Friday, December 7, 2012

Project 4 Final Essay. Just to share my thoughts.


Stephanie Maccombs
December 10, 2012
Instructor May
Project 4 Final Essay
My Writing Revolution
College has opened so many doors for me. At one time, I thought my primary and secondary schooling had taught me everything there was to know, but then I moved on to bigger and better things. Here at college, there are no set rules for each classroom or each subject. Here—there are opportunities, there are debates, there is opposition to commonality, and there is discovery. After my first semester at Ohio University, I feel I’ve learned more in 15 weeks than I have in 15 years. The most influential discovery I have made is in composition (one thing that applies to every thing). The ‘rules’ I have always been taught are really just constructs; and the way I was accustomed to writing was done just to please my teachers at the time. Now I have learned that writing is argument. Writing is not a step-by-step process—it is a recursive experience that each writer can change every time they write. Simply following someone’s ‘rules’ does not mean your work is polished. Writing, as I’ve come to know it, is nothing like what I thought. To me, my English 1510 (Writing and Rhetoric) class has caused my writing revolution.

This new writer that I am is the product of this writing revolution. When entering this class, I thought that effective writing was simply something that informed, entertained, or persuaded and consisted of perfect grammar. However, that was just a result of my previous schooling and not being exposed to the real world. This course has proven to me that I was certainly wrong. For writing to be successful, at least as I have come to determine, it has to have a meaning and it has to be relevant to you and those whom which you are writing to. Writing cannot be written solely to please others and it is not effective exclusively based on proper grammar. Writing varies from topic to topic and it is the reader’s job to analyze text well. My new view on writing, or theory if you will, is much more applicable to the real world and is much more pleasing to me. If a piece of writing touches someone, disrupts a commonality, raises questions in a new area of thinking, or grabs the interest of someone who would have otherwise been uninterested in the subject—then, and only then, it is successful.

The Beginning

In this class, I have read work from several authors that have truly renovated the way I view writing. A few of the first authors explored in this class were Greene, Kantz, Berkenkotter, and Dawkins; these authors sparked the fire for my transformation. Throughout the course I learned about visual rhetoric, discourse, discourse communities, and ethnography. All of these things had an influence on my subsequent writing— and my process, as well as my products, were much more enjoyable. But, it was the closing of the semester that I learned the most from. Late in the course I read about binary thinking in society, how it is linked to composition, and how negativities can be destroyed. A couple of the authors that described this “black and white” world were Flynn and Malinowitz. Each author touched on a different binary, and each had something to say that pushed me to further analyze my reading and writing. Another influential person in this class was not a published author, but rather my instructor. Instructor May provided me with several insightful explanations of texts, suggestions, and information. With a new view on the structure of writing, the logic behind the writing I encounter in today’s world, and my own process—I have become a new writer with a new purpose and a new understanding of effective writing.

The author that framed this class, and thus my new view on writing, is Greene. In “Argument as Conversation,” his focus was explaining that an argument is not a dispute, but rather an ongoing discussion. A quotation by Greene that summarizes his assertions and really caught my attention was this:
Every time you write an argument, the way you position yourself will depend on three things: which previously stated arguments you share, which previously stated arguments you want to refute, and what new opinions and supporting information you are going to bring to the conversation. (12) [Emphasis added]

After I really understood that my work was essentially a piece in a conversation, I feel my writing really began to flow better. I did not write speeches, but I wrote in a way that I thought others could follow, agree with, add to, or counter-argue. Kantz also helped me in the early stages of my change. Her argument entered conversation with Greene. She stated:
Students need to read source texts as arguments and to think about the rhetorical contexts in which they were written rather than to read them merely as a set of facts to be learned. Writing an original persuasive argument based on sources requires students to apply material to a problem or to use it to answer a question, rather than simply to repeat it or evaluate it. (72)

