Post 20 ~ And now the time has come …

I could literally go on for days about all I learned in this class this semester. Let me summarize by saying: I wish I had taken this course 2 years ago, before all the other writing courses I have had.

We started the semester with a question:  What is Style? Without reading or studying, we just listed our thoughts on the subject. Here is what I wrote:

“’Style’ is a nebulous, shadowy creature that is hard to define, and changes like the wind. I think a person’s or business’s style includes the look and the voice they adopt in communications. That can be very eclectic or, in the case of a business, hopefully defined as a set of parameters that they call their ‘Brand’.”

So, after all the work I have done this semester—the writing, the reading, the pondering and reflecting—what do I now think style is?

I think style is one of the foundations upon which writing is built. Envision an old Greek building with huge columns holding the roof up; if writing were that building, style is one of the columns supporting it. I believe my original description of style was correct but incomplete. After this class, I can tell you more about what the different ingredients are that make up style.

I had no prior experience studying these elements of style and wish I had. In my writing classes last year, we talked a lot about rhetoric. The lessons this semester enhanced and enriched those topics greatly. I found it extremely difficult to wrap my brain around the concepts of rhetoric at the time and now I know this is what was missing; part of the foundation. I finally had an “a-ha” moment where the lights came on, so to speak, an “epiphany” that kept my brain from exploding at all the “deep thinking” required to get it through my thick skull. It would have been very helpful for me to have cemented the foundation first.

I reviewed what I have written about our studies throughout the semester and several topics come to mind when thinking about what I have learned. In one blog post I wrote:

“The more I read about how the Ancient Rhetoricians studied and defined rhetorical style, the more confused I got.  Who could possibly remember all the different names of styles or canons, tropes or figures, ornaments or levels? I think they were all just trying to figure out how to pick up women, like Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society…that being said, I did recognize several styles or ornaments or tropes or figures that I’ve seen in common use today.”

While it was new and overwhelming at the time I wrote that, the added lessons and reinforcements throughout the semester have helped me retain the information about style as taught by the ancient rhetoricians. But even if I hadn’t, I think what I wrote then about remembering the different tropes and figures, ornaments and levels, is still valid:

“Will I remember these terms?  ‘Not bloody likely.’ Does it matter?  Not at all. The point?  That I recognize them as parts of rhetorical style and use them in writing. ‘Check’!”

We spent a good portion of the semester learning about the elements of style using two different books. We first read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, followed by Williams’ Style: Toward Clarity and Grace. While they were on the same topic, they convey the lessons in such different styles that reading both books gives you the impression they are completely different. Williams is more conversational, more approachable and human in his instruction. People offended by Strunk’s drill sergeant style are soothed by Williams’ detailed explanations of his maxims with examples. I don’t think the examples from either book say anything contradictory, but it feels like they do simply because of their manner of conveying the message.

Some of my classmates didn’t think “feeling” was a valid consideration, but studies on social media and content marketing today show how messages that evoke strong feelings are the most successful. Maybe that explains why Strunk’s book is still around today. Ironically, I had purchased both of these books on recommendations by prior writing professors, but because they weren’t assigned reading, I never made the time outside of class to read them. I can safely say now that I am grateful we studied them so thoroughly in this class. Their lessons contained more crucial ingredients needed to build that pillar of writing style. The best part of learning so much about style is that I can now look at a piece of writing and analyze it within a framework that makes sense. This was evident when we did a short exercise evaluating and rewriting a short section of EMU’s course catalog. Before this class, I could look at a text and tell you whether I thought it was good or not, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you why; now, I can.

What also contributed to our learning on how to analyze or evaluate a text is that we studied genre and different methods of analysis, including actor network theory and discourse community analysis. As I said in one blog post:

 I never really thought about where genres came from or who made the ‘rules’ for different writing genres either. But it wasn’t that many years ago that there was no social media, so that was a new genre that people had to come up with a genre to go with it.  And Twitter was a whole new genre itself, even though it was social media.”

In learning about genre, I was struck by the following part of Dirk’s essay:

“When people write, they draw on the genres they know, their own context of genres, to help construct their rhetorical action. If they encounter a situation new to them, it is the genres they have acquired in the past that they can use to shape their new action. Every genre they acquire, then, expands their genre repertoire and simultaneously shapes how they might view new situations. (Devitt, Writing 203)” 

It dawned on me that over the years, I would also draw on acquired genres to create new texts. It was so comforting to learn how blessedly normal that was.

 

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Post 19 ~ Revision Project Reflection

Peer review for the Revision project was smoother than in the other projects we have done and rougher in other ways. This time we had to review projects for one set of people and another set of people were reviewing our projects. The rough part came in when I forgot about that and noticed someone reviewing my project that I hadn’t reviewed theirs. She reminded me so all was well. Another rough part of this review was that I kept waiting for people to review my project on the Google doc and only ended up with one reviewer, plus my outside reviewer. I gave up waiting, though, and finalized the doc because both my one peer reviewer and my outside reviewer said much of the same thing.

I reviewed two of my three assigned peer projects and found it more frustrating than the others we have done this semester. One of my assigned peers for review didn’t have a paper to review, another of my peers was only partially done with her project so I could only comment on what was done and make a few comments on the things she said she was planning for the part that wasn’t completed. That left me with one project to review that was a complete draft. Unfortunately, it was on the subject of a gaming fandom community, which is as foreign to me as eating haggis in an ancient mountaintop castle. I hate doing reviews on subjects that I don’t know anything about. I always feel like I am reading through a foreign language that doesn’t make any sense. I want to give them some constructive feedback but it feels like I am mostly commenting on grammar and vocabulary or style elements such as those in Strunk & White’s book, The Elements of Style. It wasn’t as foreign as some reviews I have done, though, so I think I was able to give him some helpful suggestions.

