Tag Archives: writing process

What is your writing process?


©2015JupiterImages

©2015clipart.com

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor

 

So often in high school and college writing classes, student writers are told that if they want to produce a quality paper, they need to follow the writing process. In varying publications and textbooks, the writing process is expressed as a set of steps from beginning to end that all writers follow. The way I recall being taught was to perform the following steps, one at a time, not going back, in the following order:

  1. Brainstorm. Specifically, I was told to list, then bubble, then outline. Each of these counted as daily grades in my high school class.
  2. Draft. After brainstorming in my requisite three ways, I was required to complete a rough draft. The draft had to be up to the word count required for the final draft, but it could not be as good as the final draft.
  3. Revise. After peer review and perhaps a conference with the teacher to go over the rough draft, it was time to make big revisions. Paragraphs needed to be cut, sources needed to be added, and topic sentences needed to be tweaked.
  4. Edit. After revising for focus and organization, it was time for editing. Was there any passive voice? Any comma splices? Any spelling errors? Out came the red pens and dusting off the old editing marks chart for us all to follow.
  5. Submit/Publish. In my high school days, this step meant making sure that the printer did not run low on ink and that there was a staple placed perfectly at the top left corner of the pages. In college, this meant that I submitted the correct file type to the correct email address with the correct identifying information in my outgoing email to the professor.

I followed this process to the letter, mainly because my grade depended on it. After moving up into my major courses during my Bachelor’s degree and entering into my Master’s program, there was no prescribed process anymore. I might need to submit a draft here and there for perusal, but the process by which I produced that draft was left entirely up to me. When I found that my process did not match the official process that I was taught, I wondered why I was still getting good feedback on my writing.

One of my professors cleared up the mystery for me. She directed the writing center, and one day she shared about post-process theory, which basically acknowledges that a writing process depends on the writer performing that process. In fact, a student’s writing process might depend on his or her identity, including factors like age, gender, or race (Braun, Patterson, & Abst, 2005).

The biggest determining factor in my writing process was my anxiety over producing the perfect paper. While everyone around me despised having three separate brainstorming activities, I enjoyed those activities more than writing the actual paper. When I plotted possible ideas, there was no obligation that I follow through with them—the point was to get ideas out on paper, in no particular order, with no red pen to come along and thrash the living daylights out of my half-formed thesis statement or under-developed paragraph. I realized in graduate school that, the more time I spent on different brainstorming techniques, the fewer drafts I had to work through in the revision stage. A brainstorming-heavy process was not seen as productive, especially to my classmates who were whittling down their fourth or fifth draft while I was sitting down to type my first.

Whenever I tutor students now, I encourage them to try a variety of steps in the writing process and find what works best for them. The most reassuring part of trying these academic acrobatics is that there is somewhat of a safety net. As long as all components of an assignment are completed in due time, there can always be a visit to the writing center to check on progress. I am proud to say that I always brought a brainstorming mess and, eventually, a draft to the writing center for feedback. Students at Kaplan have an extensive resource on the writing process that can be used in building one’s own best writing process: https://kucampus.kaplan.edu/MyStudies/AcademicSupportCenter/WritingCenter/WritingReferenceLibrary/TheWritingProcess/TheWritingProcessAnOverview.aspx

A word of caution- just as there is no “one size fits all” writing process for all writers, so is there no “one size fits all” process for one writer. Each writing situation is different and requires varying amounts of thought, research, planning, and execution along the way. I did not write my twenty-page paper on feast imagery in Shakespearean tragedy using the same process I used to write my teaching philosophy for job applications. Always consider the whole writing situation.

 

References

Braun, P., Patterson, C. & Abst, S. (2005).  Talking back to tutoring manuals. Writing Lab Newsletter, 29(6), 10. Retrieved from https://writinglabnewsletter.org/archives/v29/29.6.pdf

Advertisements

Five Steps to Writing with Mindfulness


Kathleen A. Bishop, MS, PhD, Kaplan University Health Sciences Faculty

© 2014 Clipart.com

© 2014 Clipart.com

Today is the day I’ve decided to write my first blog post for the KUWC, and like all writers I am a little nervous about the whole thing. Will it be good enough? Is the grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure correct? I wonder if the other faculty members will like my writing or if they will think it is boring, simplistic, or uninteresting. Wow! While all of these thoughts are running around in my head how can write? I can’t!

