Writing requires a lot of motivation, and it can be productive to evaluate where our motivation lies much of the time. In second language acquisition, scholars use adjectives such as integrative and instrumental, as well as intrinsic and extrinsic, to talk about learners’ motivation. In Learning New Languages, Tom Scovel puts these terms, as they apply to second language acquisition, in a matrix to show that these dichotomies are not mutually exclusive, but rather represent different aspects of motivation (122). The table below shows how Scovel represents those ideas.

Integrative(1) marrying a speaker of another language(2) sending your children to a heritage language school
Instrumental(3) the hero of "Breaking Away"(4) studying a language to enhance your career

Perhaps we can modify this second language acquisition model to create an adapted model that might align better with a writing context. Scovel talks about these categories of motivation as existing on continua or even “axes,” so we have used that idea as the governing principle in our graphic below. However, we have changed “integrative” motivation (which in SLA discussions involves learning a language to know more about or even join a cultural group or community), to “education-/ improvement-oriented” motivation, which allows for a broader application across diverse contexts. In a writing context, “education-/ improvement-oriented” motivation signifies wanting to know more about writing or wanting to improve one’s writing ability.

The model would be limited, of course, if we left it at that. It would be reductive and obviously imperfect. Can our motivation be simultaneously intrinsic and extrinsic? Instrumental and education-/ improvement-oriented motivation? Can our motivation be influenced by all of these things at once? Of course it can! Perhaps, instead of confining our search for the coordinates of motivation in a single quadrant, we should instead be mapping a total area of motivation!

In reality, our motivations are more complicated and fluid than these models can show, ebbing and flowing or waxing and waning. For writers like us, on our best days, we might like writing for the sake of writing (intrinsic), while on other days the only thing getting us through is that deadline and the severe professor with his metaphorical cat o’ nine tails (extrinsic). Some days we love just love noticing the ways our craft is improving (education-/improvement-oriented), while on other days we only get around to writing because of what accomplishing that task will do for us some day (instrumental): “I am going to finish this ground-breaking article, publish it after several additional rounds of revision, and become slightly less unknown than I currently am!”

The point is, we all have different circumstances and factors influencing and driving our actions. Each writer needs to examine their own needs and motivations to find or create the right system for them to accomplish their writing goals.


Scovel, Tom. Learning New Languages. Heinle & Heinle, 2001.