It was nice having someone outside the class review my project. I planned to have a friend I used to work with (who was a grant writer) do it, thinking she would be a very knowledgeable source that could offer me valuable suggestions. I realized before I asked her, though, that the community I analyzed in the revision of my web genre discourse community project was mostly a suicide support community, and her husband had committed suicide. I didn’t want to cause her any distress so I asked my boyfriend to do it instead.

What I have experienced in any projects he’s helped me with, and proved true for this one as well, is that he is extremely reluctant to do any review or give me any constructive criticism about a project. I get the idea he is either having flashbacks to when he was in college (and not in a good way), or he is afraid that I am going to be offended by what he has to say so he doesn’t want to say anything. The thing I have always noticed is that when I do get his help or his feedback, it is always useful information that helps improve my writing. In this case, his comments were almost exactly the same as the comments from my peer reviewer. That fact definitely helped affirm the value of both reviewer’s feedback and made it worth the sweet-talking I had to do to get his review. 

Having peer reviews on writing projects is generally something I appreciate very much. My classmates often have good insights into what would improve my work and I always feel like the final product is better for having been reviewed. The reviews people did on my projects in this class proved to be insightful and helpful in the same way. I almost always took their advice and it made this the most useful aspect of peer reviews in this class.

I found the least useful part of the peer review process this semester was probably the surveys we completed after all the reviews except this last one. Frequently, college students are scrambling to get any writing project completed. This semester, most of my classmates seemed to frequently talk about all the work they had to do. We talked in class many times about being swamped with too much work to get done. I doubt if I am the only one of my classmates that felt as if it was all I could do to find the time to finish the peer reviews. Having to take more time when I completed those to essentially review the review was frankly just annoying. I understand the reason for it, but I think it may be better if we were told to type the answers to the questions from the surveys at the end of each paper we review. That would save our professor the time it took to do the spreadsheet of results, and it would enable the students to answer the questions while the content was still fresh in their minds.

I think the worst part of peer reviews this semester was probably worrying about offending the people whose projects I reviewed. I know part of the problem that may cause offense is that I tend to be all business in a review, focusing on the project and not on how I am relating my messages to the authors. While I was stressed over having to watch what I said to everyone, I think that helped me to keep in mind my audience and adjust my comments to attempt heading off problems. When I really want to say to my peers about the reviews is, “suck it up and deal with it,” but our experienced this semester helped me learn to take a deep breath and pause for a few seconds and then phrase my comments in a friendlier manner. That’s a good thing; I can use the practice with developing patience.

Post 18 ~ Revision Project

I chose to revise my Web Genre-Discourse Community project about Project Semicolon for this revision project. I think it has the most need for revision of the three projects I have to choose from. This project has gotten under my skin and I feel the need to somehow purge it, as if revising it and spending more than the multiple hours I have already dedicated to the project will somehow help me redeem myself.

One of the things I struggled with in this essay was keeping in mind the focus was not on the community I was writing about but on the topics of genres and discourse communities. Between my rough draft and my final, I cut out some of what I wrote about the community. However, I feel that there is more I can cut out to improve the final draft. Also, I considered the comments of my peer reviewers and my instructor and agonized over how to incorporate their suggestions into my writing. I think this is one of those times I did some over-thinking because the comments on my final draft seemed to contradict the comments in my rough draft, which I need to clarify.

One thing I did in the final draft to was to incorporate some of what I wrote in the blog posts or discussion posts about the Kerry Dirk and John Swales readings. I did that in an attempt to make the essay thorough, yet I somehow feel that the discussions went overboard and I now need to step back and take some of those observations out.

I guess I’m not really sure what all it needs to get better, but I do know that it can be a lot better. What I am hoping to do is clarify some of the questions I have about content and then rework what is there to improve the outcome. I know it needs to be shorter. I don’t think it needs much new, if anything, but that is also something I plan to ask Prof. Krause about before tackling this project.

Post 17 ~ About Writing Anxieties

I have to say that there are many parts of all of these essays that I can relate to and I don’t think there was anything I disagreed with in any. One thing I can say is that even though I have known or heard many of the things they say in these essays, it doesn’t make it a whole lot easier or make the worries or anxieties go away. It does, however, make them a little bit easier to shove back down into the dark hole they come out of  or tell them to shut up when I am tired or overwhelmed or have just regurgitated my brains and heart onto the electronic paper and feel like I have nothing left to give.

Favorite quotes from Sarah Allen–The Inspired Writer vs. The Real Writer

“I believe that I write because I am driven to do so—driven by a will to write. By “will,” I mean a kind of purposefulness, propensity, diligence, and determination (which, I should mention, does not lead to perfection or ease . . . unfortunately). But, I should qualify this: the will to write is not innate for me, nor is it always readily available” (35).

“My own story of my frustrated struggle with writing is…more like a battle with a ghost—the ghost being the ‘Inspired Writer’” (36).

“. . . the great irony of this figure’s story is that the Inspired Writer is really the transcendent distortion of real-life writers. It’s much more likely that most of those great, real-life writers got their inked hands from gripping too hard their quills or pens in frustration, as they hovered over pages with more slashes, margin-notes, and edits than clean, untouched sentences set in perfect lines” (36).

“The pervasiveness of this myth of the Inspired Writer and the continued celebration of her/him works against us, as writers, for we often assume that if writing does not come easily, then our writing is not good—and in turn, that we cannot be good writers. Consequently, we believe that the writing that comes easily is the only good writing, so we will turn in papers that have been drafted quickly and without revision…” (36-37).

“I didn’t know the vocabulary; I didn’t know the issues; I didn’t think in the right order; I didn’t quote properly; and I was far too interested in the sinking, spinning feeling that writing—and reading—sometimes gave me, instead of being interested in the rigorousness of scholarly work, in modeling that work, and in becoming a member of
this strange discourse community” (38).

