22 December 2010

The Writing Process in the College Classroom

Every activity in the classroom, and in your work for the class, is part of the writing process. That means we begin our writing for this class TODAY. The list below is not strictly sequential: of course you have to read before you can think about what you’ve read, but many activities--researching expressing, conferring, and reflecting--occur many times while we are reading and writing.

1) Reading means a lot more than denoting words on a page. To read effectively, a student has to read critically. Common critical activities include acknowledging the context of the text (where was it written? who was it written for? what was the author like? what genre is the work? what does the book expect of the reader? what other kinds of books is this book meant to be like or compared to?). More concretely, an effective reader takes notes while reading, underlines important passages, and re-reads.

2) Reflecting is simply thinking about the reading afterwards. Not just in a casual, haphazard way, but perhaps with a journal or a conversation of twenty minutes with someone else who has read the book. We often feel two ways about what we’ve read: how we feel when we’re reading it and how we feel after we’ve read it. It’s often helpful to make yourself aware of, and to record, how your sense of a text changes over time.

3) Expressing your ideas in the classroom—and being open to those ideas changing, developing, or receding—is the sole reason for class discussion. If we ALL put our ideas together, we will conjure up better stuff than if we just think on our own.

4) Researching can help both to formulate ideas and to test them. Try to read a few essay on the text just to see what kinds of things people write about. As you develop your research, you will look for sources that support your argument—but also sources that challenge you to strengthen, specify, and make clearer your own argument. Sometimes, you just use others’ essays to show the reader that you are familiar with the conventional interpretations, a practice that heightens the reader’s trust in the writer.

5) Conferring with your professor is a good way to touch base, maybe learn a few shortcuts or simply to ease your mind that your idea isn’t too crazy. Surprisingly, most students learn to be more daring after speaking with their professors—weak writing is often characterized by apparent theses or descriptive papers that make no argument. Professors can also give students novel approaches to sources and methodology.

6) Writing is re-writing and re-re-writing and revising and editing and polishing.

Writing = first draft

Re-writing = all subsequent drafts

Revising = seeing the paper in a new way (modifying thesis, changing
methodology, re-assessing sources, etc.)

Editing = clarifying language and ideas, re-shaping paragraphs, re-ordering
sequence of ideas, eliminating repetitions or unnecessary

Polishing = checking spelling, grammar, usage, punctuation, correctness
of paper format (margins, indentions, Notes Page, Works
Cited page, etc.)

7) Reviewing your paper after the professor returns it is a crucial part of the learning process. Where did you succeed? Where was your logic flawed? Where were you eloquent? Where did you sound unimpressive? What might have made the paper better? Where could it have gone further, if there had been more time? It’s also a good idea to meet with your professor after you’ve looked over her or his comments if you have questions or need further clarification. HINT: professors loathe being asked to defend their grades, but they love being asked to explain their responses to your writing. Students who meet this way with professor almost always do better on the next paper—usually a lot better.

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