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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Comp Studies (ii)

I found an excellent article by Nancy Sommers. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers." (College Composition and Communication, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1980), pp. 378-388). The way I found it was to look on JSTOR for the most cited and accessed article in this journal. I feel I am reinventing the wheel a bit here, because I'm sure everyone in this field already knows this article. But since most readers of this blog are not comp specialists, I thought I would share what I learned.

Student writers (freshmen, sophomores) saw revision (a word they didn't actually use) mostly in a thesaurus mode. It was a matter of replacing individual words with others and eliminating repetitions and redundancies. The also checked their writing for rule breaking, making sure there were no prepositions at the end of the sentences, things like that. They had been taught certain mechanical rules in high school and thought of good writing as the avoidance of mistakes.

In contrast, experienced adult writers (journalists, academics, etc...) saw their revision as a process of searching for their argument. They were much more active in revision, moving parts of the essay around, eliminating or merging paragraphs. The way these writers talked about their work was very similar to the way I think about my own writing and revision.

Obviously, the implication here is that student writers have to be taught to think of their work in these more sophisticated terms. That they don't automatically think of their writing and revision in this holistic way.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I would be so happy if my students would just check for repetition and redundancies! They seem terrified that someone will lose the thread of their argument, so they keep repeating bits of one sentence in the following one, till I lose the thread from sheer boredom.

Jonathan said...

Yes, we'd be grateful for small things, but that doesn't mean we should lose track of the big picture.

Anonymous said...

This article explains a lot.

Contingent Cassandra said...

Sommers' article is, indeed, very familiar to several generations of composition teachers (it has made its way into a lot of comp readers, for both students and aspiring teachers), but that's because it's a good one. It still makes sense to my students, even though Sommers' subjects wrote with pens and pencils and typewriters, and they've known nothing but word processing.