Essentially, Kantz described me as a student writer previous to this class: I had never even considered the credibility of a “fact” before, or even how to properly incorporate them (and reference of the counterargument) into my work. Later in her piece, Kantz asserted, “…creativity is what research should be about” (81). Just one small statement epically transformed my view on research and writing; and I believe had a major impact on my creating of Project 1. Kantz and Greene together intrigued me, and led well into the work of Berkenkotter and Murray.
The next two authors actually did collaborative work together to study the actual writing process (as opposed to the ever-so-popular linear version). Berkenkotter studied the writing process of Murray, a published writer. Previous to reading this article I was apathetic toward writing: dreading going step-by-step in a boring undeviating way. When referring to the “great and small decisions and revisions that form planning,” she stated, “These decisions and revisions form an elaborate network of steps as the writer moves back and forth between planning, drafting, editing, and reviewing” (227). I took away (even from this lengthy article) something valuable— writing does not have to be boring! It is not a rule that you must first plan, then draft, revise, and polish. Sometimes, in my writing before college, thinking that there was a step-by-step process actually hindered my progress because if I was polishing my paper and wanted to go back to the drafting stage, I thought that was impossible. Thanks to this class, all my writing since reading that article has been much more enjoyable and customized to what I was writing. I feel the outcome has been much more successful writing. In other words, I started to question authors and add to conversations in a better way because I could rethink my writing better.

On a more fundamental note, Dawkins’ article really surprised me. He wrote:
First, manuals of style and college handbooks have it all wrong when it comes to punctuation (good writers don’t punctuate that way); there is, I propose, a system underlying what good writers, in fact, do; it is a surprisingly simple system; it is a system that enables writers to achieve important—rhetorical effects; it is, even, a system that teachers can teach far more easily than they can teach the poorly systematized rules in our handbooks and style manuals. (140)

This is where I learned that proper punctuation and grammar does not mean that a paper is perfect, and it might not be so proper after all. Actually, prior to reading this—I spent more time making sure my punctuation and grammar were correct instead of writing. Afterward, though, I started using dashes and colons and anything to add emphasis where I wanted it. Dawkins’ impacted my new writing theory because now I feel that the author has choices and freedom in their writing as opposed to conforming so that all texts look the same.

The Core: The Projects

Next came the time for Project 1. Since I had recently discovered that the writing process was not so linear after all, I chose the writing process as my topic and I was excited to try my own punctuation and grammar styles. This project was my first college paper, and I hadn’t learned everything from this class that I needed yet. I feel that my final paper was decent in the sense that it entered the conversation and included supporting evidence as well as coverage of any counterargument. However, this was my first experience writing recursively. This was the first time I got to try not going step-by-step. I feel that this project was a good start for me but I could improve, and if I re-did that project now that I’ve had more practice, I could do so in a more effective way.  

In the middle of the semester I learned about visual rhetoric. Some of the authors (such as McCloud and Bernhardt) wrote about this. I learned most about it, though, via Project 2. What I had learned about writing so far in class actually shaped how we scripted the film, and how we spoke it. We did not write, then speak, then edit: we wrote, edited, spoke, re-wrote, and spoke again. Essentially it was a recursive process of it’s own but it was very relatable to the new view of writing I had started to form. My writing practices were influenced by just the idea of media: I learned a lot about note taking in this project, and I believe I write my rough drafts in a more script-like fashion now. The two members in my group were very familiar with film. Also, our topic was essentially freedom within the classroom: mainly the freedom to choose one’s own topic. We took advantage of our multimedia project, the irony that we had the freedom to choose what our topic was, and our background in film to create a masterpiece. Albeit, it might not actually be a masterpiece in some people’s eyes, but I am proud of our work and I think it was successful because it added to a conversation, it caught people’s attention around campus, and I discovered from it that even a script – a different type or writing and analyzing - had an impact on my personal prose.

Project 3 consisted of an ethnographic study of a group of my choice. I learned that these “groups” were really discourse communities and I learned about different genres and communication. The discourse community I chose was the Lifeguards of Nelsonville Water Park (I am a member). In this project I noticed myself spending more and more time writing. I planned, then wrote, edited a little, then planned again, revised, and planned, edited, wrote, etc. I could really put myself into my work with the new recursive way of writing, and also because I could identify with the discourse community. I had something important to say about this community, I had questions to answer and thoughts to share. I believe I wrote something that could really mean something to someone. For about this first time ever, I was sure of making an impact.

