Sunday, April 18, 2004
Flower, et al., 1987, "Strategies of Revision"
Flower, Linda, et al. "Detection, Diagnosis, and the Strategies of Revision." On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998. Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 1999. 191-228.
Over two years, five contributing researchers sought to refine the key intellectual actions in revision. The study dealt with both student-written texts and expert-written texts; it's an example of collaborative analysis and the challenges of collaborative writing. The project seeks refinement in the terms we use to describe the revision process, setting out with special investment in "detection" and "diagnosis." It also works from a confluence of theories toward revision. Specifically, the endnote acknowledges theory's promise of tentative knowing (Dewey's "experimental ways"). Their work affirms the complex, various interplays of revision toward the fulfillment of a textual need. And, although the textual need is often defined by the teacher, the essay-project promises the value in enabling "novice" student-writers to detect, diagnose and strategically affect textual needs emerging from their own knowledge and intention.
Terms of Import
experts/novices - the essay-project uses these terms loosely to characterize those who are proficient with the detection-diagnosis-strategic revision sequence in relationship to those who are less adept at negotiating the phases of the sequence.
knowledge/intention - this is elaborated at length; it seems to impart a tension between what we know about our writing and what it does, and what we intend for our writing to do. Often (always?) the two are wedged apart to various degrees. We don't always know what our writing does (in the full sense of its potential to move readers, compel assent, and so on).
nested processes - revision is necessarily reflexive. The work of revision engulfs small
mental text - the writer's sense of the text's meaning distinct from the syntax expressed in writing (This is a tricky concept. I'm not sure how to understand the mental text as narrow, confined and rigid in the same sense that I think of words on the page. The "mental text" makes sense to me only when I consider it a _near_ copy of the written text. Accordingly, I doubt how fully the "mental text" exists before the written text. Only after the written text takes shape does the "mental text" take its echoic, sometimes distorted shape--the dusty film that prevents us from reading our own writing with the same discernment we are able to employ when reading a text that is not our own.)
three major gates - detection, diagnosis, strategies of revision
detection - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence, but I can't tell what it is.
diagnosis - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is.
strategies of revision - I recognize that something is wrong with this sentence; here's what it is, and here's how I intend to fix it. The three major gates and several other commonplaces in composition are narrowed and subtly differentiated in this essay-project.
As I read this essay, I felt pedagogically shrimpy. I don't give sufficient time or attention to revision, to carefully reworking texts, to settling the terms we use to talk about the "progress" of the text toward some projected rhetorical need. At times, I wondered whether revision of this deeply engaged, patient sort is possible in a writing classroom. It seems more intimate--the kind of interaction that is better done in the writing center, maybe.
The source-rich ensemble of research here and the two-dimensional diagrams depicting embedded processes in revision don't seem particularly useful to basic writers. I can see the value in this study for teachers of writing; it might be enough to model the subtle stages, to point out examples of detection, diagnosis and strategic revision. I liked the idea that revision should be introduced as "re-seeing" the ways we think rather than retooling the surface errors in the words on the page. This invokes a theory of revision as "re-cognition," too.
The essay left me with the feeling that we could invent an entire course on revision. It's represented as an incredibly complex process, and I have doubts about whether I'm well prepared to teach revision differently than I've practiced it, which means I need to practice it more, think about my own revision habits.
I also thought about the relationship between revision and weblogs. Charlie Lowe briefly mentioned the usefulness of returning to previous entries, of re-reading our own weblogs critically, of teasing out our terms and improving the coherence of a set of connections. But, among the weblogs I check out regularly, few offer examples of revision. Or is it just invisible? Frequently, I see clusters of internal links to previous entries as a kind of incremental, pooled essay.
Revising, in "Detection, Diagnosis," is aimed at a seamless text and rhetorical mastery--its antithesis: messiness. There's plenty left off here: 38 pages assembled over two years (of weekly meetings), making use of 61 sources, an eventual book. A lot left off.
Should we imagine revision as a way of returning to our writing for reasons other than satisfying a textual need? Might revision include reaffirmation or remembrance? How much time might we imagine between the drafts? Is there always a lapse? What happens to the mental text during the lapse? How much time is optimal? Who are the experts and who are the novices? Are these roles always distinguished by formal training? Must the problem be named for the text's "need" to be met? Who benefits most from the naming of the problem? To what extent should naming the problem and proposing the need be shared with the class in a forum for group learning about revision? With the student-writer? Via written comments? In conference sessions? Does it matter how it's shared?
"One revises only when the text needs to be better" (193).
"If a given performance in revision depends on a dynamic interplay of knowledge and intentions, how can we model the process of an effective reviser? [...] One approach to this problem is to step back and describe or model the basic thinking processes which underlies revision itself then to look within that process for those places where experts and novices make different decisions or handle the process itself differently" (195).
"Our model of Evaluation, then, describes a generative process built on the principle of a progressive enlargement of the goals and constraints one entertains" (199).
"A text is simply one instantiation of the writer's meaning; a plan represents that meaning in another, less elaborated, less constrained form (Flowers and Hayes, "Images"). Revision operates on meaning in all its forms. The experiences writers in this study were particularly adept at working with the larger, more abstract units of plans and gists" (202).
"To sum up, detecting problems in a text--even achieving that initial sense of dissonance--calls on two non-trivial constructive processes: representing a "text" through reading (or memory), and representing one's intentions. And both are affected by the writer's willingness to entertain dissonance itself (Young, "Rhetoric")" [For how long?] (203).
"The only way to enter the REVISE process is to go through Diagnose first. This is because REVISE is, by definition, a process that depends on the new information generated in a diagnosis, whereas REWRITE, like original text production, does not." (216).
"The power of diagnosis is not based on knowing the technical vocabulary of a college handbook--one can be innocent of grammar and recognize an agreement problem, and one can have never heard of "squinting modifiers" or undisturbed middles" and still recognize the pattern, diagnose its logic, and know what to do. On the other hand, one premise of education is that having a language helps you see and think about what you see (Freedman, "Review"). The question is how much of what do we need to teach writers?" (222).