“. . .even now, when I hit a blank spot and the sentence stumbles off into white space, I feel . . . inadequate . . . or worse, like a fraud, like I’m playing a game that I’ve got no business playing. The reader is gonna red-card me. And what makes it worse: I have to write” (39).

“. . . you’d be amazed what talking about this frustration (and all of the attendant fears) will do for a writer, once she/he opens up and shares this frustration with other writers, other students, teachers . . . with anyone who has to write” (39).

“. . .once my students see that everyone sitting in this classroom has a gnawing fear about their work failing, about how they don’t have “it,” about how they don’t feel justified calling themselves “writers,” because most of them are “regular folks” required to take a writing class, well . . . then we can have ourselves a getting-down-to-it, honest and productive writing classroom. Then, we can talk about writer’s block—what it is, what causes it, and what overcomes it. We can talk about how to develop “thick skins”—about how to listen to readers’ commentaries and critiques without simultaneously wanting to rip our writings into tiny pieces, stomp them into a trashcan, and then set fire to them. And most importantly, then, we can talk about writing as a practice, not a reflection of some innate quality of the writer” (39).

“One strategy I learned in graduate school . . . is to imitate other, successful pieces of writing. By ‘imitate,’ of course I don’t mean plagiarize. I mean that I imitate the form of those texts, e.g. the organization, and the ways that they engage with, explore, and extend ideas” (39).

“. . . Bizzell starts with this premise: that everybody’s down with the social, that we’re invested in examining contexts, that we know that meaning happens in those contexts. Then, she introduces the problem: that we still want something pre-contextual . . . Then, she gives two in-depth examples of where she sees the problem at work in the field. She then examines how we’ve tried to address that problem, then how we’ve failed at addressing it, and then she poses another/new perspective on the problem and, consequently, another/new way of addressing it.

“This is her formula, and I imitate it, frequently, in my own work. It’s rigorous, thorough, and like I said earlier, accessible. It works. But, sometimes I’m working on something totally different, something new (to me), and that formula starts to box me in too much; the formula becomes a tomb instead of a foundation. That’s when I turn to outside readers”. . .”I only send my stuff to people who seem to be a lot better at writing scholarship than I feel like I am” (40).

“The best piece of advice I can give you, though, is to tell the Inspired Writer to shut up and let you write” . . . “I guarantee that they struggle, too” . . . “if they have written anything in their lives worth writing, then it took some effort to do so. And, once the insecurities are out there, so to speak, and not trapped in Pandora’s little box to drive us mad with their “what if” whispers, you may discover that there’s more to the writing process than just getting lost in branches and stumbling over roots” (41-42).

Favorite quotes from David Bartholomae–Against the Grain

“‘What hap­pens if one tries to write, or to teach, or to think, or even to read without the sense of a tradition?

‘Why nothing at all happens, just nothing. You cannot write or teach or think or even read without imitation, and what you imitate is what another person has done, that person’s writing or teaching or thinking or reading. Your relation to what informs that person is tradition, for tradition is influence that extends past one generation, a carrying-over of influence. Tradition, the Latin traditio, is etymo­logically a handing-over or a giving-over, a delivery, a giving-up and so even a surrender or a betrayal'” (192). (Quoting HAROLD BLOOM, A MAP OF MISREADING)

“How I write is against the grain. I think this has always been the case…There are things that get in the way of my writing and things that I put in the path of my writing…but the essential resistance…remains.

“Writing gets in my way and makes my life difficult…There is work that comes easier to me…but when I write, I most always put up barriers – barriers to show my sense of duty – to stand (like parentheses) in the way of writing. I feel, as a matter of principle, that writing should not go smoothly and that when it does, unless I’m writing a memo (but even there I try to plant buried jokes or unofficial countervoices), when it does go smoothly, it’s not doing the work of a professional or show­ing proper respect for what Thoreau referred to as the ‘extra-vagrance’ of things” (192-193).

“Writing still, often, makes me unhappy, makes me sick, makes me do things . . . that disgust me. I have my habits and quirks and behaviors, like other writers . . .”

“What are my habits and quirks? I revise a lot and, as a consequence, I push my students to do the same. I spend a lot of time letting a paper bounce around in my head before I start “writing. I begin my papers always with things, never with ideas or theses. I begin, that is, with a folder full of exam­ples, or two books on my desk that I want to work into an essay, or a para­graph that I cut from an earlier essay of my own, or some long quotations that puzzle me and that I want to talk about and figure out . . . I like green pens, I never outline . . . I’ve learned to do all these things and they are a part of who I am and what I do as I write” . . . (193).

“When I write I find I am appropriating authority from others while trying to assert my own. This is the dialectic that I feel when I write and that shapes what I do when I put words on a page” (194).

“If I think of my own experience as a writer, the most powerful terms I can use to discuss the composing process are not prewriting, writing, and revision, but tradition and imitation and interference and resistance” (194).

“When I went back to the first draft . . . I saw two problems. The manuscript was sometimes incomplete, sometimes overdone, and often disorganized. And so I learned to add, subtract, and rearrange – the kind of revision that comes when you can step back, look again, and rework a piece you have begun. I find this kind of work to be fundamentally different from the kind of work that is involved in putting words on the page for the first time. I am, frankly, grateful to be able to do this kind of revision, since it allows me a certain grace or forgiveness when I pound out a draft” (195).

“I revise to figure out better what I can say and to say it in such a way that it seems eloquent . . . so that it seems to assert the presence of someone who speaks as more than the representative of an institution or a brand of research or a discipline” (196).

“This is how I think a writer learns, by learning to write within and against the powerful writ­ing that precedes him, that haunts him, and that threatens to engulf him” (198).

“There is . . . a point at which a writer has written so many sentences, read so many books, had so many arguments about a subject, that his work, and the progression of his work, become inevitable” (199).

