Identifying Patterns in the Writing Process

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Posted on 19 Apr 2013 00:38

Sondra Perl tried to discover the source of the obstacles that students confront when writing in her work, “The Composing Process of Unskilled College Writers” by codifying their behaviors while writing. In this essay, she records five case studies that she conducted on unskilled college writers. One case study was analyzed in detail and the rest were summarized in the discussion and data. Sondra created a list of possible behaviors and gave each a corresponding abbreviation with variations in the circumstances and combinations of actions. This code was used to identify the writing process of the case studies by creating a timeline of each subject’s behaviors while they wrote. She used these timelines to find any patterns in the writing processes.

Perl’s methodology involves bringing in each of the five subjects separately for four writing sessions and one interview session (each 90 minutes), in which the type of essay that had to be written alternated between extensive (impartial in manner) and reflexive (more personal). In each writing session, the subject was given a prompt and told to verbalize his thought process. The whole session was recorded in a soundproof room, and a researcher sat in the room but did not interact with the subject during the 90 minutes. The timelines, also called composing style sheets, were created after the subjects’ writing sessions using their audio recordings and written products.

The style composing sheets revealed a recursive pattern of writing, stopping, rereading the last few sentences, and then continuing writing. This pattern shows how writers often draw ideas for subsequent sentences from their previous sentences. However, when rereading grammatical errors in what they wrote, they often read, unintentionally, the correct forms instead. The researchers entitled any discrepancy between the written product and the audio recording, such as the one mentioned, as a miscue. The style composing sheets also showed that the writers frequently edited their essays, which disturbed their train of thought, making it more difficult to produce smooth pieces of writing. In the reflexive essays, there were less disturbances in the writing process, so they were able to produce more sentences at a time.

Perl’s encoding of the writing process made it easier to identify writers’ composing habits and allows us to see which behaviors are helpful in writing and which inhibit writing. This methodology could be useful for my own writing studies research project if I was doing an experimental study. I would use the same coding system to note the behaviors of engineers while writing and record a video to perhaps incorporate physical behaviors that don’t involve sound into the writing process.

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