The End— For Now

By this point in the semester, I was amazed. It was shocking to me that I had learned so much- and more so shocking that I actually applied those things in my own work. I didn’t, however, want to get that feeling that I knew it all again like I had after high school. So, it was refreshing to touch on a new subject toward the end of the semester that I really enjoyed. Who knew I would enjoy reading about binary thinking: culture, society, how to overcome. To demonstrate binary thought, or at least how I view it after reading our class articles and after our discussions, I’ve provided some examples below. Essentially, the things on the right are Good and the things on the left are Bad (in societal terms). Articles special to my writing revolution follow.
Successful
Failed
Desired
Unwanted
Popular
Ignored
Right
Wrong
Exciting
Boring
Wealthy
Poor
White
Black
Straight
Gay
Majority
Masculine
Minority
Feminine

Elizabeth Flynn wrote about the line between femininity and masculinity as it pertains to composition. That “line,” as I have come to know it, is what creates binary thought, and binary writing. To simply paraphrase Flynn, she says that men have written history and have forced women to become inferior (thus, as they write, they may appear weak or be viewed as such anyways). She states, “In exploring the nature of the writing process, composition specialists expose the limitations of previous product-oriented approaches by demystifying the product and in so doing empowering developing writers and readers” (156). It’s interesting to me that though this unit had a totally different focus, the writing process itself is still a key factor. I believe this is where I started to really dig deep into my thinking processes involved in my writing. I had never realized before how history has impacted the way I was taught to write. Perhaps, this new perspective helped advance my interest in my writing process as Berkenkotter had—and would explain the difference in my writing from Project 1 to Project 3.

Another explained binary came from Malinowitz in “Queer Texts, Queer Contexts. In this article she explains the binary between heterosexuality and homosexuality and how it affects the writing of the minority. Malinowitz brilliantly relates the binary to composition when asserting:
Think of how [students] are told to be aware of issues of audience, subject, and purpose, and to claim textual authority. Then consider the convoluted dimensions these rhetorical issues take on when lesbian and gay writers inevitably have to choose between risking a stance from an outlaw discourse or entering into the familiarly dominant discourses of heterosexuality. (123-124)

This article (alongside Flynn’s) challenged the way I analyzed texts. When reading the rest of the articles in the class, I dug deeper. I wanted to know about the author, their background, history or the topic: I wanted to know what made each author write the way they did about what they did. Ultimately, I wanted to explore my own reasons for my style of writing. I think analyzing further about those things and about the audience the work was directed toward only made my writing and my understanding of successful writing stronger.

At this point, though it had been building up throughout the semester, I realized my purpose in writing: social change. Flynn and Malinowitz both call for change in their articles. Flynn wants inclusion of the study of feministic composition in the classroom; Malinowitz wants the same for sexual identity and homosexual studies. Yergeau, who wrote about autism, wanted the world to view things in a more positive way when stating, “Conceiving of autism as rhetoric, as a way of being in the world through language, allows us to reconstrue what we have historically seen as language deficits as, instead, language differences” (269). Sherman Alexie, an Indian who fought against his stereotype of being unintelligent, fights for change in writing and through action. He wrote, “I visit schools and teach creative writing to Indian kids… I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives” (365). All of these authors have so much to say to anyone listening just to make a change, an impact, a disruption in a commonality. I want to be like that. I want to do something. I want to make that impact on the world.

This semester has made me progress so much. I’ve learned far more than what is mentioned in this piece: how to incorporate headings, the effects of your culture on your writing, identity, authority, historical and rhetorical contexts, etc. I feel my new theory of writing is much more accurate; but, I know that if one class can mean so much to me, I can’t imagine what else I will learn throughout the rest of life and how it will modify my new understanding.  I feel you can only truly understand the impact just this semester had on me (and the development of my new theory) if you review some of my work.