“As I think about how I write, I know that my work will always begin with other people. I work with other people’s words, even as I do my own work; other writers make my work possible, even as I begin to shape projects of my own. I don’t put much stock in what I hear about invention and originality. I think it is a myth teachers foist on students in order to make teaching easier or less risky” (199).

Favorite Quotes from Paul Lynch–The Sixth Paragraph: A Re-Vision of the Essay

“I’ve just listed exactly three reasons why the five paragraph essay gets taught . . . Teachers teach it for three reasons. First, it is easy to remember. Second, it’s easy to perform. Third, it’s easy to grade” . . . “the bad habit of slipping into the five paragraph structure also reminds me of my bad conscience” . . . “Such advice isn’t terrible” . . . “Academic writing should make an argument; arguments should have reasons; reasons should be based on evidence. But as you can see, the form tends to straitjacket writing: it fits everyone, but once you’re in it, you can’t really move” (288).

“Ironically enough, the paragraph I’ve just quoted was written by the author who is traditionally considered the inventor of the essay—Michel de Montaigne.”

“Montaigne was a sixteenth-century Frenchman who, upon his retirement, began writing short prose pieces in which he explored his thoughts and feelings on whatever subject occurred to him. He called them his essais, which comes from the French word for ‘try’ or ‘attempt.’ It is, of course, the root of our word ‘essay.’ Originally, then, essay meant something like an experiment or an exploration . . . Often his main focus was himself. ‘Reader,’ he writes in his introduction to the Essays, ‘I myself am the subject of my book'” (290). . .

“. . . called them essais because he knew that he was simply testing out ideas. Later essayists would think of essays like going for walks, walks where the destination doesn’t really matter. Virginia Woolf, a great novelist and essayist, wrote, ‘We should start without any fixed idea where we are going to spend the night, or when we propose to come back; the journey is everything.’ In school essays, the destination is usually what matters. Personal essays, however, begin without a destination in mind. Basically, essayists like Montaigne and Woolf tried to understand the subjects that caught their interest by understanding their own thoughts and feelings about them. Today, we call this “writing to learn.” It’s the kind of writing in which the writer tries to figure out what she thinks while she’s writing rather than doing so before she writes” (291).

“I hope the irony is becoming clear. I’ve just given examples from the inventor of the essay and one of its greatest twentieth-century practitioners. Yet, I’m not sure that most of their writing would have received passing grades in a standard first year writing class” (291).

“’I would like to suggest,’ he wrote, ‘that our minds are swamped by too much study and by too much matter’ (151). With minds stuffed with knowledge, Montaigne argued, students did not learn to think for themselves. ‘We know how to say, ‘This is what Cicero said’; ‘This is morality for Plato’; ‘These are the ipissima verba of Aristotle.’ But what have we got to say? What judgments do we make? What are we doing? A parrot could talk as well as we do’ (154)” (291).

“. . . essayists often write about small and minor things . . . other essayists take on more serious problems like alcoholism, migraine headaches, hunger, and other forms of suffering. Perhaps the only similarity that these essays share is that they recount the authors’ own attempts to understand their experiences . . . the writers don’t start with their conclusion; they think through what’s happening on the page. And while these essays have an organization, they are not organized in the usual thesis-plus-support system. The difference, according to Rutgers English professor Kurt Spellmeyer, is between writing that is ‘a means of achieving understanding’ and writing that is a ‘demonstration of understanding’ (270). The first is the kind of writing that Montaigne did: writing to achieve understanding, to try to figure out what he thought about what he read and saw and lived. The second is the kind of writing we’ve usually favored in school: writing to demonstrate understanding, to prove that you’ve learned the material or found the right answer to whatever question we asked you. William Covino, a professor of English at Fresno State in California, puts it this way: one kind of writing asks for ‘knowledge-as-information’ and another asks for ‘knowledge-as-exploration’ (54). School has usually sought the former; Montaigne and other essayists write the latter. Covino calls it ‘the art of wondering’.” (292-293).

“I like to think that my teaching ‘frees’ students—from prejudice and ignorance . . . That’s what the best essays do: they make you wonder” (295).

“The essayist here sounds like a peer or a friend rather than an expert or a professional. What’s more, she takes a mundane experience and tries to turn it into something more serious, and thus she finds a subject that might interest her more than the standard research topics that demand us to be ‘for’ something or ‘against’ something . . . Writing about them in this essayistic, wondering/wandering way, you might be more likely to
stumble across questions that really interest you” (296).

“. . . essays are more about exploring what’s possible rather than demonstrating what’s already known” (299).

“The personal essay does not demand that you answer questions; it demands that you ask really interesting questions. Yes, these questions can lead to answers, but the better the question, the better the answer. At the very least, you now know that there is another way to write, one that allows you to wander far and wonder out loud” (300).

Post 16 ~ Reflection on Peer Review Process for Web Genre/Discourse Community Project

THE REVIEW PROCESS

This process was once again very different from the other two. I had one group member who was the same as on the last review but the other two were new people I had not worked with previously. I thought the reviewing itself went very good and I was more successful at curbing my proofreading tendencies than in the YouTube Commercial project. While the Style Remake project was more fun than the topic in this project, I think this one was the best of the three.

The only thing that didn’t work well for me in this project was that I somehow couldn’t find the link to the surveys on canvas so I didn’t do the post-review survey for each of my group members. I did manage to find it tonight and don’t know how I missed it in the first place, but it was much harder to complete them now that a week has gone by since I did the reviews.

THE REVIEW TOOLS USED

The tools I used to review these projects are the Canvas LMS system for the instructions and uploading my Google docs link, and Google docs for reading my group members’ actual project texts. I did all this on my laptop computer using an Internet browser. For this project, I also used my printed copies of the three texts – Swales’, Dirk’s, and Cain and Wardle’s – for reference.

