Whether or not you like writing, it is an essential part of people’s everyday lives. From something simple like texting to something more elaborate like writing ten-page essays, a person writes almost every day. This chapter is designed to help with achieving a better understanding of the way you write and how to revise your writings. It will focus on the revision of papers and essays so that you may grow to be a better and stronger writer.
- Understand the difference between the algorithmic and heuristic style of writing
- Understand the benefits and weaknesses of each in regards towards writers block.
- Understand the differences between editing and revision
- Understand how these concepts contribute to improving your writing.
- Algorithm: a strict set of rules used to formulate a specific set of answers to a problem
- Heuristics: simple but efficient rules used to formulate a more general answer to a problem
- Bathroom Epiphanies: Sometimes taking break and walking away from the writing to clear your mind helps the creation of new ideas.
- Revision: Adding, deleting, substituting, and rearranging material to better suit the author’s purpose and audience
- Edits: Reviewing and fixing grammatical, mechanical, and stylistic errors
- Reflection: The process of contemplating on your past, present and future writing projects.
In writing, algorithms can be difficult to work with which can discourage writers from using them in their works. In order to understand why these algorithms can create issues, we must first understand what an algorithm is and how they are used. Mike Rose defines algorithms, in his article “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitivist Analysis of Writer’s Block,” as “precise rules that will always result in a specific answer if applied to an appropriate problem”. This creates a sort of double-edged sword. Although they do provide specific answers to specific situations, they can lead to writers being unable to confront unforeseen issues as they come up. They can also lead the writer down a path heading towards writer block.
In his article, Mike Rose gives many examples of ways algorithms can be unhelpful. Below are a couple of examples of students he studied:
- Ruth: spent way too much time on the opening paragraph and she focuses on grammar more than anything. Her algorithms stems from the fact that, in high school, she was told that a good essay grabs people’s attention. She also believes that if her sentences must be grammatically correct for her to use them. By following the logic that the introduction paragraph is what grabs your attention, and that you must be grammatically correct, Ruth has trapped her writing within two limiting algorithms. Her excessive following of these rules is what harms her writing rather than help it.
- Laurel: had to have an essay that consisted of three main points. Her algorithm was formed because in both high school and college she was told that a strong essay has three main points. If the essay didn’t have the three points, then it wouldn’t be considered strong. Because of this, Laurel added unnecessary information in her essays to Rose just to meet those “requirements”. Even if it harmed her writing.
- Martha: made her outline so complicated that it affected her essay.
- Mike: would plan the assignment before it was given.
- Sylvia: similar to Ruth, Sylivia spent an excessive amount of time on the first paragraph… specifically five hours!
The algorithmic writing styles of these five college students are all examples of how algorithms can be ineffective.
Although algorithms provide an easy method for transcribing your planned ideas to paper, they can often leave writers feeling trapped as they are restricted by their own planned structure. The key to solving this is to try using a blended approach of heuristics and algorithms. Instead of planning out every aspect of a piece, it may help to instead write very broad outlines that can be easily reinterpreted as you write if your ideas begin to take another form.
As algorithms relate to editing and revising, they are still relatively strict as compared to the heuristics style. When editing and revising, an algorithmic approach involves a much more in-depth analysis into making sure that each draft is ever closer to being mistake free. Whereas heuristics would focus more on content and become somewhat blind to common grammar conventions. This approach that verges on extreme perfectionism can lead to a strong, professionally written paper so long as the writer can handle its strict rules and procedures.
Some students can find algorithms helpful as they find other methods to combat writers block, but overall algorithms can be difficult to use for those that are not used to having to comply with such strict guidelines. For those that have trouble with the rigid structure and rules of logarithms, there exists a looser style that allows writers more freedom in their writing. This style that specializes in combating writers block is called heuristics.
According to Mike Rose, heuristics are “simple but efficient rules used to formulate a more general answer to a problem.” This definition demonstrates the rules of heuristics compared to the rules of algorithms. Another way used to compare heuristics and algorithms is that they are “looser.” Heuristics are “looser” than algorithms because the rules are looser meaning the rules still exist but are less constricting when compared to the rather confining thought process of using an algorithm. It might be a good idea to refer to last chapter when the shitty first drafts were mentioned, and all our ideas were thrown on to a page.
Heuristics can be easier or harder than algorithms depending on a person’s writing style. Just remember to go hand and hand with what you are comfortable with. Some people enjoy using algorithms and don’t acquire writer’s block when doing so. But if algorithms are something that bother you, it is suggested that you try heuristics instead.
Regarding writer’s block, specialists have decided that heuristics are the way to go. To touch on Mike Rose’s article in the section mentioned above, in addition to studying the five students that are included in here as examples, Mike Rose also studied five other students who did not experience from severe writer’s block. This is because their methods were not as harsh as the outlines and attention to detail mentioned above. Although their methods are not discussed, one example that you might find helpful is the simple method of using bullet points to plan out your thoughts.
In the end it is a matter of trial and error. You know yourself far better than we do, and you should use the writing style that works best for you. Keep in mind, you are not limited to only one of this writing styles, you can also have a combination of both. For example, you can use the overall structure provided by the Algorithm approach but letting the content within each paragraph to Heuristics. Take the advantages of each and fusion them in order to boost your writing to its greatest extend.
Another way to combat writer’s block is simply stop writing.
