Second, Subsequent Streams

Revisions have been challenging. Having resolved myself to more
drafting before squaring with revisions, the commented drafts of my
dissertation’s introduction and first two chapters tend to taunt me. I haven’t
figured out how to fit it in, how to make room for it given the other regular
paces. I’d been meaning (for a couple of weeks) to get through some of the
first-stage directorial comments to those early chapters, mostly because I want
them to be ready for the rest of my committee sometime in Marchpril and also
because I have at least one other reader who I’m trying to get them ready for.
So I took a leap head-long into the "When will I revise?" problem on Saturday,
and spent most of the day with it.

The introduction was fairly easy. It’s elastic: short, overviewy, and
without glaring needs. It was manageable to get through all of the
comments, and make appropriate adjustments, leaving aside the summaries of the
last two chapters (5, 6) because are yet unwritten. But working through
Chapter One was somewhat more daunting; I expected this since it is much thicker
than the introduction. I got through all of the superficial stuff, and ended up
with a list, indexed by page, of what is left: two placeholder notes (no work
required), four easy changes (citation adding, a one-sentence gloss on this or
that), seven moderately difficult changes (almost all of which require some
re-reading of sources), and one major change (a section that I will probably
re-write from scratch with a slightly different–simpler–focus). It is
helpful to have the index; but I don’t know when I will get to it. Perhaps
in Marchpril. Or Mayune. (Ay, clearly, we need a better vocabulary for two-month

I am not in panic mode about the demands of revision, the frequency or scope
of the changes due (I know because I have not been tempted to add exclamatory
emphasis to any of this.). But I still don’t know how to work those
revisions into what has been, out of necessity, a fairly compacted daily
schedule. In this room-for-revision conundrum there lingers a problem of
rhythm-breaking, and it’s difficult to embrace that challenge when it’s been so
challenging just to establish a more or less even writing rhythm (the dailiness
of dissertating, call it). Perhaps as much as anything, blogging has prepared me
for the dailiness, but I still feel somewhat spun-around (i.e., vertigahh!) by
the prospect of taking revision very seriously while drafting. To say
nothing of other projects needing attention. So maybe if I stack all of it
in a tidy pile on the deepest corner of my desk, it will still be there when I
get to it in a couple of weeks.

Doubling Back

I emerged from Netheruary break on Monday still in a bit of a haze from the
weekend. Did you see that the Giants won the Superbowl? Enjoyed
every minute of it.

But this is an entry about the diss. I expected that I would bound back
into my daily paces on Monday, resume the 9-noon sessions, aiming for roughly
two pages each day so as to have a draft of Chapter Four by the end of February.
But I fell into a slump. I couldn’t see the chapter. I knew vaguely what I
wanted to do. I had an outliney plan, a few notes, a bottle of Vitamin Water. I had the graphs I
painstakingly built day by day throughout January. And I remain fond of the
graphs. I think they’re quite good for getting at what I take to be the aim of
the chapter. But! I couldn’t grasp the chapter; couldn’t sense it,
couldn’t begin it in a smart-enough place. And, therefore, piling them up 2 p.
by 2 p. by 2 p., I typed nearly seven pages of rubbish between Monday and
Wednesday. I would excerpt some of it to win my point; then again, I would
never subject you to such inhospitable treatment.

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Witte, 1984, “Topical Structure and Revision”

Stephen. "Topical Structure and Revision: An Exploratory Study.” On Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998.
Ed. Lisa Ede. New York: Bedford St. Martin’s, 1999. 132-155.

Big Idea
Stephen Witte’s 1983 article reports on the quantifiable patterns of topical
structure in a sample of written revisions of a common text.  Through
comparative readings of revised texts and a common seminal text (from which the
revisers set out), Witte’s study surmises that the reviser’s treatment of
sentence topics correlates to the writer/reviser’s understanding of the text’s
discourse topic.  The relationship between a discourse topic and sentence
topic figures significantly into Witte’s work; he adopts a vocabulary of
specialized terms such as "topicalization," "theme/rheme,"
"macroproposition," and "hypertheme" in his elaboration of
methods.  According to Witte, sentence topics may or may not house
discourse topics, but the writer/reviser’s prior knowledge and readerly understanding
of the seminal text’s discourse topic guides the choices applied
throughout revision.  Witte acknowledges his methods are suited to
informational texts, collaboratively revised. Notably, he delivers some
eighteen-plus name references in the first three or four pages of the article (a
cluster of comp/rhet folks as well as several {unfamiliar-to-me} structural
linguists from the Prague

Wondering About
With all due respect, big chunks of this essay were a muddle; lesser chunks
were interesting in a structuralism-amuck, 1983-snapshot kind of way. 
Witte’s theoretical lead-in to the more empirical study sparked a few
interesting issues.  Without explicitly discussing sentence topics in terms
of links and relationships, Witte is centrally concerned with
syntactic cues, their systematic connections, and the role of the writer/reviser
in reshaping those cues toward a more coherent, unified discourse topic. We
could bend this analysis to rhythm or pulse–the discourse topic’s
dependence on the coordination of smaller units.   As provocative as
this is, the structuralist drawback impends: the study builds from a kind of
de-natured, de-cultured "writer’s hand(s)" (not unlike de Saussure’s
featureless talking heads).  The situation is absent: topoi sans kairos.  

