research and writing VI: the subject

Friday, December 26th, 2003

I said in another post that students and teachers must learn information management. This may sound cold and technical. It may indeed be a poor choice of words. Nevertheless, what does it mean? I want to consider one approach in the context of a freshman writing course.

Lets say we have a task, to explore a subject. First we have to understand what we know about a subject by getting it down somewhere. An initial writing pose might be a reflective, self-search or a bit of brainstorming. The subject doesnt matter. The situation and technique does. This may or may not be a lengthy process, necessitating analysis, numerous drafts, and play with a comfortable structure: descriptive, comparative, or evaluative. An extension of this could be an examination of a subject that may not interest the writer. The outcome to this initial sortie may be a tentative claim or conclusion or a sort of settlement on definition or clarified of a notion.

Second, we want to test what we know by assessing someone elses call on a topic related to or oriented to the subject; we want to test what we know against the view of another writer or disputant. Here we need to understand what weve written and understand what were reading.

As we flesh through 1 and 2 (these are a means of getting into the writing coursesome methods require reading first) we need to consider how the writing process is shaped or controlled by the writing tool. We could record what we know with a word processor, PowerPoint, a notebook, a weblog, or with a stick and some sand. Shouldnt the writer have to understand how each will change or affect the subject physically? There are so many ways of writing.

I may learn that I dont know enough about one method to find what I know. The typewriter ribbon breaks. I dont know what all those buttons mean on the tool bar of Word. I cant get my file structures correct on the installation of Greymatter or my service provider doesnt have Perl on the server. If I have time, Im going to have to learn a method of recording, a writing method. Maybe theres a one credit WP course out there. If the teacher in a comp course wants everything word processed, is it the teachers responsibility to make sure that students know the WP? Isnt the tool part of the creative process? Ideally, students should have a common understanding of tools because the tools affect writingof course, a WP has already redefined drafting methods. The writer might save over a working draft, leaving the drafting/editing process flat and disjointed.

In composition the lucky student may latch onto a subject of study and keep that subject till graduate school; this is possible. In Contemporary Fiction I asked students in a research proposal to define a subject to cover in research; this subject could also become the subject. In comp it could be skateboarding or light. In Contemporary Fiction it could be the Samurai tradition with Yukio Mishimas story Patriotism as a means of providing focus. In CF, students may or may not understand the term research, but this course can only be taken after the year-long comp sequence, so I assume that a student has basic knowledge of source evaluation, use of the library, an understanding of citation methods, and a basic understanding of research. Some students do fine; others need to review these issues; some students assume that research is another form of general explication; some students leap right in.

Now, I want to stop and continue with skateboarding as my objective, my subject. I have a compulsion to study it. I love skateboarding. Skateboarding to me is everything. Skateboarding is a favorite of the Great Lettuce Head.

3 responses to “research and writing VI: the subject”

  1. gibb says:

    I believe that what you’ve started here and what you’re leading into is of foremost concern to more than just your own students (guess our papers were pretty bad, after all!) and want to highlight the subject and direct others to this site via a trackback and a post on Spinning. While we brought up the subject of MLA form for weblog citations, I believe that this basis of research and understanding of research theme is even more important–and may be on the endangered species list of lost arts.

    Thank you for delving into it–I think it will be a huge help to many teachers and students alike.

  2. ersinghaus says:

    Thanks, Susan. It’s interesting using this form to get into my own head about things. The next few posts should deliver some play with different forms of organizing info.

    By the way, this has nothing to do with the CF papers. I thought the papers were fine, some of them great.

  3. Spinning says:

    EDUCATION: Writing and Research

    From an e-mail from Professor Stephen Ersinghaus, a.k.a. The Great Lettuce Head: bIf you follow the GLH series on research you will note that I do have a subtle plan developing. I will be posting on how to use tools