So what are my options? I can just choose not to write. I can chicken out and send an e-mail to the blog editor saying I am too busy and have to forgo the opportunity. Or I could just take a few minutes and do what I do each morning before I start my day—meditate and calm my mind and my body and find that quiet place within me.

Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that I have used in my classes for 20 years. Before we begin class or the assignment we take 60 seconds to get relaxed, centered, and simply breathe. Yes breathe! My students have learned how to focus their attention on the seminar, the class, or the assignment they are working on in just 60 seconds. You have 60 seconds don’t you?

The directions are below.

1. Get comfortable in your chair or wherever you are sitting.

2. Since we hold a lot of tension in our hands, let’s give them a good shake. Now place them in your lap, on your desk, or wherever they would be most comfortable.

3. You can do this exercise with your eyes open or closed. I like mine closed because I am a visual learner, and I get distracted by what I am seeing. So I close my eyes, but you can leave yours open with good results as well.

4. Next, begin by taking three deep breaths but not so deep that they make you cough. Count one on the in breath and two on the out breath. Do that slowly three times.

5. Finally, take a minute and think about how you feel. Is your mind calm? How does your body feel? Has the tension gone out of your muscles? Have your shoulders dropped away from your ears? Has your mind calmed down and cleared? If so, you are ready to being the writing process.

Okay take 60 seconds and try it out!

When the mind is filled with rambling thoughts, fears, and questions it cannot be creative, focused, or fruitful. So begin each writing period like this, and if you lose your focus in the middle of the writing process, stop and do the exercise again. It will only take 60 seconds out of your writing period, and it will give you many minutes of clarity and creativity to use toward a paper or even a blog post!

Note: In addition to reading Kathleen’s posts here, you can also find her on www.unlockthedoortolearning.com.

Procrastination and Writing: Not a Good Pair


Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

At some point in their college careers, most students procrastinate. Procrastinating can lead to substandard work on assignments and failing grades in any course, and while it is undoubtedly detrimental for most all college assignments, it can be especially problematic for writing assignments.   First, procrastination robs writers of time they need to spend thinking about a topic and planning their writing.   Secondly, procrastinating may mean that student writers are unable to take full advantage of writing center support services.

Many college courses culminate with a substantial writing assignment that requires students to use and build upon concepts they have studied throughout the course.   Usually, these projects are previewed in the beginning of the course, so students can start them early. Fortunately, students do not need to be in front of a computer or at a desk to begin thinking about writing assignments.   If they read about and preview their writing assignments early enough, they can then ponder over their topics as they go about their daily activities and responsibilities.   They can mull over the topic, process it, and explore it. They can do this during idle time while waiting to see a doctor or to pick up their children after school or sports practices. They can contemplate their topic while standing in line at the grocery store, getting ready for the day, eating lunch, or driving to and from work. At these impromptu times, they can begin to craft solid plans for upcoming assignments. They can think through their thesis statements and how they plan to develop them within their body paragraphs. They can consider the type of research they may need to support each of their key points.   Putting writing assignments off until the last minute deprives students of this valuable time to think and plan and can lead to sloppy, plagiarized research, ineffective thesis statements, and lack of organization.

Procrastinating can also be especially problematic when it comes to writing assignments because waging a battle against time makes it difficult for students to fully utilize writing support services such as live tutoring and paper review.   The Kaplan University Writing Center receives lots of paper review requests asking tutors to review papers that are due within a few hours. Our turnaround time varies and can go up to 72 hours depending on the volume of paper submissions, so submitting very close to the time before the paper is due can mean that the student receives a review after the paper is due; students will not be able to make suggested changes or improvements before the submission deadline.  Even if the paper review is received before the due date, procrastinators will often still be rushed to find the time to apply the tutor’s suggestions completely.   Similarly, students who wait until the last minute to attend live tutoring for writing help may find that they do not have time to implement all of the tutor’s suggestions. For example, they may think they have written a final draft – while the tutor may see problems with organization and thesis development or logical support, issues that may take more time to fix than students have allotted.

