Sondra Perl: Coding and Composing

Blog » Sondra Perl: Coding and Composing

Posted on 18 Apr 2013 17:37

Stephen Erickson
April 18, 2013
Blog Post #7

Sondra Perl studies the composing process of some unskilled college writers in her research. Taking five students whose writing qualified them as unskilled, Perl was able to hold writing sessions for the students to be observed in great detail. Each writer had five 9o minute sessions in which they wrote papers on topics, which were relevant to the classes in which they were currently enrolled. They wrote four papers in total: two of which were objective and two which were more personalized and allowed the writer to write from his own perspective and in his own voice more often.

Perl researches something takes I would have thought to be entirely qualitative, (writing and more specifically composing) and she derives some quantitative data through the observations. A major part of her methodology was having the researcher in the room with the writer code the actions of the writer. The objective of this research wasn’t really to test the actual writing, but rather to see how the writers utilized the time they had to compose their papers. The symbols for the code covered nearly every aspect of the writing process that could be thought of, such as talking while reading, editing for grammar, reading a statement back, sitting in silence, etc.

This coding system was insanely in depth, as well. The writer’s actions were noted for the entirety of the 90-minute writing period, and the actions were taken in ten second intervals; even something as subtle as a sigh from the writer was noted in code since it is in fact a means of commenting on the work they were composing. Perl found that the unskilled college writers tended to write a little bit, and then edit as they went along if they didn’t like the way something was phrased, etc. The overall result for most writers was that they were switching in between composing processes very often as they wrote which prevented them from totally completing some or all the aspects they intended to.

Some writers exhibited these types of symptoms, preventing them from writing all of the content they desired at once, because they kept returning to fix what they already had written. Perl’s purpose in carrying out this research was not to critique the writers for their mismanagement of time while composing. Quite the opposite actually; Perl wanted to find what types of composing issues each writer suffered from by analyzing the coding transcripts. In this way, identifying the writers’ problem with composing would allow teachers to help them focus on fixing these issues specifically and tackle the areas that led to poor composing methods.

Perl’s research is vaguely relevant to the topic I am interested in, which is how freewriting exercises affect a writer’s finished paper in terms of planning, organization, tempo, etc. I could make use of her methodology in my own research by developing some kind of code to see how the writers resort back to their notes and freewrites to assist them in the composing of papers.

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