THE REVIEW SURVEYS

Like I said above, I couldn’t find the link to these surveys until today but I did finally find it and completed the surveys for each of my three group members. It was definitely easier to do these surveys when the reviews were fresh in my mind. I had to refer back to their projects to complete all three.

I thought it was much easier to make comments on the projects in this assignment than in the last two. My only explanation is that my team members told me in advance that they didn’t mind if I marked punctuation so I wasn’t so stressed about that as I was in the last projects. Maybe part of it is that I have also gotten used to doing these reviews now so they are getting easier.

While I found it easier to make comments in the reviews themselves, I had a harder time thinking of specific things to write on the narrative questions in the survey. I think part of the reason was the delay in doing the surveys but I really think it was also partly because the subject was easier and the drafts were better in this project than in prior projects. It’s really hard to say for sure, and is most likely a combination of all three.

REVISION PLANS

The comments I got were all very helpful and my revision plans are to incorporate references to the texts in my existing project while adding content about topics I didn’t discuss too. The direction I got was good and will help me to complete the analysis much better than what I have in my draft.

Post 15 ~ The Writing Style of The Semicolon Project

My name is Marianne and this is my story.

When my second daughter was two days old, I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what was wrong with me ~ it was totally uncontrollable. I didn’t feel sad, but the overwhelming emotions just screamed in my head and I couldn’t stop the tears.

I had felt down and sad before, and I thought that’s what depression was. When my boss recommended I see someone, I told her I wasn’t depressed, my life was great, it must be something else. That was after my first daughter. It was almost three years later when the tears wouldn’t stop, forcing me to seek help.

I belonged to a typical HMO with a corporate clinic and staff psychiatrists and social workers. They recommended I take Prozac (this was 1990) but I was trying to breast feed my baby and wouldn’t do it. Two weeks later my skin was cracked and bleeding and I finally called it quits.

When I next saw the social worker, she immediately got me into the psychiatrist who had to prescribe the medicine. I didn’t know at the time that it would be a life sentence. I figured my hormones would stabilize and I’d be good in a few weeks, maybe a few months. Within 3 days, I wore a Prozac smile from ear to ear and you couldn’t wipe it off my face for three months.

My cheeks hurt, I smiled so much! People at work commented. My almost-three-year-old daughter asked me, “Mama, why are you smiling?” She thought something was wrong with me! How could I have let myself get so bad that my daughter never saw me smile? I felt so guilty for not doing something about it when she was young and my boss recommended counseling.

Over the last 25 years I have taken at least 6 different SSRI anti-depressants. I have also gone to counseling off and on throughout that time, and I have read countless self-help books. The only time I have been off the medication for more than a week or two is when I was pregnant with my son two years after I had my second daughter.

I quit the medication as soon as I found out I was pregnant but the counseling at my HMO wasn’t helping so I paid out of pocket to see a psychologist. That was the best money I ever spent for mental health care. He used cognitive behavior therapy and helped me survive without medication until after I was done breast-feeding.

It wasn’t as difficult then to go without meds as it is now. I can’t go two days without my meds before I can’t stop crying now. If I forget to take my medication in the morning, I can tell by the evening that my mood is sinking. But it wasn’t always like that. I tried several times to get off the medication, thinking I felt really good and I didn’t need it. But every time, I eventually end up back in that hole, the dungeon of despair where my emotions are raw and my brain is screaming and I can’t even function in my everyday life.

I finally accepted the fact that I needed the medication to live. I realized that everybody has different ways that their bodies are vulnerable to stress. Some people get ulcers, some diabetes, some have heart attacks, some strokes, and some have depression. If I had one of those other conditions, I would have no problem getting help and taking whatever medication the doctor recommended. Having depression doesn’t mean I’m broken. Why was I worried about taking an anti-depressant?

One word ~ Stigma. It’s still difficult ~ people don’t understand and tell me I should stop taking it. And I sometimes wonder if maybe they are right. But that’s only in my weak moments. Most of the time I realize that they don’t know what I know about the condition so they are not speaking from a position of knowledge. I still have a hard time admitting I have the problem to strangers, but it’s getting easier all the time. And there are a ton of people out there in the Internet world who are great support when I need them.

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Post 14: Web sites/blogs similar to The Semicolon Project

The site I am analyzing is The Semicolon Project.  Started by a suicide survivor, they now have a website, a blog, a Facebook page, and profiles on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google+. However, the content on all the different platforms is very similar or identical.

The name of the group is based on the punctuation mark – a semicolon. It says that when a writer uses a semicolon, he is indicating that there is more to come, the story isn’t over. This symbol was adopted by the founder of the project who got a tattoo of a semicolon to remind her that her story isn’t over and that there is more waiting to be written. Most of the people who interact with this group are telling their stories and sharing their tattoos with the community.

The notable thing about this site is that it is not a treatment or outreach site with crisis intervention. There is a lot of encouragement and motivation in the discourse community; they provide links to crisis and other outreach resources but clearly state that they don’t do that. What they do is provide a place for people to write about their stories, to share their experiences, whether they are suicide survivors or family survivors. Their goal is to de-stigmatize depression and suicide.

I found a few similar sites with the same type of discourse community.

The Trevor Project is geared to LGBTQ youth, ages 13-24. They do outreach but they have a social networking site called Trevor Space where LGBTQ youth and their friends and family can interact very much like on The Semicolon Project.

The National Eating Disorders Association has a blog where visitors can interact much the same. Proud2Bme is their site where people with any eating disorders can go for news, inspiration, learning, and to get involved.

Live Through This is an organization started by a girl who photographs and interviews people and then puts their stories on the website to provide hope and encouragement to others. While the resulting images and texts are very similar to The Semicolon Project, the founder is actually having discourse with the people and doing the writing after the live interviews and photo shoots.