Every time Donald M. Murray left his desk, he came back with new ideas. He realized that he spent a lot of time planning, and that as more research went on and as he became more familiar with the study, the revision process would occur naturally. He could then solve more advanced problems. Murray noticed that by taking a break from writing and leaving his desk to clear his mind, he was able to think more clearly. Having a clear head allowed Murray to have new ideas flow through, which caused him to make smarter and advanced revisions to his writing.
Taking a break is perhaps the best decision if you are facing writer’s block. Whenever you feel stuck it might be because you are forcing it too hard that you are no longer concentrated in content. Leaving your work for a few hours makes it more likely that fresh ideas come up to your mind while you are doing other activities. Then you can come back and continue your writing process.
Now that you have learned the fundamentals, let’s talk about how you can use some of these strategies to revise your paper.
Revision of a prose (paper, writing, essay, etc.) is completely different than editing. While revising you are focusing more on the content of the paper, how well your ideas are being supported and how well the ideas are articulated. Are your ideas easy to read? Can people understand what you are trying to present? These are questions you need to ask yourself. If the answer is no, then you must go back and modify your information to make your topic clearer and well supported.
Revision is not just a one-time deal either. You must always go back and read through your writings. It takes constant reevaluation and rewriting in order to present your ideas appropriately and in a well-educated manner. Writing is a process so do not be frustrated if you do not understand it from the beginning. It is a learning process and will never be perfect. A great example of the writing process is the procedure used to create this textbook. Every editor wrote and rewrote paragraphs in order to try to make their ideas understandable for the reader. They constantly analyzed the chapters of other writers to give aid and suggestions. This opportunity allowed everyone to grow as a writer due to the fact that we were all taking feedback and incorporating these new ideas into our paragraphs. So, while helping the reader understand new concepts of writing, we are also expanding on our own knowledge.
In revising, grammar is not of importance. This might be a huge surprise to some people. You might be asking yourself “But what is revision if we are not looking for grammar mistakes?” Good question! You want to focus your attention on a couple different things. First, you must figure out your audience. Based on that information, make sure your writing style is appropriate. You do not want to be writing something complex to a ten-year-old and you also do not want to be writing something simple to a literary expert. Next, look at how you are writing. You should try to make sure that your writing style is consistent throughout the whole writing piece. Most importantly, you should make sure your writing has a purpose to it. Many people go off track and write about stuff that to them seems relevant to what they are writing about, but actually ti is not. If what you have already written does not relate to the overall purpose of the paper, then you must go back and change it or take it out altogether.
In the article, “What is Good Writing? A Meditation on Breaking Rules and Grammar Pedagogy”, the author, Jesse Stommel, explains the reasons why he believes that grammar is less important in the revising stage. He questions why teachers are so focused on the technicalities of grammar. In the article Stommel specifically comments, “My suspicion is that many teachers demand students adhere to “rules,” because too much flexibility makes grading inconvenient, requiring teachers read for quality, rather than merely look for errors to “fix”” (Stommel, par. 10). Stommel presents an argument that teachers are more focused on trying to locate grammar errors in papers rather than making sure students’ ideas are well formulated and clear to the reader. Stommel also questions why there are so many “strict” rules that a writer should follow in their writings. Stommel just wants writers to focus on their presentation of their argument.
Now that you are finished revising your writing piece, you can focus your attention on editing. An easier way to understand editing, is by looking at it as the last step in your process to complete a final writing piece. Now this is also where the grammar aspect comes into play. In the revision stage you did not have to be focused on grammar, but, in editing, you must. So, sorry to say but editing does not just go away (even though some wish it would).
Think of an exponential curve on a graph. As you move through the steps of the writing process, grammar gradually increasing but is not at its highest importance until it gets to the editing stage. So while editing is necessary in all stages, it does not really need to be focused on until the very last stage of the writing process.
Many people should be familiar with grammar because some may have been learning it since grade school. If you are not, do not feel bad. It is a hard concept to learn and understand. It can take years before you have a grasp on the fundamentals of grammar. Even professional writers can have trouble developing their works to be grammatically correct.
Grammar revolves around anything from grammar errors to sentence structure. The main idea is to just be able to make whatever you are writing about sound professional to your audience. You do not want your audience to be distracted by the fact that a word is spelled wrong or that there is a word missing from a sentence. The attention of your audience should instead be focused on the actual content of the writing piece itself.
Reflection or reflecting, is useful in almost every aspect of the writing process. You can use it before you begin writing by looking back at past works and understanding what you were successful at and what you failed at, so when you begin your next paper you have a better idea of what to look out for in your writing. Furthermore, reflection can occur right before you decide your work is done. After editing, read your work critically. Imagine yourself as an audience who is analyzing this paper. If after reading, it makes sense and it accomplished accurately your goals then you are all set to show it to the world.
- Although the algorithmic style is strict and may encourage writers block, it can aid writers by giving them a clear plan of how to put their ideas to paper.
- Although heuristics may lead to your writing getting off track, its loose structure allows writers to write more freely and avoid writers block.
- Revision involves writers going back and changing their content to better present their ideas to the intended audience.
- Editing involves fixing grammatical mistakes and spelling errors so that readers can more easily understand your ideas.
- Create two plans for writing two paragraphs on a topic of your choice. Create one in the heuristic style and one in the algorithmic style. Note the differences in each such as amount of detail, vagueness of ideas, and length.
- With one of the plans, write your paper. Edit and revise the paper and compare your original draft to your final draft noting changes in content, ideas, and amount of grammar/spelling errors.