Why is it necessary to evaluate the process of writing?
Differing Purposes of High School and College
College may look and feel similar to high school, and, for the most part, you already know how to perform your student role within this setting. However, there are some fundamental differences. The most obvious ones are that high school is mandatory (to a certain point), freely available, and a legal right. They have to offer you the opportunity, regardless of your grades.
College, on the other hand, is optional, costly, and performance-based. Most institutions will dismiss you if your grades don’t meet a certain minimum. But college is different in more subtle ways as well, including ways in which you’re expected to behave as an independent thinker and learner.
Students drive their own learning
The assumption behind high-school instruction is that the teacher is the engine of learning. Consequently, a lot of time is spent in direct face-to-face instruction. Homework is for further practice to reinforce material from that day. Teachers will often tell students what each night’s homework assignment is, follow up on missing work, and closely track students’ progress.
The assumption behind college instruction, in contrast, is that students are the engine of learning, and that most of the significant learning happens outside of class while students are working through a dense reading or other challenging intellectual task on their own.
Most college classes meet only 1-3 times a week for a total of about 3 hours. Consequently, college instructors think of class meetings as an opportunity to prepare you for the heavy-lifting that you’ll be doing on your own. Sometimes that involves direct instruction (how to solve a particular kind of problem or analyze a particular kind of text). More often, though, professors want to provide you with material not contained in the reading or facilitate active learning experiences based on what you read. The assumption is that all students have the skill and self-motivation to carefully read all the assigned texts. Professors lay out a path for learning—much like how personal trainers develop exercise routines—but it is up to students (and athletes) to do the difficult work themselves.
College Writing Is Different
Professors look at you as independent junior scholars and imagine you writing as someone who has a genuine, driving interest in tackling a complex question. They envision you approaching an assignment without a pre-existing thesis. They expect you to look deep into the evidence, consider several alternative explanations, and work out an original, insightful argument that you actually care about.
This kind of scholarly approach usually entails writing a rough draft, through which you work out an ambitious thesis and the scope of your argument, and then starting over with a wholly rewritten second draft containing a mostly complete argument anchored by a refined thesis. In that second round, you’ll discover holes in the argument that should be remedied, counter-arguments that should be acknowledged and addressed, and important implications that should be noted. When the paper is substantially complete, you’ll go through it again to tighten up the writing and ensure clarity. Writing a paper isn’t about getting the “right answer” and adhering to basic conventions; it’s about joining an academic conversation with something original to say, borne of rigorous thought.
The Writing Process
This amount of work devoted to mastering a writing project can seem daunting, at first. Break it into smaller tasks, following the stages of the Writing Process, makes it a lot more manageable, and even enjoyable.
Through the next few chapters, we will examine each of these stages of the writing process in detail, and evaluate how each helps further establish you as a critical thinker, writer, and scholar.