The online community called The Mighty is for people who face disability, disease and mental illness—together. They also do outreach and other support but they have a blog that is meant to provide a story-based health community by publishing the real stories of the visitors meant to inspire and encourage others.

themighty

Blog Post 13: Comparing Discourse Community and Activity Theory Analyis

Activity theory is “a framework to analyze how texts function and why texts used in a system of activity contain particular content and specific conventions,” like formatting, style, and organization. Doing an activity system analysis will help you find the specific contexts to study to determine what factors influence and change the tool of writing.

A discourse community is a rhetorical framework used to analyze how people use language and texts to achieve common goals.

So, Activity Theory analysis looks at text function and content within a group, and Discourse Community analysis looks at how a group’s use of texts and lang accomplishes the group’s goals.

The community I am analyzing uses several genres of text, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, blog messages, and a website. These are all different genres but the content crosses throughout the different platforms. In comparing this community to others within the larger genre of suicide prevention and assistance, discourse community analysis helps you discern that it is noticeably different than most others because it doesn’t do outreach. This is apparent when doing an activity system analysis because you are looking at the function of the texts and the content of the texts analyzed. So, AT will help define the function and content of the system’s texts and DC analysis will help define exactly what is accomplished.

Activity Theory

An activity system (group of people working together) has several characteristics:

  • They are ongoing–how systems function over time.
  • They are object-directed--the activities pertinent to activity theory are directed toward specific goals.
  • They are historically conditioned–the systems were created because of practices that have a history.
  • They are dialectically structured–there are different aspects that are mutually dependent so when one changes, others change in response, and we can’t anticipate all the changes.
  • They are tool mediated–people use different tools to accomplish the work of the system, including physical objects or systems of symbols, like math.
  • They have human interactions–activity theory studies are more concerned with how people work together, use tools, toward outcomes, than they are in individual actions. (276)

When you complete an activity system analysis, your goal is to understand the people in the system and how and why they use the tools they do. Activity systems are limited by divisions of labor and by rules, Ex. employee manuals or student handbooks

The critical components of an activity system are the reciprocal relationships in a system: Tools, Rules, and Division of Labor. Three components of those relationships are Motives, Subject, and Community.

Discourse Community

A discourse community is a group of people who share certain language-using practices. The practices of lang. within a group are different than with outsiders. Swales gives six defining characteristics of a discourse community (things to look for and consider to figure out what’s happening in different situations involving texts and language.

  • common goals, (also in AT)
  • participatory mechanisms,
  • information exchange,
  • community specific genres, (also in AT)
  • a highly specialized terminology, and
  • a high general level of expertise.”

Swales asserts that discourse communities:

  • are focused on the written rather than spoken communication; (AT can be either)
  • are a sociorhetorical grouping; (AT is not necessarily; can be other)
  • have functional determinants with common objectives outside of social reasons. (also in AT)
  • Are centrifugal in terms of the fabric of society (tend to separate people into occupational or special-interest groups); (also in AT)
  • recruit members by persuasion, training, or relevant qualification;”
  • “the communicative needs of the goals tend to predominate in the development and maintenance of its discoursal characteristics”(Swales 220); and
  • “distance between members — geographically, ethnically, and socially –presumably means that they do not form a speech community.” (AT members must interact)

According to Kain and Wardle, when you do a rhetorical analysis, it tells you about a text:  Ex, when writing a proposal, want to know how proposals are constructed in the field, (what are proposals like in the xxx field?). What types of info do they include? How are they formatted? Name its textual features—length, content, layout, type of lang used—and name the rhetorical situation as much as you are able from looking at a doc—the writer, audience, purpose.

Swales’ article says, “Genres develop over time in response to recurring rhetorical needs.” A genre is a tool of a discourse community.  Texts are tools in activity theory.

“When people write, they draw on the genres they know, their own context of genres, to help construct their rhetorical action. So rhetorical analysis, like discourse community analysis, can be done on a text but it won’t tell you:

  • why the text is a certain length;
  • why it contains certain types of content and not others;
  • doesn’t help you understand who does what tasks in regard to the doc. (Is it written by one or more people? Do several people contribute info?)
  • why some are involved in the writing and not others.
  • won’t remind you that the genre has likely changed within a specific social service org;
  • won’t suggest that you explore whether features of the text genre in the analyzed text are uncontested. (pg 280)

Comparison of Dirk’s Genre and Swales’ Discourse Community

In Swales’ article titled, The Concept of Discourse Community, in the initial framing of the reading, the last paragraph on the first page says, “Discourse community is the first of two frames for analysis that this chapter provides in order to help you consider how people use texts and language to accomplish work together.” I think that’s just a fancy way of saying that, just like genres, discourse or speech communities are different ways of categorizing groups of people who evaluate media of all kinds, be it video, audio, research, poetry, etc.

The same paragraph then says that Swales gives us things to look for and consider in order to figure out what’s happening in different situations involving texts and language. To me, that summary of what Swales does in this article basically means we will want to analyze our audience when creating a text or language in order to reach them most effectively; that we will want to match the form of our discourse (genre) to the audience it is intended for. That explains to me why we are going so deeply into these topics of genre and discourse community.

I think of genre as a system of grouping devised to help people categorize whatever medium they are talking about.  I guess you would kind of have to know what is appropriate to put things in the correct category, or at least the most appropriate one.

I was struck by the following part of Dirk’s essay: “When people write, they draw on the genres they know, their own context of genres, to help construct their rhetorical action. If they encounter a situation new to them, it is the genres they have acquired in the past that they can use to shape their new action. Every genre they acquire, then, expands their genre repertoire and simultaneously shapes how they might view new situations. (Devitt, Writing 203)” I think this is a good example of why I read that to be a successful writer, you need to be a voracious reader.  I would just add to that recommendation that the reading needs to be varied so you continue to learn and develop as a writer.

