At some point during my undergraduate years I discovered that writing is a form of learning. Yet that writing/learning process, which Linda Flower and John R. Hayes describe in their essay “A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing” as a means “by which a writer uses a goal to generate ideas, then consolidates those ideas and uses them to revise or regenerate new, more complex goals,” was a long time coming in my case. There are many reasons for this but in my case I was held back by the assumptions and expectations I had made about writing throughout my early instructions as a novice writer. As many American teenagers, I was first introduced to academic writing and and the five paragraph essay around middle school. As most Americans know, this “stage model” approach specifies that a writer must first brain storm, then create an outline by first articulating a thesis or leading statement followed by three supportive arguments which in turn must be supported by subsets of supportive arguments or data. Once such an outline is completed the writer is expect to put each paragraph into a cohesive structure while using academic prose. And only lastly is the writer expected to revise their work.
Of course such a method helped in creating an organized and cohesive format, but it did not allow for the recursive element in writing to take place. As such it assumed that all the ideas that were to be presented were formulated and finite during the what is know as the pre-writing step of essay writing. This cookie cutter system of writing always frustrated me because as I was “filling out” my paragraphs, new ideas, associations, and contradictions would spring to mind which would force me to move away from the hierarchy set by the leading ideas. This often caused my arguments to come across as muddled.
As I entered college I tried many different approaches to essay writing, all of them more or less based on my initial ideas derived from working with the five paragraph essay. It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I settled on a process of writing that was suitable for me and my writing needs. Not surprisingly, such a system is comparable to the writing process as it is describe by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes. This process of Planning, Translating and Reviewing was one I instinctively implemented into my writing process, and still continue to use when called upon to write an academic essay or article.
As such, when presented with the task of writing a literary analysis, my method of planning begins by accessing my long term memory in order recapture what writing a literary essay entails. Next I go back into the text to help me remember what I found to be the main points or the most interesting sections of the text during my readings. Having gathered that information, I set about the goal of writing a first draft that will encapsulate all the the ideas that come to me as I think back on the passages of the text that I have selected to address. Once this is done. I take a look at my first draft and identify similar points or themes by highlighting them. Then, if my first draft was written out on paper (as most of my first drafts are) I will literately cut each main point I identified in the previous step and paste it unto a different sheet of paper along with relevant, heterogeneous, or complementary points.
Only after this step is concluded will I then begin to form the outline that will give my essay shape. Considerations of argumentative relevance, the readers response, efficacy of communication, etc all go into planning the structure of the essay. After this step is completed I finally start to revise, rethink, and reorganize each section. It is through this process or reworking my own text that often leads me to new insights. However, since I’m working with broad sections and not just a leading thought or sentence, I have a lot more room to make changes within the particular section I’m working on without having to change the entire structure of the essay. This is very important for me when it comes to rewriting because although I may come up with new ideas, insights, or contradictions I am able to resolve them within the given section.
It is only after all the sections have been completed and reassemble in a cohesive way that I write both the conclusion and the introduction. For it is only after re-reading all my sections together that I am able to finally synthesize all my insights and find my own particular perspective on the text. Lastly, I write my introduction. Writing my introduction last was a revelation to me after I had been told for years that I needed to write my introduction first. Of course, writing an introduction first when writing an essay is useful to many writers, but I still can not comprehend how you can properly introduce an argument without fully knowing what you will say.
One thought on “The Process Behind My Academic Writings”
David, you really hit the nail on the head for me with “I still can not comprehend how you can properly introduce an argument without fully knowing what you will say.” To this day I still find myself confined to the intro, three paragraphs, conclusion format for essays and other academic writing, but reading about your exploration and experimentation into other styles is certainly something I want to seek out for myself (and something to experiment with in the classroom).