August 1, 2016

Writing with a Purpose

Working on your projects with a writing consultant can be an efficient method of improving effectiveness. In a Writing Center conference, your consultant will help you review the prerequisites of your writing project.

Prerequisites for any writing project:

Prerequisite (1) Clarifying the project/assignment purpose

Professors in every discipline have multiple goals (learning objectives) for their assignments. These goals may be assumed but not stated in the assignment. Ask your professor his/her goals for an assigned paper. The ultimate goal in most assignments is to persuade the reader to accept a thesis or take an action. Sub-tasks that accomplish that goal could include one, or a combination, of the following:

  • define, summarize and/or compare key course concepts
  • synthesize concepts studied throughout the course
  • critique texts, projects, experiments
  • apply course concepts in experiments or to personal experience

Prerequisite (2) Analyzing the needs and expectations of the audience

Sometimes professors state the reader’s expectations explicitly in the assignment, or they assume that the writer knows these standards. Expectations vary by discipline and include the following:

  • structure (inductive or deductive)
  • degree of development (evidence, arguments)
  • style and tone (formal/informal)
  • format and documentation

If you are an inexperienced writer or unfamiliar with a professor’s expectations, you should ask your instructor to explain his/her expectations and to show you some sample papers.  You can also become familiar with the style, structure, and format in your field by reading texts and journals in the discipline.

Prerequisite (3) Understanding YOUR writing process

Working on your written projects with a writing consultant can be an efficient method of improving effectiveness. Consultants help writers to identify their unique strengths and areas for improvement in both academic tasks or personal projects.

To produce a effective paper, report or lab, writers should

  • understand the recursive nature of the writing process and the value of writing multiple drafts.
  • understand the necessity of analyzing their audience and purpose (see above) for each communication project.

Many writers use the writing process as a way to understand course material and/or come to inclusions about a topic. Effective writers plan for multiple drafts by which they refine their content and organization. They also reserve time for thoroughly editing the final draft. Writing is a complex process, but tackling the project stage by stage can reduce the pressure.

The writing process involves several stages:

  • invention
  • drafting
  • revising
  • editing

If your writing process hasn’t been effective, consider changing your process. Consider each of the stages below and adjust your own process.

Invention or Discovery
During the invention or discovery stage, the writer first analyzes the reader’s needs and the purpose of the task. Writers gather ideas and data by reviewing course notes, texts, outside sources like journals and Web sites, discussions with colleagues or peers, and/or experimental results.

Are you stuck at this stage? Invention can also be creative. Purdue’s Writing Center (OWL) offers a number of ways to try to generate ideas at this stage. Consider the following (Purdue Owl, 2016):

  • Brainstorm. Gather as many good and bad ideas, suggestions, examples, sentences, false starts, etc. as you can. Perhaps some friends can join in. Jot down everything that comes to mind, including material you are sure you will throw out. Be ready to keep adding to the list at odd moments as ideas continue to come to mind.
  • Talk to your audience, or pretend that you are being interviewed by someone — or by several people, if possible (to give yourself the opportunity of considering a subject from several different points of view). What questions would the other person ask? You might also try to teach the subject to a group or class.
  • See if you can find a fresh analogy that opens up a new set of ideas. Build your analogy by using the word like. For example, if you are writing about violence on television, is that violence like clowns fighting in a carnival act (that is, we know that no one is really getting hurt)?
  • Take a rest and let it all percolate.
  • Summarize your whole idea.
  • Tell it to someone in three or four sentences.
  • Diagram your major points somehow.
  • Make a tree, outline, or whatever helps you to see a schematic representation of what you have. You may discover the need for more material in some places. Write a first draft.
  • Then, if possible, put it away. Later, read it aloud or to yourself as if you were someone else. Watch especially for the need to clarify or add more information.

You may find yourself jumping back and forth among these various strategies.

You may find that one works better than another. You may find yourself trying several strategies at once. If so, then you are probably doing something right.

 Drafting
Writing a rough, first draft from a simple outline allows the writer to think on paper. By not worrying about a formal outline or editing errors at the initial drafting stage, writers can focus on making meaning of their notes. (In effect, the writer talks to him/herself.) After drafting the essay or lab, the writer may see that ideas in skimpy paragraphs may need more support. This draft may lead more work on discovery.

Check your structure. Highlight the main ideas or points and use the highlights to test the logic of your organization. For labs and reports, writers can highlight the main points in each section and check that a paragraph supports the main point.

Revision
Revision involves making substantial changes to your project’s development and organization. Revision does not focus on correcting grammar errors.

Your work must satisfy the expectations of the reader and meet the conventions of the discipline. Be sure to ask the readers of your paper, report or lab to explain their expectations for organization, evidence, and style. To revise a draft, critique your draft from the reader’s perspective and adjust your structure and evidence. Writers should also check for organizing features like headings, paragraph topic sentences, adequate evidence, cohesive paragraphs or sections, and transitions.

Editing
The editing stage is essential, but does not guarantee success. Every effective written project is correct, but not every correct paper, report or lab is effective. Correct grammar and punctuation are pre-requisites for success. Writing Center tutors will be glad to help you edit your papers, letters, labs and reports.

For long projects, edit first for sentence style:

  • concise language
  • consistent person
  • logical tenses
  • specific vocabulary
  • active verbs
  • appropriate tone
  • sentence variety
  • citation format

Sentence variety (simple, complex and compound) engages the reader but does not sacrifice clarity for sentence variety. Always check that sources cited in-text and in the list of references follow the format preferred by the discipline or reader.

Lastly, edit the final draft for correctness. See the ” Common Errors” for some general help. Please visit the Writing Center to work on your particular concerns with a writing consultant.