Say what you want about Stephen Krashen. He is a lightning rod for criticism and praise. He has a devoted group of followers and is recognized for his work in second language acquisition (SLA), bilingual education, and reading. He has published more than 500 articles and books and is a frequently cited scholar in the field of language education. He has been active in SLA since the 1970s and is still in demand as a conference speaker. On the other hand, he has drawn criticism as long as he has been publishing. McLaughlin (1987), Long (1983), and Swain (1993) have been notable critics.
Still, Krashen is a prolific writer and has explained many techniques for how writers can improve and develop their craft in salient and pragmatic ways. This article explains some of his most useful and practical ideas about writing based on his lectures and published work. He provides a different perspective by describing his own thoughts and experience with the writing process. Krashen (2005) admits some of his ideas should be seen as “conjectures,” since they lack empirical evidence. On the other hand, he cites scholarship and research to support them when he can. Read with an open mind—You can benefit from the words and experience of Stephen Krashen.
The Importance of Flexible Planning
Krashen believes that flexible planning is important, particularly in the early stages. He suggests that writers start with a direction or map but should resist being static and unwilling to change. With rigid planning, new ideas become an annoyance rather than an intellectual discovery. Concerning the necessity of change in the writing process, Krashen (2005) cites Elbow (1973) when he claims that “meaning is what you end up with, not what you start out with” (p. 15). Good writers are willing to change their plans as they work. Thus, consideration of the audience ought to be delayed until the paper is nearly finished, rather than overly focusing on meaning before starting (Elbow, 1981; Krashen, 2021). Although there is no empirical research to support this, Krashen suggests starting writing before doing a literature review because it is easier to write when knowing less about a topic, since this helps avoid “research paralysis.” Thoughts change as you write, which allows you to arrive at a deeper understanding.
Know When to Deal with Grammar and Form
Krashen (2005) suggests that writers not stop to consider minor details and form while working on ideas and to delay editing until after a draft has been written. As Elbow (1973) advises, “Treat grammar as a matter of very late editorial correcting… Never think about it while you are writing” (p. 137). Lee and Krashen (2002) argue that premature editing and writing blocks are related. For example, excessive concern with form or “correctness” in the drafting or discovery stage can be very disruptive (Krashen, 1993).
Read More to Write Better
Krashen (1993) argues that writing more will lead to better form is a myth, as there is no relationship between quantity and quality of writing. Improved writing form is the result of reading. Those who read more, write better; they spell better, have larger vocabularies, better grammar, and a more acceptable writing style (Krashen 2021, 1993; Smith 1988; Wang 2022). Krashen asserts that we write for ourselves, to clarify and stimulate our thinking. Citing Elbow (1973), Krashen (1993) notes that when we write down ideas, the “vague and abstract become clear and concrete” (p. 31). With thoughts on paper, we see relationships between them and are able to come up with better ones.
The Revision Stage is Key
Following a general consensus, Krashen (2021) also believes that rewriting is core to the composition process. Revision means you are about to learn something new. In the eloquent words of Hemingway (as cited in Samuelson, 1984), “The first draft of anything is shit” (p. 11). Writers come up with new ideas as they write—In the revision stage, they discover problems and solve them. As a result, revision can help writers solve problems and become smarter (Wang, 2022).
The Role of Incubation
Krashen (2021) observes that incubation is an important element in the writing process. This is time spent away from the writing task to provide opportunities for reflection. He suggests writers allot time for writing and incubation. Moments of insight pop into the writer’s head while doing other, often mundane, tasks. For him, incubation occurs while he washes the dishes. Creative breakthroughs “come at a time of mental quietude” (Tolle, 1999, p. 20).
According to Krashen (2021), the real composing process consists of writing, encountering blocks, taking breaks, and solving problems. Inspiration comes from writing, not the opposite. Published authors keep regular hours and have daily writing quotas. Binge writers are not as successful or productive. Good writers believe that writing requires regularity as it promotes incubation between sessions, greater attunement to problems and new ideas, and keeps the writing fresh. When writers do not write regularly, they lose their place and their enthusiasm.
Krashen (2005) cites Beach (1976) in mentioning that good writers frequently reread what they have written. It helps keep them in their place and allows them to re-evaluate what they have done and then make improvements. In other words, rereading helps the writer maintain a sense of the entire composition as a “conceptual blueprint.”