As educators, we can help students realize that their best work is not done right before the deadline or easily accomplished in all-night homework sessions hurriedly researching and writing after a long day of work, classes, household chores, and child care.   We can talk about final projects early and often in our courses. We can remind students of the benefits of spending time with their topic and using down times to plan out writing projects. We can also encourage them to set up realistic time frames for seeking writing support and applying it to their work.   We can talk to them about practical ways to avoid procrastination and direct them to resources like the KUWC Effective Writing Podcast by Kurtis Clements, How Not to Procrastinate. How do you talk to students about procrastination and writing?

© 2014 Clipart.com

© 2014 Clipart.com

Ask Them: Talking Through the Writing Process


Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor

I used to hate ‘starting’ papers; in fact, I still do to this day. Planning weeks in advance for projects, I spent countless hours in front of a blank screen simply wondering when something prolific would jump from my fingertips, only to find that hours had passed and not a word found its way to the page—not even my name. I shrugged this off for the first few years of college, more than likely attributing the block to some exterior circumstance that caused a minor inconvenience. In this particular scenario, I am sure the cafeteria probably ran out of Mt. Dew, and how does a university expect its students to work under such harsh rations? All levity aside, it took this silly scenario to remind me, just a few days ago, why I love to write the way that I do. Instead of sulking and figuring out why these writing projects were out to get me, I took the liberty of compiling a very short list of untapped resources that will certainly get those ideas bouncing around in your head—especially if you are stressed out, anxious, and terrified about some of your upcoming writing projects for school.

When in doubt, talk it out.

Conference

© 2014 Jupiter Images

I try to use this cheesy phrase as much as possible, but no words can describe the real benefit of sitting down and discussing possible paper topics with others. I always go to my friends and family first with fresh, new ideas—or simply no ideas at all—knowing that I can voice my opinions openly in such a way that they then become the topic of discussion. From this point, the note taking begins. Any snippet of conversation that catches my interest immediately finds its way onto the page, even if I know that this will not be the central focus of the paper. The act of vocalizing our ideas—especially with others—tends to spawn creativity due to one person’s ideas building off of another’s—and this process will certainly seem never-ending. In the event that family and/or friends do not sound like the best option, why not try attending the writing center for additional help? I visited my first writing center when I was a senior in college just to vocalize my ideas with a different set of folks, and to date I have yet to write a more developed, organized, and thoughtful paper. I was extremely skeptical about this place where the English-folk roamed, but the staff of the writing center lives for days like these, so take advantage of it. Trust me: they will help.

Be ready to play Writer’s Pong.

Tennis

© 2014 Jupiter Images

Classmate “writer’s pong” is another fantastic way to gain some insight on your potential ideas. With the presence of online education making more and more headway, many universities turn to online tools to help stimulate and connect their students. Discussion boards act as a fantastic tool for students to use in order to gain some ideas for potential paper topics. If you happen to see that a classmate shares similar interests about a topic, why not try and initiate an e-mail conversation to discuss these possible ideas? Though it is a bit disconnected from face-to-face interaction, utilizing electronic services for these sorts of tasks can work wonders and be extremely efficient at the same time. If time is of the essence, nothing can surpass the immediacy of sending a quick e-mail or post regarding your upcoming assignment. What this will also allow you to do is actually far more important than an 8-bit game reference, and that is to let that information simmer. In between your day, whenever you have a bit of down time, take out a piece of paper and begin jotting down some thoughts that rush to your brain regarding the topic. From this point, hash out some of the better ideas that you came up with and see what your fellow classmate thinks. The benefit here is that the student will also be the worthwhile set of eyes for another student’s work, which I am certain they will be grateful for. The repeated act of thinking about your upcoming assignment, with very healthy breaks in between, of course, will only help to generate new ideas that may well trump your original topic. From my personal experience, this is usually the case.