The portions of the essay that scale the revisions from high-score to
low-score based on the sentence topic patterns (matches, deviations, etc.) were
hard to read.  It’s filled with statistical references, and it’s never easy
to connect the high/low assessments to specific texts (only a few of which are
sampled).  Witte notes that one of the setbacks in his study is the problem
of "no average text."  In fact, the whole piece is responsibly
self-conscious; he incorporates lots of reminders that this is "an
exploratory study," and it’s simply a frame for writing researchers to
consider.  But how should we use this? What other applications might
Witte’s work hold?  I don’t have a lot of ideas about this, but as I read,
I started to think that much of this analysis could be applied electronically
(especially the clause-length stuff).  In other words, when I want to see
revision (separated from the document), I simply use Word to compare
texts.  The changes are highlighted, easy to view.  I’ve never
considered the quality of a revision in terms of altered topic patterns;
instead, I simply have a glance at the depth of revision, the way the writer
responded to specific in-text suggestions or questions, and any oversights,
omissions, or clear decisions not to make changes.  And while I’m
not in favor of computers as stand-alone readers, I continue to wonder how
technologies can assist our reading by helping us see patterns in texts (not to
kick out sloppily composed standardized exams).  Witte’s approach, I think,
could be rendered into a software application–an application that might be
useful if we use it to see texts differently rather than measuring those texts
as successes or failures. 

Witte’s approach to measuring sophistication of revisions based on topic
patterns doesn’t acknowledge rhetorical strategies, deliberate re-arrangement,
topical abstraction or exemplification.  All of these forces ought to
figure into revision–even in classifiably informative texts, and studies of
topic structure alone might not reveal such developments.  It also sets up
knowledge of audience and revision in fairly narrow terms.  Revision isn’t
always (ever!) a sealed-off, exclusive, after-writing stage; knowledge of
audience, however carefully ascertained, is imperfect, incomplete. 
Similarly, while the sentence topics can be identified and tagged, discourse
topics spill, morph, shift–endlessly.  By this, I mean the sentence enjoys
punctuated boundaries; a discourse topic flows and is not frozen in time. 

"Although making inferences about composing processes from written
products is somewhat risky, the method I have outlined and applied to controlled
revisions of college writers appears to be a promising one for studying the
textual causes and effects of revision.  It is a method which may allow
researchers and teachers alike to study the decision-making processes writers
use during revision" (153).

"Whether the findings hold for other kinds of texts collected under
different circumstances and evaluated by different kinds of raters remains an
open question" (153). 

"In this regard, topical structure analysis–unlike the analytic methods
designed to examine the effects of the revision–enables the researcher to
explore the relationship between the textual causes of revision, the text
features to which the writer as reader responds, and the effects those changes
have on the revised text" (153).

"Thus in revising the original text, the high-score writers chose to
reduce the number of sentence topics and to develop more fully those retained,
whereas the writers of the low-score texts chose to increase the number of
sentence topics and to develop each of them less fully" (153). 

~muddle~ "Differences between the two sets of revisions can also be
attributed to differences in the mean number of t-units per sentence
topic.  The low-score revisions averaged 1.89 t-units per sentence topic, while
the high-score revisions averaged 2.59, about 27% more than the low-score
ones" (150). ~muddle~

"The two groups’ differing constructions of the gist of the
original governed their choices of sentence topics.  These different
sentence topics, in turn, led to different decisions about content which could
be deleted from the original" (149).

"But on what basis did the two groups decide which elements of the
original text to delete? I suspect that they based such decisions on their
constructions of a discourse topic or a gist for the original
text, because those constructions seem to differ in important ways" (147).

"When what is said (by the principal verbs in the text) about the
discourse topic is combined with the discourse topic, the product is the ‘macroproposition,’
‘gist,’ or ‘point’ of the text" (140).

"As I have explained it, topical structure analysis would seem to be a
useful tool for studying the textual cues which may prompt revision and for
studying the effects of revision on text structure, primarily because it
accounts for and illuminates the interaction of reading and writing during the
revision process. Topical structure analysis should enable researchers to chart
more efficiently the actual decisions writers make as they revise texts"

"Such a view of the relationship of subtopics (i.e., sentence
topics) to the discourse topic surmounts the problem of using the
orthographic boundaries of sentences and paragraphs as the principal semantic or
meaning markers in extended discourse. (Sentence boundaries can vary
independently of meaning when writers choose to produce compound or
compound-complex sentences, and I can find no evidence that writers segment
texts into paragraphs in consistent ways.)" (137).

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.

Big Idea
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. 

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