enabled by the social nature of writing expressed throughout the article should be emphasized. These paradigms allow writers to focus more on the content rather than be concerned with the best methods in which to convey the content. The model of ecology best explains the development of these important paradigms and tools.