Analysis of My Work

My improvement throughout the semester can best be reflected in my work. All of the works I will be discussing are in my final portfolio.
1.     I think the first summary (Greene’s article summary) I had ever written for this class is a good place to start. I wrote:
“In “Argument as Conversation,” Stuart Greene attempts to convince readers that argument is conversation. The audience is composed of students and Greene’s focus is explaining that an argument is not a dispute, but rather an ongoing discussion. Greene’s reasons for questioning this writing construct include the historical context behind any given argument and the fact that engaging in and leaving an argument does not mean that it is over. He also introduces his view on framing and research as inquiry, cites other authors, such as Kenneth Burk, and writes in the way he is describing (or practices what he preaches). To Greene, the dialogue related to an argument justifies it being a conversation.”
      At the time, I really thought this was a good summary. I had covered the main points; that was all I had ever been taught to do. However, as I began to think more critically throughout the course I noticed my summaries became a little more detailed and I really analyzed texts better. For example, I think my summary of “Identity, Authority, and learning to Write in New Workplaces” by Elizabeth Wardle was very in depth:
In “Identity, Authority, and learning to Write in New Workplaces,” Elizabeth Wardle attempts to explain how identity and authority issues affect the process of enculturation for workers in new environments. Wardle argues that the issues of identity and authority can affect one’s assimilation in a new working environment and that miscommunication with the two can lead to one being viewed as a “tool” and stress.

To start, Wardle describes modern socio-historic theories describing identity and authority. She details the Activity Theory by David Russell, which says that as one encounters new activity systems they encounter new genres and must determine how and when or if to use them. Wardle notes that an activity system is essentially a discourse community. She also describes Etienne Wegner’s theory that details three interrelated modes of belonging: engagement, imagination, and alignment. Engagement can me negative or positive and is where newcomers and experts interact. Negative engagement for Wardle is called non-participation and it can marginalize the workplace. Imagination can enable a sense of belonging but can also cause disconnect if the imagination is not similar to the reality. Alignment is where the new comer aligns with the new discourse they are in. Basically, positive communication and effort on the behalf of both the newcomer and the existing workers is necessary for the newcomer’s success in the new workplace. For authority, Wardle expands on Wegner’s theory. Wardle claims that authority is an intangible thing but is nonetheless granted within institutions. She states that clear job position separation is necessary to avoid confusion of authority. When there is confusion, imagination can get in the way of alignment.

To end, Wardle presents a case study of sorts. She tells about Alan the computer specialist. He began working after graduating college in a department that he felt he had no authority in. He then worked for the department of the college from which he graduated. He claimed he was a “God” here and assumed that his only boss was the department chair. He sent vast emails regularly but lacked the language that the members of the department required. He eventually because the joke of the department and the other members in the activity system did not view his prestige in the same way he did. Alan’s story portrayed that the engagement process was flawed and combining that with his false imagination about his authority led to improper alignment in the workplace. Wardle used Alan to show that learning to write in new environments can require more than just new skills and ways of thinking- it requires involvement, understanding power, and effort to assimilate with the other members.

Both summaries were written to be posted on my blog. However, for Green’s summary I was writing to my teacher, and for Wardle’s summary I felt I was writing to the discourse community that she had written to. To me, the substantial difference in analyzing and identifying audience demonstrates how I dig deeper in my readings and why my new theory has come to be what it is. If I had not made this change I would never have really grasped the importance of what an effective text is, I would have never discovered these binaries, and my Projects would have been shorter, less detailed, less audience oriented, and consequently less successful.

2.     Next I want to show you my way of thinking, not necessarily the text at hand. In my “Personal Thoughts” section of Greene’s article I wrote, “In my opinion, I did not particularly like this article at first. Perhaps that was because it was my first assignment this year for college, or maybe because it actually challenged what I wanted to believe.” Clearly this demonstrates how close-minded of a student I was when starting this class. I was ready to accept writing rules as writing constructs, and thus I was not prepared enough to produce successful work. By the end of the class, however, in the “My Personal Thoughts” section of my response to Helene Cixous’ article- I wrote, “I thought this article was slightly difficult to follow- more than likely because it was a translation” and concluded with, “At first, the title made no sense, but after reading her passionate words and her reference to Medusa- it all came together. Overall, despite the flaws, I liked this article.” From this I have gathered that instead of not liking something just because it goes against me, I have learned to appreciate situations, circumstances, and be more open-minded.

