Writing Activity 2A: Examining Past Writing Experiences
Remember a situation in which you chose or were forced to follow the product model, whether consciously or sub-consciously. Consider both school writing tasks and out-of-school ones. Working on your own or with a partner, jot down some answers to the following questions. After you finish, be sure to share your ideas with your classmates.
What was the assignment’s purpose, audience, and how much time did you have to complete it?
- Briefly describe your composing process. Talk about the amount of time you spent planning the piece in your head and the amount of time you spent writing it. Try to remember whether you had the opportunity to receive feedback from others before the assignment was due. If not, why?
- If at any point in the assignment, you hit writer’s block, what did you do about it? Did you have adequate time, resources, and writing techniques to overcome it?
- Who read and evaluated your writing after it was completed? What criteria was the evaluation based on? Did you feel that you did a good job with the piece?
Writing Activity 2B: Generating Topics
If you have an idea of the topic or issue you want to study, try asking the following questions
- Why do I care about this topic?
- What do I already know or believe about this topic?
- How did I receive my knowledge or beliefs (personal experiences, stories of others, reading, and so on)?
- What do I want to find out about this topic?
- Who else cares about or is affected by this topic? In what ways and why?
- What do I know about the kinds of things that my potential readers might want to learn about it?
- Where do my interests about the topic intersect with my readers’ potential interests, and where they do not?
Which topic or topics has the most potential to interest not only you, the writer, but also your readers?
Writing Activity 2C: Gaining New Knowledge Through Revision
After completing the first draft of your research project that is probably based on your pre-existing knowledge about the subject and the first round of your searches, consider the following questions. Apply these questions to any research project you are currently working on. You can complete this activity on your own and with your own draft, or use these questions in a workshop group as a guide for discussion and responding.
- During your first round of searches, what new information, ideas and opinions about your subject have you discovered?
- Which of your research results were expected and which ones puzzled you, surprised you, and intrigued you and why?
- How does your current understanding of your subject differ from the one you had before you began your research?
- Look back at your original research questions. In the light of your new knowledge, can they be revised, clarified, or modified in any way?
- What additional research do you need in order to answer these revised questions?
- Do not commit to a fixed thesis or a fixed point of view at this point. You are still looking, still exploring.
This activity is an example of what Bruce Ballenger (2001) called “writing in the middle” (176). You are likely between the first and the second draft of a research project. You have completed an initial search, and now it is time to evaluate what you know and what else you need to find out. In terms of the process theory, you are well on your way of creating interesting and rhetorically meaning for yourself and for your readers. By researching, writing about your data, and constantly evaluating both your research data and your writing, you are creating that new and original system of beliefs about your subject which Doug Brent talks about and which I mentioned earlier.
Writing Activity 2D: Asking Focusing Questions
In the following activity, work with a rough draft you have recently completed. You can complete this activity on your own and working with your own draft. You can also complete this task in a small workshop group and apply the questions below to your classmates’ rough drafts. As you work through the tasks below, remember that your goal is to find focus of your writing, to narrow your subject down to a manageable research question or set of questions that you can then investigate in your piece. Work through the following tasks thoroughly. Take adequate notes and record your answers and ideas. If you are reading someone else’s writing, be sure to discuss your findings with the author.
- Read the draft carefully, several times if necessary.
- As you read, underline or highlight words, sentences, ideas, or paragraphs that, for whatever reason, seem important or interesting.
- What ideas, stories or arguments is the draft trying to convey or advance? Does it have a “center of gravity,” a central or important point or idea? Perhaps it has several such centers, in which case you will want to take note of them all, as each can later become the paper’s focus.
- Which of the ideas, stories, or arguments in the draft are worth developing further and which ones can be discarded? Remember that these ideas and arguments must be interesting and important not only to the writer but also the potential readers of the paper.
- Try to plan for the next draft keeping in mind the focus (or foci) that you found going through the preceding questions.
- As a result of this activity, your piece may take a completely different direction from the one you originally envisioned. Therefore, radical changes in your draft will likely be necessary. You will probably need to rewrite and rearrange whole sections and paragraphs of the paper, add new details, examples, and arguments while discarding some of the old ones.
