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What Is Writing?

KLONDIKE, Tax’s Philosophy Desk – This post is designed to shed some light on the writing process that is the sequential process, that some of you were told about in but never actually learned. Especially aimed towards those aspiring to become part of CPAWM. Any and all comments are welcome, and insight or anecdotes about your experiences with this sort of writing process as it is greatly appreciated.

Writing is a process, even if it is an individual process, and one of the most important aspects of that process focuses on evaluating a text and reflecting on its strengths and weaknesses, not only to improve that single piece, but to have ideas in mind to write the next piece better. That is where revision comes in.

What is revision?

Revision is when you look at the text for its content (ideas), organization, and style. Often confused with proofreading or editing, especially in formulaic and commonly-taught writing processes, revision is not immediately concerned with common conventions such as spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, or formatting. Its first priority, despite contrary belief, should be content development: the reach for a good, clear, fully-explored idea. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are the easy parts of writing. Anyone with technical skill can help you edit a paper to make your sentences more complete, your spelling more consistent or your formatting more appealing. However, the most properly-punctuated text can still be a weak piece of writing if the content – the ideas – are underdeveloped, unorganized or lack a definitive sense of style.

And that’s the crux of it. Many times, especially if you are writing for CPAC,  we are so distracted by conventional or formatting errors that we have a difficult time stepping back and assessing a text for the value of its ideas. This causes us to make suggestions more focused on the technical aspects of a text while simultaneously allowing us to ignore the content. Believe it or not, telling someone to “use spell-check” before posting on CPAC does not make a person a better reporter. It might make a person more adept at depending on and using a computer or word processing program, but it does not improve writing quality at its core, where its ideas are.

In recognizing this, it’s time to admit that we’re doing many of our young and growing reporter, and reporters without a strong command of the English language, a severe disservice simply though dismissal.

Grammar is Important

Grammar is important. So is spelling, punctuation, formatting, proper capitalization, and a number of other conventions. However, if writing truly is a process, we must step back and put that process in perspective. It must be ordered, and we must determine each step’s level and significance. As stated above, it’s very difficult to revise a text to add or change its content, and it requires more work, but it’s actually very easy to edit a text – either with someone’s help or with a more learned and experienced eye in looking for and correcting conventions.

What is the Writing Process?

Many of us learned that the writing process is made up of five parts: Pre-writing, Writing, Revision, Editing, and Publishing.  Indeed, this process has been so ingrained, and the vocabulary and terms have become such a part of our education, that some people feel as if writing is a formulaic, rigid thing—not unlike learning mathematics—that they simply never excelled in.  Fortunately, this simply isn’t true.  While the five basic steps of the writing process are effective, they can only be effective if the people using the process understand the purpose of each step.

Experience has shown that many reporters do not know the purpose of drafting beyond a certain, vague understanding that you’re supposed to “correct” or “fix” something for each new draft.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s also been shown that people who are forced to Pre-Write in certain ways, even when they have been unsuccessful using that method, will continue to use it simply because they believe it’s the “correct” way to begin writing.  There are college professors who still do not acknowledge the difference between revision and editing (yes, there is a real difference), and “publishing” has so many different connotations from kindergarten to professional ventures that no one is quite sure what standard that last step speaks to.

Here’s the rub: in order to understand when you are ready to revise, you must first understand when you are “finished” writing or, to be clearer, when you are finished putting your initial thoughts fully on paper.  Confused yet?  Let’s break it down.

Pre-Writing

Often called “brainstorming,” pre-writing takes many forms.  The most popular forms deal with organizational techniques designed to help a person structure and build their thoughts on a particular subject.  Outlines, mind maps (also known as “webbing” or “clustering”), graphic organizers, free writes, word charts, and simple lists are just a few methods that are often associated with pre-writing.  However, filling out a graphic organizer or coloring in a web or creating an outline doesn’t really work unless the person understands the purpose of the pre-write.  All steps of the writing process should have a purpose; they should not be an activity for the sake of acting.

Why Pre-Write?

