Transcriptional activation is often represented as a "one-step process" that involves the simultaneous recruitment of co-activator proteins, leading to a change in gene status. Using Drosophila developmental ecdysone-dependent genes as a model, we demonstrated that activation of transcription is instead a continuous process that consists of a number of steps at which different phases of transcription (initiation or elongation) are stimulated. Thorough evaluation of the behaviour of multiple transcriptional complexes during the early activation process has shown that the pathways by which activation proceeds for different genes may vary considerably, even in response to the same induction signal. RNA polymerase II recruitment is an important step that is involved in one of the pathways. RNA polymerase II recruitment is accompanied by the recruitment of a significant number of transcriptional coactivators as well as slight changes in the chromatin structure. The second pathway involves the stimulation of transcriptional elongation as its key step. The level of coactivator binding to the promoter shows almost no increase, whereas chromatin modification levels change significantly.