This is so true.  I spent so many years as a court reporter reading nothing but legalese that I tend to think in that “genre” now. It’s what I know and I’m comfortable with it. I need to remember that the vast majority of the population is not.  Thinking about it now, I realize that there were different genres within that “legal discourse community” and even separate discourse communities under the umbrella of the judicial system.

I substituted in different courtrooms at different times in my career, and there was a completely different vocabulary in the different types of law.  Civil trials were completely different than criminal trials and there was also different communities in the family law courts and the juvenile law courts. Then I moved to Michigan and found that the discourse was different here compared to California.

And within the court reporting community there were also different discourse communities: reporters who worked in court, with their various sub-communities; reporters who worked as deposition or hearing reporters, and reporters who worked as captioners, which was broken down into realtime or live captioning and captioning that is added later. There was even different sub-groups amongst the deposition reporters, like workers’ compensation depositions, expert testimony depositions, general civil depositions, medical malpractice and accident reconstruction, accounting and engineering — I could go on and on breaking down each into circles that overlap others in different ways.

I never really thought about where genres came from or who made the “rules” for different writing genres either. But it wasn’t that many years ago that there was no social media, so that was a new genre that people had to come up with a genre to go with it.  And Twitter was a whole new genre itself, even though it was social media. I notice that some of it is common sense, which isn’t all that common, but besides the practical reasons for certain practices when using Twitter, it’s interesting trying to figure out who the people were or are that kind of set the tone for its use.

 

 

On the second page, second paragraph, it explains that “genres are types of texts that are recognizable to readers and writers”… and “meet the needs of the rhetorical situations in which they function.” That is what Dirk basically said.

The 3rd paragraph says that “genres develop over time in response to recurring rhetorical needs.”  I wasn’t so sure about that statement but this is basically what Dirk said, too.

Swales shows how different discourse communities all have genres that even people outside the community recognize. That makes sense to me when I think about groups like Special Ops or Navy SEALS or something. I don’t understand their speech or discourse, but I recognize it when I see it.

The last paragraph of the intro says that, “It might be helpful to think of genres as textual tools used by groups of people as they work toward their desired ends; genres and the conventions that guide them change as the community discovers more efficient adaptations, as group membership changes, or as the group’s desired ends change.”

Trying to break that down, I thought of changes in style, like MLA or APA or changes in accepted spellings, like “website” or “web site,” etc. I didn’t think there would be that much change, but I realized that it is true, although the changes seem to move slowly. They do point out that new technologies help make the analysis and dissemination of the information more efficient, which is also something I’ve noticed. I think new technologies also help create new genres and discourse and speech communities that never existed in the past, too.

While I have questions about some of his criteria for what constitutes a speech or discourse community, he does say in the second paragraph of section 2.1 that “the relevant point in the present context is that it has been appropriated by the ‘social perspectivists’ for their variously applied purposes in writing research. It is this use that I wish to explore and in turn appropriate.” Swales then quotes a few different people’s definitions of discourse community before he admits that we need to clarify what should be understood as discourse community, and he says: “it is better to offer a set of criteria sufficiently narrow that it will eliminate many of the marginal, blurred and controversial contenders.”(216) I definitely concur in that.

He continues to lay out his process for determining what the “list of criteria” should constitute. I think Dirk’s explanation of her thoughts was much easier to understand, but he does manage to get the point across, which is then demonstrated in the list of six criteria that he came up with.

On page 219, section 2.2, he lists several peoples’ definitions of a speech community and quotes Hymes who gives multiple criteria: a community sharing knowledge of rules for conduct and interpretation of speech that must comprise both 1. knowledge of at least one form of speech, and 2. knowledge also of its patterns of use.

I think his attempts to clarify the difference between speech and discourse communities is rather long and unnecessary. He could have just said that speech communities are a concept used by sociolinguistics and discourse communities are focused on the written rather than spoken communication (219).

On page 220, he gives a second reason for separating the two concepts: distinguishing a sociolinguistic grouping from a sociorhetorical one. He also says that speech community determinants are social, whereas discourse community determinants are functional, with common objectives outside of social reasons.

“In a discourse community, the communicative needs of the goals tend to predominate in the development and maintenance of its discoursal characteristics” (Swales 220).

He then gives a third reason to differentiat between speech and discourse communities: “In terms of the fabric of society, speech communities…tend to absorb people into that general fabric, whereas discourse communities…tend to separate people into occupational or specialty-interest groups). A speech community typically inherits its membership by birth, accident or adoption; a discourse community recruits its members by persuasion, training or relevant qualification.”

I thought that was a very insightful observation. I had to think about groups, trying to see if that could be applied across the board, and I couldn’t think of any that didn’t fit the criteria, although he did say “tend to” so he wasn’t rigid about it.

When he goes on to list his six defining characteristics, I was surprised by some of his comments. In his first criteria, he says …”much more typical non-adversarial discourse community, reduction in the broad level of agreement may fall to a point where communication breaks down and the discourse community splits. It is the commonality of goal, not shared object of study that is criterial, even if the former often subsumes the latter.”

I liked his example of a Vatican discourse community—it may be a common object of study, but the students can be from different groups and not form a community. His examples of Vatican history students, the Kremlin, dioceses, birth control agencies, and liberation theology seminaries made this statement very clear.

His fourth criteria is that “a discourse comm. utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims”(221). He says, “a discourse community has developed and continues to develop discoursal expectations. These may involve appropriacy of topics, the form, function and positioning of discoursal elements, and the roles texts play in the operation of the discourse community.”