Avoid Academic Jibberish
Krashen warns against the use of “stylized talk,” or “academic jibberish” containing excessive length and overly complex vocabulary (Krashen 2012a; Wang, 2022). This supports the myth that if the text is difficult to understand, it must be profound. This type of writing does not add to research or practice but does impress those with little self-confidence. Jibberish has the effect of deflecting criticism because using it makes it easier to hide. A number of negative consequences come with writing academic jibberish. For one, readers often skip the dense prose, instead jumping to and accepting the conclusion, which gives bad ideas a better chance of surviving. In addition, some good ideas and possibly important results will be lost underneath complex language and ideas. Similarly, Krashen argues that shorter papers are needed. He believes long papers waste readers’ time, obscure issues, and lack clarity (Krashen, 2012b).
In offering his thoughts and suggestions on writing, Krashen sometimes follows the norm and recommends conventional practices. He holds that rewriting is at the core of the writing process because it helps solve problems and makes the author smarter. Incubation is also essential because reflection time often leads to insights and creative breakthroughs. Rereading is another core function as it allows for re-evaluation and keeps the writer on track by avoiding distracting tangents.
In other areas of the writing process, Krashen takes unorthodox positions, which leads to some surprising advice. Although stressing the importance of flexible planning is conventional, he suggests authors not consider the audience until late in the writing stage, which is an uncommon bit of advice. He also encourages writers to avoid editing until late in the process. Additionally, Krashen warns against writing for writing’s sake. Reading, rather than writing, is what ultimately helps develop writing form. Although he notes that good writers write regularly, doing so actually promotes incubation between sessions and review, thus making authors more attuned to their work. He believes that writing leads to inspiration and not vice versa. Finally, Krashen warns against academic jibberish, which is needlessly complex prose that obscures the true meaning of an article. The result of this unnecessary complexity is that meaning and quality are lost, fakery is sometimes rewarded, and the unproductive practice perpetuates.
Stephen Krashen is a man of many opinions. Whatever you may feel about his research or his beliefs about reading, there is no doubting the influence his ideas have had on EFL theory. The thoughts of such an influential and prolific author concerning the writing process can help authors rethink their way of writing and provide some creative alternatives to tired constructs.
Beach, R. (1976). Self-evaluation strategies of extensive revisers and nonrevisers. College Composition and Communication, 27(2): 160–164. https://doi.org/10.2307/356982
Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. Oxford University Press.
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with power: Techniques for mastering the writing process. Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. (1993). We learn to write by reading, but writing can make you smarter. Ilha do Desterro 29(1993), 27–38.
Krashen, S. (2005). The composing process and the academic composing process. Selected papers from the Fourteenth International Symposium on English Teaching. English Teachers’ Association/ROC, Taipei. Crane Publishing Company. 66–77. https://tinyurl.com/yztnu3h5
Krashen, S. (2012a). Academic jibberish. RELC Journal 43(2): 283–285. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0033688212453045
Krashen, S. (2012b). A short paper proposing that we need to write shorter papers. Language & Language Teaching 1(2), 38–39.
Krashen, S. (2021). Secrets of academic writing. International Journal of Language and Education Research 1(1), 30–34.
Lee, S. & Krashen, S. (2002). Predictors of success in writing in English as a foreign language: Reading, revision behavior, apprehension, and writing. College Student Journal 36(4), 532–543.
Long, M. H. (1983). Native speaker/non-native speaker conversation and the negotiation of comprehensible input. Applied Linguistics 4(2), 126–141. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/4.2.126
McLaughlin, B. (1987). Theories of second language learning. Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd.
Samuelson, A. (1984). With Hemingway: A year in Key West and Cuba. Random House.
Smith, F. (1988). Understanding reading: A psycholinguistic analysis of reading and learning to read. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Swain, M. (1993). The output hypothesis: Just speaking and writing aren’t enough. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 50(1), 158–164. https://doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.50.1.158
Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. New World Library.
Wang, M. (2022). Follow-up with Dr. Stephen Krashen on some current issues in second / foreign language. The Language Teacher 46(3), 17–19. https://doi.org/10.37546/JALTTLT46.3
Paul Tanner is a lecturer in the Faculty of Economics at Shiga University. His research interests include error correction in essay writing, peer review, the use of dictation, and business entrepreneurs. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org