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The Not So Simple View of Writing

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 1 Comment

Recently, I’ve been receiving questions about The Writing Rope framework for writing instruction that I developed in 2019, which is also part of the title of a new book that will be published in the summer of 2022. (Click here to read a related blog post). Some of those questions go something like this: “Is there also a Simple View of Writing?” in reference to Gough and Tunmer’s 1986 reading model The Simple View of Reading. So I decided to focus this post on a model that started out as The Simple View of Writing (Berninger et al., 2002) but was then expanded to The Not So Simple View of Writing (Berninger & Winn, 2006).

As Kim and Schatschneider explain (2017), the original Simple View of Writing is a theoretical framework focused on writing as the product of two necessary sets of skills: lower-level transcription skills (spelling and handwriting/keyboarding) and text generation (also called ideation, including word, sentence, and text level writing). The Not So Simple View of Writing expanded the framework by adding and emphasizing executive function and self-regulatory processes (e.g., attention, goal setting, reviewing), and working memory (needed during the planning stage of the writing process), and short term memory (needed during the review stage). (Also see Ahmed et al., 2021 explanation).

Visual Representation of The Not So Simple View

This graphic is a visual representation of The Not So Simple View attributed to Berninger. Note the prominent place that working memory holds in relationship to text generation, transcription, and executive functions. Without working memory, writers cannot hold on to what they want to say long enough to be able to decide which words and sentences to write!

Writing is Complex

Proficient writers must integrate multiple skills, strategies and techniques in order to produce a quality piece of writing that reflects what they want to say. The Writing Rope framework organizes these elements into five strands that are woven together to enable skilled writing, listed below. The first four strands are related to the text generation component of The Not So Simple View, with the fifth strand aligning to the transcription component.

  • Critical Thinking: Generate ideas, gather information, apply the writing process
  • Syntax: Write sophisticated, elaborated sentences
  • Text Structure: Apply knowledge of paragraph and longer text structure, incorporate patterns of organization and related transitions
  • Writing Craft: Consider the task, audience, and purpose; incorporate writer’s moves
  • Transcription: Spell and handwrite or keyboard at an automatic level

But in order to integrate all of these strands, students must have sufficient executive function abilities including attention, the ability to set goals and organize, self-monitoring and regulation, and cognitive flexibility to be able to constantly adjust the application of multiple writing skills (Graham & Harris, 2000; Meltzer, 2010; Cartwright, 2015). Harris, Schmidt, and Graham explain the role of executive functions this way:

“While negotiating the rules and mechanics for writing, the writer must maintain focus on factors such as organization, form and features, purposes and goals, audience needs and perspectives, and evaluation of the communication between author and reader. Self-regulation of the writing process is critical; the writer must be goal oriented, resourceful, and reflective… For skilled authors, writing is a flexible, goal-directed activity, scaffolded by a rich source of cognitive processes and strategies for planning, text production, and revision.” (p. 1)

Simple View or Not So Simple View?

Writing instruction does not receive the same high level of attention in terms of research and discussion about best practices that reading instruction does. The result is that at the present time, it is difficult to find much information about whether educators should refer to Berninger’s model as The Simple View or The Not So Simple View. Some refer to the core elements of Berninger’s theoretical model (transcription, text generation, executive functions, working memory) as just The Simple View, while others are aware of Berninger’s addition of Not So to the title. My guess is that in keeping with the well-known title The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986), some will find it easier to apply the same title to writing. I prefer to use the longer title that represents Berninger (and colleagues) expanded emphasis on executive function and working memory. Regardless, the important take-away for teachers is to remember that writing is a VERY COMPLEX process, and that we should not forget the important role that executive functions and memory play. It is especially important to keep this in mind when working with students who have difficulty with writing, including those with a specific learning disability.

Click here to learn more about Keys to Content Writing instructional practices for grades 3-12, and click here for Keys to Early Writing. The Keys to Literacy free resources collection also has a number of videos, archived webinars, and templates/printables that support writing instruction.


  • Ahmed, Y, Kent, S, Cirino, P.T., & Keller-Margulis, M. (2021). The Not-So-Simple View of Writing in Struggling Readers/Writers. Reading & Writing Quarterly. Link.
  • Berninger, V. W., Abbot, R.D., Abbot, S. P., Graham, S., RIchards, T. (2002). Writing and reading: Connections between language by hand and language by eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities 35(1), pp 38-56.
  • Berninger, V. W., & Winn, W. D. (2006). Implications of Advancements in Brain Research and Technology for Writing Development, Writing Instruction, and Educational Evolution. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (p. 96–114). The Guilford Press.
  • Cartwright, K. B. (2015). Executive skills and reading comprehension. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Gough, P.B., & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6-10. 
  • Graham, S. & Harris, R. (2000). The role of self-regulation and transcription skills in writing and writing development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1).
  • Kim, Y.S. & Schatschneider, C. (2017). Expanding the developmental models of writing: A direct and indirect effects model of developmental writing. Educational Pyschology, 109 (1). pp 35-50. Link.
  • Meltzer, L. (2010). Executive function in the classroom. New York: The Guilford Press.

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy professional development programs. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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1 Comment

  1. Lori Josephson

    You’ve done it again. I really like the infographic and will be using it when I meet (via Zoom) with parents of a child I assessed this month. It makes complex the simple and I appreciate your efforts! Enjoy the Holiday Season (although it seems to me that you work all the time! LOL)



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