Writing Activity 2E: “Fat” Draft and Writing Between the Lines
I learned these two revision techniques from my mentor and friend Wendy Bishop. Since then, I have used them many times both in my own writing and in my teaching.
In the “fat” draft activity, you are asked to double the length of your current draft. It does not matter where in the draft you add the material as long as the next version of your text is twice as long as the previous one. It does not even matter all that much whether the sentences and paragraphs you are adding are good enough to stay in final version of your paper. Remember that you are making meaning as you revise, and it is important to generate as many options and ideas as possible in the process of revision.
In “Writing Between the Lines,” you are also required to double the length of your current draft, except here you add a new like underneath every existing one. Computers make this kind of text manipulation easy. The content of every new line you add will, in some way, be related to the line that precedes it. The lines do not need to dovetail into one another smoothly, and the transitions between them do not have to be seamless. Although the organizational decisions you will make about your paper later on may be influenced by what you write now, your primary concern should not be the structure of your paper or transitions between paragraphs and sentences. Instead, you should focus on generating as much material as possible by adding explanations, details, new research, descriptions, and so on.
Writing Activity 2F: Searching in the Middle
This activity will work best if completed between the first and the second drafts of a research project. As in previous exploratory tasks of this chapter, you can apply the questions below to any research project you are currently working on. And, as with previous activities, you can either apply these questions to your own draft or to the drafts of others in a small workshop group. As you work on the questions below, use the notes that you took about your first draft during the previous exploration activity.
- Review your first draft. Get an idea of what it is saying, but try not to look sat it as a sum of introduction, body, and conclusion. Instead, evaluate the ideas and concepts presented in it and try to decide how well they answer your research questions.
- Try to make some plans for revision. Use the revision strategies and techniques discussed earlier in this chapter as well as feedback from other readers.
- Now review the research results which you obtained during the first round of searching. What do they do and not do to answer your questions? Revisit your research questions and try to revise them. Next, go back to the library and the Internet and conduct another round of searching, guided by your current, post-first draft vision of your topic and of your project.
Writing Activity 2G: Cut and Paste
Here is another activity invented by Peter Elbow. When I assign this activity to my students, some of them consider it a little unusual at first, but eventually most of them see its usefulness. The purpose of the cut and paste activity is to radically re-see and re-imagine your draft by rearranging and rewriting its paragraphs. This activity works on the assumption that in order to radically re-imagine and revise their work, writers need to detach themselves as much as possible from the draft in its current form. In order to see your paper in a new light, you need to try to forget what it looks like now.
Elbow’s cut and paste technique is likely to help you revise on two levels. It will probably help you focus your writing better by showing which parts of your draft belong there and which ones need to be discarded or rewritten. But it may also help you to revise for development and detail by highlighting those parts of your paper which need additional explanations, descriptions, scenes, stories, and so on.
- With a pair of scissors, cut your draft into paragraphs. In my experience and that of my students, printing and cutting the paper works better than manipulating the paragraphs on the computer screen because it seems to allow the writer to remove him or herself better from the current form of the text.
- Lay the paragraphs out on a table in front of you. Make two piles: in one pile, put the paragraphs which seem to fit in with the focus of your paper the way you currently see that focus. Put all the other paragraphs in the other pile.
- Begin working with the second pile by reading through the paragraphs. Try to decide which of them can be rewritten and improved and which ones can be discarded. Don’t be afraid to get rid of the material that does not fit into your design for the paper.
- Now, consider the first pile and decide whether any of the paragraphs in it should be re-written.
- Combine both piles. Try to create a new version (or several versions) of your text by arranging and re-arranging the paragraphs in several different ways. Remember that you will be revising most, if not all of them.
- Notice what is missing in this new version. Do you need to add new arguments, details, descriptions, scenes, and so on?
Completing this activity will not produce a finished next draft for you, but it will help you to make some firm and realistic plans for it. Of course, because you have substantially re-seen and re-imagined your first draft, you will have to do write some new material to add to the existing paragraphs and complete the next draft.