Writing With Substance: You Can Haz it! SRSLY!


We'll talk about the writing process in class, of course; we'll also work through it together in our collaborative projects. I will probably revise and adapt this page during the semester in order to document our work and the trajectories our research takes.

Generally speaking, we can break writing down into what we might think of as "Solo Processes"--that is work we do on our own--and "Peer Review and Revision," work we do with the help of others. In this class, I have encouraged you to work through the "Solo Processes" in guided writing assignments in which you were responding to specific questions after performing specific tasks. In class, you've also done some free writing, recording your thoughts without having multiple constraints that dictate where your thoughts can range. Both guided and "free" responses are useful for generating ideas; they allow you to contemplate what you know and figure out what you want to learn.

After you've been able to do these sorts of thought exercises on your own, you can begin to visualize or map your thoughts, giving them some semblance of structure. You don't need to have a perfect sense of order for your thoughts, and, in fact, may find it easier to connect topics and ideas very loosely rather than outlining an organized discussion right away. 

Mapping your thoughts visually can help you reach the point where you're ready to impose a preliminary sense of order onto your content and claims. From there, you can arrange your ideas and evidence chronologically under headings, with the intention of writing paragraphs for each subset of ideas. Once you begin drafting these paragraphs, you may find the intended order needs some adjustment; perhaps you find it difficult to transition from one paragraph to the next, or you find that some paragraphs are shorter than others and seem to lack cohesiveness. You can attempt new structures as you go, or continue with your original plan, depending upon the extent to which your struggles prevent you from feeling confident and moving forward. Once you have drafted your paragraphs, revisit your structure by writing a reverse outline: go back through and determine whether the order you drafted lines up with your intentions and consider whether it presents your subject matter coherently as written. 

At this point, you will have what we will call a "good-faith rough draft." A “good faith” rough draft is one that demonstrates substantial effort on the part of its author to fulfill every required aspect of the assignment. It should be a generally complete draft, written with as much polish as possible. It should contain a complete works cited page; under no circumstance should it include material from sources without citations.

It need not be perfect, however, and it can—and perhaps even should—contain ideas or claims that the writer is not yet fully certain about. A rough draft is the place to test out ideas and arguments and see how well readers respond to them. You should make every effort to avoid grammatical mistakes, but such mistakes are inevitable in the process; your readers in this course, at least, will only respond harshly to these mistakes if they are numerous to the point of suggesting your profound carelessness. We will look at any stylistic “problems” in drafts as opportunities to help you improve your prose and refine your articulation of ideas.

Once you have a draft, you can continue to revise according to your own gut feelings; you can also find the strength to show somebody else. Of course, many writers find this step quite difficult for reasons that you probably already know too well. But reader responses are essential, regardless of how ready you feel to accept criticism. Even constructive criticism can be hard to stomach. In this course, you must learn to give your writing the review that it needs; both I and your classmates will read your prose and determine its strength. We will also consider the content of your prose and determine whether what you have written is substantive and compelling for an audience in an academic community.  

With the feedback you receive, you can begin revising for content. After reading your draft, I will ask you to pay more attention to the way you've framed your material. You will consider suggestions for improving your introduction, your conclusion, as well as your argumentation throughout. 

You will also, at this stage and beyond it, work on refining your prose. Its quality in academic contexts will hinge largely on your ability to adapt your tone and style to adhere to formal conventions. I will help you with this aspect of your prose in my comments on your drafts, but applying such commentary is only a small step towards developing a strong academic voice. Writers with the most sophisticated prose styles are those who read sophisticated prose. You will improve with practice and increased familiarity with complex sentence structure. And once again, your improvement will depend upon how much and how often you read. 

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