Our most recent profile, of a young teacher in Florida, featured some interesting description of her writing process, particularly regarding the use of pen and paper as well as a computer when drafting. Most of our interviewees reported drafting directly onto a word-processing program or producing content directly onto web editors or in Internet forums and web logs. Pen and paper are tools primarily used for note-taking, which generally serves as a form of invention prior to drafting. Pen and paper are also used for revision and proofreading, because performing those tasks on a computer screen strikes some of our subjects as ineffective, inefficient, or confining. When people first started writing with computers there were many observations by writing teachers of students printing out hard copies of their work before doing a variety of editing tasks; it appeared they did so because they wanted to take in the whole draft rather than whatever part of their pieces was visible on their monitors. This habit was mentioned by several of our subjects, and some also talked about the need for “multiple eyes” when copy editing. Our editor of a weekly newspaper, profiled in earlier postings, has devised a system with the editor of a similar publication of exchanging their drafts via e-mail, and using the review toolbar of WORD to ensure that those different sets of eyes have looked the copy over. The implications for those of us who teach in writing programs are that practice in copy editing should not only be frequent, but also communal.
Teachers can use a similar approach with their students, but may also cling to the personal touch of hand-written annotations when responding to their charges’ work. Maybe that tradition explains why our Florida teacher, although relatively new to her profession, reports that she still drafts and produces notes for parents and students using pen and paper. Moreover, when she began drafting her newspaper column she did so with pen and paper. My suspicion, and it can only be a suspicion, is that the column was approached with care, and with a sense that there was time to develop the material carefully. For some writers, such circumstances still suggest the appropriateness of pen on paper.
Among our interviewees, style was often influenced by two concerns—the potential readers’ level of expertise and their positions vis-à-vis the content or subject matter. This acute rhetorical sensitivity is something our Florida teacher displays, reinforcing what I have always felt, that style choices should never be divorced from intent and audience in classroom discussions. The Journalism and Public Relations graduates had something of an advantage over the graduates of our English programs in one respect: the particular demands of the writing they most often performed made them comfortable relating their style and usage questions to one reference—the Associated Press Style Guide. Settling on one style and usage reference for students in the Professional and Creative Writing programs, or in the Literature program, is definitely more problematic.
Allow me to complete this posting by calling attention to another link. It will take a reader to the Writing Across the Curriculum newsletter published, in blog form, by the Kaplan University Writing Center. This approach seems an inexpensive way of encouraging dialogue among faculty within an institution on writing in their disciplines, and on how such writing might be taught. The newsletter went on-line just a few months ago, and in doing so obviously demonstrated an ambition to extend the discussion beyond their campus. Again, the new blog you are now reading, less than a month old, seeks to generate a wider discussion as well, in response to the writing of college graduates when such writing is consciously persuasive and/or public in nature. Please, if you are reading I hope you also comment. I will respond as, I hope will others. See you next time.