There can be complications to this practice, though, and that more often than not takes the form of a failed assignment and an incredibly angry student. Writing tutors are especially equipped to help students understand the issues that occurred in their previous draft more than a fellow classmate, so if this happens to align with your current situation, I would advise that you seek out a session at your writing center as soon as possible. Here the tutor will be able to dissect the issues present within the draft that caused the headache in the first place. While this is very possible with a fellow classmate, some prefer the professionalism that educators bring to the equation—and that is fine just the same. Either method will bring about improvement, but none of this can begin unless you ask ‘them’ about your paper.

Prewriting Without the Boredom of Prewriting


 by Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center

Sticky notes

© 2014 JupiterImages

As the festivities officially wind down from the busy holiday months, many of us face a new year with a slew of fresh, exciting writing assignments that could use a bit of prewriting assistance.  As the homework begins to pile up and the exams become more and more frequent, the recently-lost tension begins to creep into our lives slowly but surely.  In an attempt to combat any “All work and no play” letters from being typed by yours truly, I decided to take it upon myself to reinvent myself as a writer.  This year, instead of dwelling on the lows of 2013, I decided to critique and altogether change my prewriting techniques as my old methods proved too stale and, between us and these very words, boring. Because of this realization, I created two alternative prewriting activities that may well appeal to a writer or educator in need of some serious change.

Prewriting Activity: The Sticky-Note Nightmare

Though the title sounds more like a fantastic 1980’s slasher flick, the act itself is far less terrifying and predictable.  To begin,

  1. Jot down one word or phrase that you will centralize your thoughts around—we will consider this our “idea note.”
  2. Next, being as detailed as you would like, write any idea that comes to mind pertaining to your topic on one sticky-note, peal it from the pile, and place it within sight in front of you.  (The process does not require neatness; instead, be a little messy with it! Not all of the ideas generated will make it to the page—and that is perfectly fine! Half of the fun in this activity involves stepping away from the chaos and having a good laugh at some of the sillier ideas that found their way onto the notes. )
  3. After composing yourself, remove some of the more random ideas that deviate from your initial “idea note” and see what remains.  The most useful and pertinent notes can then be expanded upon and then organized accordingly. (I personally place my useful notes in a sequential order after I feel complete.  The shape rarely matters, though I find that a traditional straight line works best for my train of thought.)
  4. Experiment with some different organizational styles, but always be sure to accomplish the assignment!  Your instructor will never know that you created a strange-looking face with your sticky-notes—I promise!

Prewriting Activity: My next piece of writing?  Oh, it’s over there—in the trash!

How many times have we correlated tossing terrible ideas into the trash?

trash bin

© 2014 JupiterImages

Instead of using the trash bin as a place of negativity, use it, instead, as a place for all of your ideas!

  1.  As you jot down your ideas, do not give a second thought to the quality of the work; just write down your thought, crumple up the paper, and toss it in the “trash.”  (When I am in the process of writing something, I typically place an additional trash bin next to the pre-existing garbage and recycling for this very reason—and because my macaroni and cheese is not part of my thesis statement!)
  2.  Once the bin becomes full, or the assignment due date sneaks up on you, empty the contents and begin organizing them accordingly.
  3. Now, as you filter through the writing, you can really place the not-so-brilliant ideas in the actual garbage and give those leftover meatballs a friend to snuggle with.   What the writer is then left with includes a handful of crumpled papers with random ideas scattered across the page—this is where the fun begins!
  4. From here, organize your ideas accordingly.

As the author, you call the shots, but I would strongly suggest adhering to your assignment and/or writing plan to best reach your audience!  I try to always organize my writing into what looks to be a tattered old book—my newest “trashy piece of writing.”  I treat each worthwhile idea as if it were a chapter in a book, making sure that each chapter covers at least a portion of the assignment.  To keep matters simple, the chapters of this particular text are sequential for purposes of flow, allowing the writer to see the progression of their work from start to finish.

These activities, while slightly different, do require a bit of work and should not be viewed as the only prewriting practice required to achieve great results.  Finding your perfect prewriting fit takes time and practice . . . so why not toss these into the mix and see if they work for you?