There are many people who feel pre-writing is unnecessary. The heads of this website often hear the excuse, “But I just write  how I like” when encouraging CPAC reporters to pre-write or brainstorm for a post before actually posting it.  However, it’s precisely this “just writing” that qualifies and counts as brainstorming and pre-writing.  A person need not use a graphic organizer, outline, or other method if it’s not needed; sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to simply write.  Why?  Well, the purpose of pre-writing is to get ideas down on paper using any method available to the reporter.  There should be no real concern with grammar, spelling, punctuation, or formatting—and sometimes one need not even consider organization—during the first steps of the writing process.  Good writing begins with good ideas, and good ideas begin in pre-writing.  

Take note: sometimes pre-writing need not actually involve writing anything down to WordPress.  Pre-writing can begin and take place as conversations or questions—an open dialogue—between the reporter and another person (this can also be used for CPAC interviews).  Some of the best writing begins with a simple written sentence.

Writing

What, then, is writing?  Many people believe that this is the most important part of the process, but few are certain why (beyond the obvious).  Writing occurs when you look at your idea, have worked a lot of it out through pre-writing, and begin to turn it into something you intend to complete.  It’s at this point that you consider both your audience and how you would like to organize your ideas into a particular form.  Where pre-writing can begin as a free write, an outline, a sketch, a map, or a conversation, writing takes the ideas generated in the pre-write and transforms them into a text.

A conversation can become a poem.  A map can become a novel.  Sometimes, when we begin writing from our ideas (our pre-write), we start in one form, like a short story, and begin to realize that another form might be more effective in getting our point across (such as a poem or an editorial).  This is where writing occurs.  The decision about how to present those ideas, in written form, to your audience, is writing.  Sometimes there is not a huge jump or change from pre-writing to writing.  Sometimes the writing becomes something entirely separate from the pre-write.  On a few occasions, the two steps can even occur simultaneously, where the ideas and the form accomplish themselves as a natural progression and part of a natural flow.  Regardless, when you make a conscious decision to write in a certain form and organize your ideas in a certain way, with purpose or intention, you have left pre-writing behind and have begun writing.

What is the purpose of writing?

The purpose of the “writing” step of the writing process is to consider the audience and to consider what form will best get the point and idea across.  Once a reporter decides on a form and intended audience, s/he must make choices about the words and style that will compliment and further that form so that the idea is conveyed clearly and effectively.  Writing, therefore, does not occur directly from instinct, but is an activity that involves conscious decisions.  This is why, believe it or not, many texts remain in the pre-writing stage even when they appear to be complete.  If a reporter hasn’t made choices, then the reporter hasn’t started writing.

Proofreading and Editing

And here we come to it: the part of the process that many people lump together with CPAC posts.  It’s true that even the best ideas can be ruined by terrible grammar, spelling, and punctuation.  It’s true that grammar, spelling, and punctuation can prevent a good idea from being communicated effectively.  This is why, especially with growing reporters here at CPAC, editing seems to be more of a focus than revision.  It’s easier to pick on punctuation and feel like you’ve improved someone’s ‘writing’ than it is to weed through poor conventional writing and try to improve someone’sideas.  Indeed, many reporters are cheated because people spend so much time correcting their grammar that they never stop to consider how to improve the actual communication of ideas. However, proofreading and editing is of extreme importance and should never, ever be neglected.  It’s the last step before “publishing,” and a person should take that seriously.  Whereas revision is concerned with content, proofreading/editing is concerned with the conventions.  This is the step in the process where the formatting should be examined for effectiveness and the grammar, punctuation, and spelling should not simply be corrected but polished.

What is the purpose of Proofreading?