From my interpretation of Dirk’s essay on genre, the form he is talking about is the accepted genres in that community. I wasn’t so sure this criteria was true—it’s hard to envision a discourse community “possessing” a genre. But then he quotes Martin, explaining, “In so far as ‘genres are how things get done, when language is used to accomplish them’, these discoursal expectations are created by the genres that articulate the operations of the discourse community”(221-222).

He goes on to say new discourse comm’s need to sit down and figure out their practices, and I don’t think that is necessarily true. So I understand this to mean that genres are the framework of different discourse communities, acting as the expected form of communications for the group.

After he goes through his example of the Hong Kong Postal group he is in, he gives a much shorter list of the six criteria: “There are common goals, participatory mechanisms, information exchange, community specific genres, a highly specialized terminology and a high general level of expertise.” He also explains that “distance between members geographically, ethnically and socially presumably means that they do not form a speech community.”

See how he considers genres to be one of the things that discourse communities have in common? After this information, he goes into the remaining issues that need to be addressed. He rephrases the last one in Bizzell’s terms:

Discourse community is a group of people who share certain language-using practices that can be seen as conventionalized in two ways: stylistic conventions regulate social interactions within the group and in dealing with outsiders. To this extent “discourse community” borrows from sociolinguistic’s idea of “speech community” (224).

“Also, canonical knowledge regulates the world-views of group members, how they interpret experience; to this extent ‘discourse community’ borrows from the literary-critical concept of “interpretive community” (225).

Here is where I have to disagree with Bizzell. Swales’ example of undercover agents who don’t assimilate into their communities is demonstrative. Swales also disagrees with this idea and says, “the extent to which discourse is constitutive of world-view would seem to be a matter of investigation rather than assumption,” stating he doesn’t accept assimilation of world view or a threshold level of personal involvement as criterial. I agree with Swales’ opinion that delineating these variable features sheds an interesting light on the whole study of contextual writing.

In his conclusion, Swales gives us a final disclaimer: “It is necessary to concede that the account I have provided of discourse community for all its attempts to offer a set of pragmatic and operational criteria, remains in at least one sense somewhat removed from reality. It is utopian and ‘oddly free of many of the tensions, discontinuities and conflicts in the sorts of talk and writing that go on every day in the classrooms and departments of an actual university (Harris)” (Swales 227). He even quotes the dissembling of some of the other experts he quoted in the paper and claims that conflictive discourse communities need to be studied.

I personally don’t see the need for studying conflictual communities because I can’t fathom the “experts” ever coming to a consensus. Look at how long the Israelis and the Arabs have been fighting–even the Palestinian diplomat I met in Ramallah said he doubts they will never get along.

 

Recap of Peer Review for Style Remake Project

This second peer review, which was for the Style Remake project, was much less stressful for me and took about half the time as the first peer review our class did on the YouTube commercial analysis project. I think that is true because of two things:

  1.  The style of the projects was much different, and because it wasn’t written in essay format, there was not as much text to review.
  2. After the first review, I tried really hard to not be a “proofreader” and to focus more on the style and content of the projects I reviewed.

I know it’s hard to picture what I am talking about so you can look at my project to see what I mean.  I used my knowledge of The Andy Griffith Show to write a fictional writing style guide. My guide was written in the voice of Barney Fife.

All the style guides for our class use actual examples of writing guidelines from the books The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, and Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams.

I reviewed Evan Gerish’s project, The Style of Archer; Kate O’Keefe’s project, Breaking Grammar: A Style Guide for Crystal Cooks; and Beth Pearson’s project, Fantastic Writings and Where To Find Them. I am not familiar with any of the TV shows or books these projects were based on, which was another factor that made it easier for me to review them all. Since I had no foundation to base an opinion on, I had to take the “voice” of the writing on face value.

This was the first time I reviewed Evan’s work and I have to say I really liked how he approached the writing. While it was somewhat in the voice of the character Archer from the FX TV series, he really analyzed the dialogue and situations in the show according to rhetorical styles listed in the two books I mentioned, and I think his analyses were extremely insightful. While I was not familiar with the show outside of the commercials and a few short clips I had seen over the years, he explained situations so effectively that I had no problem following his analysis.

Beth wrote her project based on the Harry Potter series of books/movies. I have never seen any of the movies or read the books, so I found quite a bit of the language in her text unfamiliar. That being said, she did a good job at introducing her scenario, enabling me to follow along with the theme pretty good. One thing I enjoyed about her project was how she was able to write sample sentences in the style of the character who was speaking it. I think that is very hard to do and it seems like she managed it well. There were a few grammatical errors I noted, but overall, I thought her project was pretty good and just needed to be formatted to better differentiate the example sentences from the rest.

Kate did a marvelous job getting into character and adopting the dialect of her show’s cast. I only saw a few episodes of the TV movie Breaking Bad, which was her project’s theme, but she found some great quotes from the show to use as both good and bad examples of elements from the style books. She also made some gifs for her visual element that were really good. Although I didn’t understand all the colloquial dialogue of her writer character, the only problem I had with her project was the same as with Beth’s: she didn’t differentiate the example text from the rest, which made it difficult to tell when they stopped and started.

I did the same thing in my project, and they noted the need to differentiate the font, too, so I guess we all learned that lesson from the project. The only real pattern of the comments I gave to Beth and Kate was in the proofreading comments, I believe. I don’t know that there were any other patterns in my comments on the projects I reviewed, except maybe in the way I phrased the stuff I was questioning.

I noticed a pattern in the comments left by my reviewers; some of their comments, I just didn’t understand where they were coming from or why they said what they did, which I noticed in the first peer reviewed project, too. Several of the comments by reviewers were because of the colloquialisms in the hypothetical quotes, but that wasn’t an issue with the first review which didn’t have the same dialect differences. 

Whether it was because the style was so different or the quality of the work was different, I am not sure, but whatever it was, I feel that, overall, this was a much better assignment for peer review.