3.     To demonstrate how interested I have become in the history of a text and its writer, I present a recent blog post. The post was about Helene Cixous’ “The Laugh of the Medusa” which was about feministic composition. I wrote:
I researched Helene Cixous herself, and she was an interesting woman. She is a professor, literary critic, playwright, philosopher, French feminist writer, poet, and rhetorician. Now, she is 75 years old. This work was written in 1975 (explaining how demand for such Woman was so imperative … women’s inclusion in society has advanced since that era).
To tell the truth, I might not have cared about this information at the beginning of the semester. But, again, I have learned how important this type of information is to a text and to one’s understanding of what has been written. Maybe if research is always done like this, the way something is written or the style might be more understandable. This background information has an impact on the successfulness and effectiveness of a text. Furthermore, maybe a text someone comes across was much more relevant 100 years ago than it is today (making it effective writing then and not so much now). Understanding something as important as that had truly changed my writing theory.
4.     Next, I want to revisit my proposal that I have progressed between Project 1 and Project 3 in my writing. I will not include the texts and grading comments within this essay (though they are included in my final portfolio), but I will comment on what I believe caused such change. In Project 1, my weakness was structure mainly— but also, I was writing to my instructor, not the community that would have been interested. Additionally, I did not truly write recursively and I held back on altering my punctuation and grammar a little more than I had wished. Furthermore, I had gaps because I had not practiced incorporating sources, let alone examining each source in detail in regards to their historical and rhetorical context. In Project 3, I had improved greatly because all of the weaknesses I had in Project 1 were obvious to me at that point. I had worked on all of those things in my writing assignments between Project 1 and 3, and the sources I chose for Project 3 were carefully examined. Also, I wrote to the community of Lifeguards rather than to my teacher or class. To put it simply, the experience of this class and the practice of writing throughout greatly improved my writing abilities.
5.     For a final analytical view of my texts, I want to describe something most important to me that has happened in my writing—the writing for change. I had so much passion already, to make a difference to someone, to something, somehow. And now, thanks to this class, I know I can do it through writing. No example summary or synthesis can demonstrate how passionate I am about this notion. The only textual example I can really provide is my Project 3, in which I expressed my want to make a change in the community of Nelsonville Water Park Lifeguards. However, that change only applies to a hand full of people. In the future, I want to write something epic—something that everyone can read.

In the future, I know to better analyze texts. I know it is important to ask questions, and argue for what I believe. Research is necessary, as well as adding to what is already there. My process no longer has to be that boring step-by-step process; I can move freely in my writing, different every time. In the future I plan on spending a little more time on my writing, making sure that it is going to make an impact. I want my work to disrupt those commonalities, answer questions, and spark interest.

I have come a long way since the start of the semester. It is only rational to think I will learn more about writing, and my personal writing, as I go through college. Also, I feel I will learn more about it in my future jobs. I am a double major in Psychology and Social Work—and I have a niche for writing for social change, I believe. So, it is very likely that those work environments will allow me to write successfully while still learning how people in those fields compose. My theory on writing has changed so much already! I want to turn my writing revolution… in to a world revolution.





Works Cited
Alexie, Sherman. “The Joy of Reading and Writing.” Writing About Writing: A College Reader.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martins (2011): 363-365. Print.
Berkenkotter, Carol. “Decisions and Revisions: The Planning Strategies of a Published Writer.”
Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins (2011): 218-230. Print.
Dawkins, John. “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool.” Writing About Writing: A College
Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins (2011): 140-154. Print.
Flynn, Elizabeth. “Composing as a Woman.” Readings on Writing. Cincinnati: Van-Griner
Publishing (2013): 156-166. Print.
Greene, Stuart. "Argument as Conversation: The Role of Inquiry in Writing a Researched
Argument." Writing About Writing: A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins
(2011): 10-32. Print.
Heilker, Paul and Melanie Yergeau. “Autism and Rhetoric.” Readings on Writing. Cincinnati:
Van-Griner Publishion (2013): 261-269. Print.
Kantz, Margaret. "Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively." Writing About Writing:
A College Reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins (2011): 68-84. Print.
Malinowitz, Harriet. “Queer Texts, Queer Contexts.” Readings on Writing. Cincinnati: Van-
Griner Publishing (2013): 110-130. Print.

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