Proofreading is actually something the average CPAC reporter does on his/her own.  When a person is finished the “writing” step of the process and has revised what s/he can revise, then it is up to the reporter to take a step back and look at the writing for conventional correctness.  It is for this reason that so many people here at CPAC get annoyed when reporter post their posts with obvious spelling and punctuation errors; a reporter should always, always take responsibility for his/her own writing, and part of taking responsibility for it is caring enough to run it through spell-check (manual or otherwise) or make sure each sentence has a period (etc.).
That said, there are some reporters who have not mastered all the conventional rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization and formatting.  Because of this, if a reporter is not confident in his/her mastery of the conventions, it is also the reporter’s responsibility to search out someone else to proofread the work (go find B1 if you’re lazy).  This person is not there to make corrections the reporter should know how to make (so a proofreader is not a correction-bot designed to help a lazy reporter), but rather is there to offer suggestions and direction when questions about conventions come up.  A reporter should never hand over a text and say, “Proofread this for me!” without first giving the proofreader some direction, such as, “I’m not sure if my grammar is correct in this section; could you look at it for me?” or “Did I punctuate my dialogue well?” or “Tell me if I missed any apostrophes, especially in that last paragraph.”  Proofreading by the reporter should be both general and specific; proofreading by a reader should always be done with direction. Proofreading should also be completed and all relevant corrections made before editing begins.

What is the purpose of Editing?

Editing is a twofold process: the first part of the process involves the reader; the second part of the process involves the reporter.  If a work is going to be “published” (which, for these purposes, means “being seen by an audience”), then a reporter has the responsibility to have at least one other set of eyes look at the piece before it’s put forth for public scrutiny.  This reader, the “last” reader (so to speak), should be looking for conventional errors much like the reporter looks for during proofreading, and s/he should also be looking for any last hang-ups in regard to the content and ideas.  In other words, this is where all the last-minute suggestions come in, such as, “Hey, you missed the apostrophe here” or “Hmm, I’m still not sure about this sentence or what this simile means.”  An editor is not there to proof (correct) a reporter’s text, but provides some insight about how ready for publication the text really is.  The editor should let the reporter know if a text is good to go.
The last part of the editing process comes back to the reporter.  This is where the reporter makes the final decisions about the text, how to clean it up, how to correct it, where to add some last-minute clarification,  where to take words out or put words in, and simply how to polish the text so that it’s as good as it’s going to get at that moment in time.  Sometimes reporters have extensive edits to do; sometimes reporters have very, very few. What’s most important, however, is that the final decision about a piece of writing should always come from the reporter.  All of the suggestions, corrections, feedback and commentary can be ignored or adopted as the reporter sees fit.  Sometimes reporters make bad choices, sure—but those choices must always remain the reporter’s to make.

Publishing

Publishing need not mean the reporter is trying to get this text published in a journal, book, magazine, newspaper or elsewhere.  Sometimes reporters with no intention to pursue professional publishing believe this gives an excuse not to polish, revise, proofread, or edit a text.  The “emotional core” should be preserved since the writing is solely for the reporter.  Unfortunately, the second that writing is put on display for someone else to read—one other person besides the reporter—then that text has been ‘published’ and all steps of the writing process should (and should have) applied.  This means that every single post sitting in the CPAC archives, drafted, has been published in regard to this writing process.

Indeed, publishing in its simplest form refers to a text that is meant to be read by an audience.  There is no excuse.  Writing should be revised, proofread, and edited. If it weren’t, then a reporter can be proud of his/her ideas (way back atthat pre-writing and writing stage), but should be sceptical as to the value and worth of the text itself. Good writing begins with a good idea, but that’s not where it ends. If it were, we all would’ve been journalists and writing laureates years ago. Go out there, follow these procedures, practice building posts, and take a shot at CPAC and SMAC Staff Applications in the future. I promise you, it can’t go wrong.

๖ۣۜтax

Former CPA Central Executive Producer

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8 Responses

  1. blah blah blah writing. Great post 😀

  2. writing is wer u put ur pen on pape and draw stuff xd

  3. I scrolled down to post a comment without actually reading it.

  4. I thoroughly enjoy this post, but here’s how I write: I come up with an idea, analyze all angles, plan it out, write final draft. My process takes longer, but gets the job done. I don’t make a draft, if I make a map of my writing, then I feel stuck in my writing style. Personally, I’m a free range chicken.

  5. Chris you don’t write you type young lady.

  6. Marvelous

  7. You don’t have to call me a girl in public.

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