Farm Feast: Recipes for Writing Success


 

Green beans

©Jupiter Images2014

by Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Writing Center

When I was still living near family in the South, I got to help my grandmother prepare for a New Year’s “farm feast.”  This is a distinctly rural, Southern celebration to welcome in the year as a family.  As I watched my grandma prepare the traditional lucky foods of collard greens and black-eyed peas (which my grandpa said represented “greenbacks and pennies for the year”), I saw that there was no recipe nearby.

“Grandma, did you ever have something written down to teach you how to make the greens just right?”

“No, sweetheart, but I sure wish I did.  Why don’t you write this down for when you have a family and want to teach them?”

 The recipe I jotted down will become a teaching tool for my daughter.

Recipes are a wonderful teaching tool for more than cooking and other at-home projects.  In fact, many lessons about writing involve showing the components of a composition and then the typical process for writing it.  An assignment might involve paraphrasing, a skill that involves its own set of ingredients and steps to build.  Because writing for different types of assignments involves different approaches to the writing process, writing teachers and writing center tutors might find it effective to use a recipe format for modeling different kinds of writing.

Have you ever seen a brief research assignment written in recipe form?  That same winter I was helping Grandma prepare the greens, I was designing homework projects for a composition class filled with nursing students, and one first-week project involved learning APA citations.  The recipe for an APA citation looked like this:

Ingredients-

  • A peer-reviewed, scholarly article on a nursing concept that interests you, gathered during our library visit.
  • (Topics might include neonatal intensive care protocol, brain trauma first responses, culture care, etc.)
  • APA Manual (Nursing majors were required to have this manual where I was teaching at the time.)

1. Turn to the section in the APA manual on periodicals and find the type of journal article that best describes the article you chose.

2. Mark the different citation information (including author, year of publication, article title, and other information) on the copy of the article itself, or copy it down on scratch paper.  Do not attempt to put the citation together; just get the information down to work with.

3. Using the model citation from the manual as a guide, build your reference page citation for the article you have selected.

This is a brief version of what became a multi-page worksheet complete with practice for quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing, and of course citing all of those uses of a source.

Several resources in the KUWC share the components and process for writing different types of assignments.  Our October Quick Tips session and resource on How To Write an Abstract  features the ingredients and step-by-step approach to writing an abstract for undergraduate and graduate level research.

Just like in the kitchen, the classroom and the writing center can involve lots of little moves with different ingredients.  Sometimes it can get messy, but the work always improves with dedication over time by following a process, a writing process.

 

Teaching the Writing Process


 

Writing ProcessBy Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center

When I write longer papers, I always print out at least one hard copy of my draft before I complete final revisions.  Even though I am very comfortable with drafting and revising papers in Microsoft Word, I still sometimes need to see my words on paper in order to see how well my ideas are coming together and what revisions may need to be made.  While many others may not see a need for printing a copy of their written work during the revision stage, I need to have one when I write longer papers.  It is part of my writing process.  As tutors in the KUWC, we often have the opportunity to discuss the writing process with students.  One sentiment that I sometimes hear from students when we discuss their writing process is “I don’t have a process; I just write” or some variation of this statement.  While the writing process is a recursive, and not a linear process, there does need to be a process, and student writers often need to be taught that process, especially if they have formed the habit of not fully engaging in each step.

Writing Process

One way that tutors and teachers can encourage students’ full engagement is by showing them how each step in the process interplays with the other steps and the benefits of completing each step in the process.  For example, students should know that skipping prewriting can cause writers’ block and unnecessary time spent starting at a blank screen or paper.  Similarly, students who recognize that editing should occur after drafting and revising will usually discover that it is actually easier to get their thoughts down if they are not worrying about spelling and grammar.  Students can also learn that revising before they edit can help them avoid spending time editing a paragraph or group of sentences that may be taken out of the essay altogether.  So, while all writers write differently and need to find what works best for them, there are benefits to following a general process.  To that end, the KUWC tutorial “The Writing Process: An Overview” provides a snapshot of the process and how the steps interact with each other.  What are some other ways that you talk about the writing process with students?  What techniques have you used successfully to engage students in the writing process?