Monday, January 12, 2009

Log #2

The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing introduces four new concepts in Chapter 2. The first of these is that we students must memorize whatever basic material we sign up to learn, and then bring the knowledge to new situations and apply it. This deepens our understanding of the lesson, because as we are “wallowing in complexity” our minds are grasping at the material and, finally, getting a hold of it and making it ours. Professors value this probing into the messy (read: apparently contradicting) details that surround problematic situations. The text cites six critical thinking skills to for “wallowing in complexity. Start by posing problematic questions and analyzing the different dimensions of your stated problem. After assimilating, one is charged with making sense of the available facts, imagining alternatives to the problem and then finding an answer which one can defend to satisfaction. Harvard professor William Perry has described that college students come to proficiency in these practices over time, as their experience teaches them that there can be more than one well-argued, satisfactory answer to complex problems.

“The very act of writing- often without concern for audience, structure, or correctness- can stimulate the mind to produce ideas.” This is valuable to understand, because it leads aspiring writers to pen and paper for writing’s own sake in the reasonable expectation of it leading to better writing for an audience. “Good writers use exploratory strategies to think critically about subject-matter questions” is the fifth concept. The strategies that Allyn and Bacon describe are called freewriting, focused freewriting, idea mapping, dialectic talk and “playing the believing and doubting game”.

Freewriting is getting a stream of thoughts down on paper, which can be very general or focused on a specific problem or question. Idea mapping is a similar technique that that utilizes your optic nerve pathways, too. Both of these would be good for exploring what you know about a situation and begin the sensible organization and assimilation of data. The believing and doubting game is pretending to believe and also doubt a thesis and supporting your pretend position with the details that you can entice to mind. This seems like a good strategy to use for assimilating the facts once you have brought them into your mental viewfinder. The dialectic talk strategy seems like it would be really good to undergo between a rough and final draft. Once a framework of ideas is set up in the draft, you can offer it to colleagues and look for contradictions in their work in exchange for similar attention on yours. Holding your mind open to receive dialectic incite sounds helpful in crafting your solutions to be more effective.

Concept six states that a persuasive position statement catches your reader by surprise. Your thesis challenges them by constructing obstacles between them and their opinion with surprising facts, and showing them a different way through the problem. To sustain the effect of surprise, writers hold their reader in tension with ideas that pull them away from their point of view with a “surprising reversal”, a thesis that acknowledges their incite and shows how its problems demand further examination.

The second chapter of The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing comes to a head describing the basic paragraph structure of persuasive, closed-prose writing. We make a point, or rather share our idea, and when we’ve stated this position we must fill in representative data that enforces the idea until it feels well-supported. When the point of opinion has the weight of substantially observable phenomena logically associated with it, the reader can easily begin to play with. Towards the end of a writer’s initial research phase, we begin to assimilate the data and points occur to us. Once we have a few points, we begin figuring out the direction in which a solution lies and our task becomes reporting specific information and developing further points that support our thesis.

Our class read Sean Barry’s sample essay, titled “Why Do Teenagers Get Tattoos? A Response to Andres Martin”. Barry introduces the first paragraph by referring back to the title’s phenomenon, taking takes in a view of it in one, panoramic glance. He concludes the introduction with a thesis statement that I found unsatisfactorily broad. The thesis is a run-on sentence with little tension. For instance, Barry accuses the psychiatrist author he is evaluating of romanticizing the act of getting a tattoo. He cites the psychiatrist’s use of two, identity-seeking Moby Dick quotes as evidence for this. That Herman Melville’s Ishmael character was searching for identity and got a tattoo for it doesn’t address how leaving a visible, symbolic mark on one’s skin has intrinsic deep significance. Since a tattoo will always be with you, even if it’s only as a burn scar from laser surgery removal, Barry has insufficiently supported the point.

I admire Barry’s writing structure, though. It strikes a pleasing rhythm, by smoothly transitioning between the different paragraphs. The paragraphs contain distinct genres of strong writing response that he blends nicely. Going “with-the-grain” of the psychiatrist’s thesis was an effective way of demonstrating that he had read and appreciated certain strengths of his opponent’s thesis. Relating it back to a personal anecdote makes me believe that he opened himself to the psychiatrist’s ideas and simply found them wanting, given the greater bulk of his own experience.

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