Writing is the communication of content for a purpose to an audience (Peha, 2010). Lannon in Ha, (2011) views writing as the process of transforming the material discovered by research inspiration, accident, trial or error, or whatever into a message with a definite meaning- writing is a process of deliberate decision. It means that writing must convey a message with a meaning. In addition, writing is a way through which a student can express his/her ideas or thoughts on the paper (Harsyaf and Izmi, 2009).
Writing is a powerful instrument for students used to express their thoughts, feelings, and judgement about what they have read, seen, or experienced (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005). Furthermore, Harmers (2007) states that we judge people as literate, in the other words, if they can read and write in certain situations and for certain purposes, some of which are more prestigious than others.
Most contexts of life (school, the workplace, and the community) call for some level of writing skill (Graham and Perin, 2007). This opinion is also supported by Brown (2004) states that writing was a skill that was the exclusive domain of scribes and scholars in education or religious institution. Writing is fundamental importance to learning, to development of the person in each learner, and to success in the educational system. Writing is very important in education so everyone wants to know the best way to teach it (Peha, 2003).
On the other hand, writing as one of the four skills in English is considered as the most difficult and most challenging skill compared to the other skills either for most students or even for teachers (Ayub, 2013). As teachers, we need to work continually to aid our students in their search for fulfillment as writers (Graham & Harris in Ha, 2011).
From the above statement, it can be concluded that writing is one way that can be used as a communication tool written by the author to the reader to communicate information and specific intent. Writing as one of the most difficult skill than the other three skills in English poses new challenges to teachers in particular to be able to teach and improve the writing skills of students with an effective and innovative manner. This is because of the importance of mastering writing skills by the students for education and personal life.
Writers are at disadvantage with respect to speakers because writers cannot take advantage of elements in the speech act that speakers and listeners can make good use of. In speaking we can find the following features (Hedge 1988):
- the physical context;
- paralinguistic features;
- body movement;
- facial expressions;
- pitch and tone of voice;
- prosodic features;
- pauses and hesitation.
Possibility of going back, clarifying or revising ideas in response to listeners as they ask questions or respond.
As Manchón (2005) indicates, the absence of a physical and contextualized context allows the appearance of certain characteristics of written texts. Different scholars have also agreed that the features that we have in written texts are the following:
Permanence: it refers to the lasting nature of the written medium. Whereas oral language is non-permanent and has to be processed in real time, the written medium leaves a trace ‘and is, thus, everlasting.
Production time: it relates to the fact that in speech, the spontaneous nature of the medium makes that the flow of conversation has to be kept up with no enough time to totally monitor what is being said. Writers, on the other hand, go through a whole process of planning, drafting, and revising; hence, they have much more production time.
Distance: it involves the absence of a shared context between writer and reader; there is no immediate feedback. Consequently, the text needs to be as clear and intelligible as possible.
Orthography: sometimes we have problems when we transfer oral language into written one, because not all phonemes correspond to a concrete spelling. The difficulty is proportional to the `possibilities of spelling representation of the phonemes.
Complexity: writing is a complex process because it involves a skillful writer able of eliminating redundancy, linking clauses and sentences, producing a wide range of lexical items, etc.
Vocabulary: Vocabulary in written texts is greater that in oral texts. The reason is that when we write we need new terms to avoid problems of redundancy, style, etc.
Convention: A writer has to follow different conventions which are specific for every culture. Any type of text needs a specific convention. EFL students have to learn the conventions of the forms that are relevant to their lives and note the similarities and differences between these and the conventions of Spanish texts.
Explicitness: A written text must be explicit, in order to avoid ambiguities and confusion. Spoken texts can be vaguer as they have a physical and acoustic context.
Instruction. Both reading and writing are skills that need to be learnt. It doesn‘t happen so with listening and speaking, which are innate abilities.
Essential features of written communication
When we write, we do it in response to a particular demand or purpose and with a real audience in mind. This is directly related with the approach to writing from the communicative perspective and with what Sampson (1983) refers to as ― functional approach‖. This communicative approach is characterized by four features:
- a product as a result;
- a specific audience;
- a function or purpose;
- a linguistic focus.
It is necessary to add two more characteristics to this communicative approach to writing, which are the concepts of information gap and task dependency. If we want an authentic communication to take place it is necessary to have an information gap, that is to say, the writer has some information that the reader does not have.
The principle of task dependency is closely related to the one of information gap: one student writes a text for another, who in turn has to use it to perform a task, that is to say, the task is dependent on what the first student has written.
Hedge (1988) insists on the importance of real audiences apart from the teacher (classmates, other students in the school,). It is necessary to create a sense of audience in the students, and writing for other audiences different from the teacher, as in that case, writing in the classroom can become unrealistic.
Another important concept is the one of purpose, because students have to know why they are writing. Writing tasks will be richer and more coherent if they are contextualized within a theme, especially if this is authentic and relevant to real life.