Recently, I was tasked with writing a case study in my math upper-level writing class. In my attempt to make sense of a long-winded court case and to analyze the case convincingly, I found myself bumbling along quite a bit. When my professor asked if anyone had looked up guidelines or sample case studies, I had to lower my gaze.
Anyone would think that given the number of times I’ve sat through lectures and workshops that always revolve around “do your research, look at examples, learn from them, write your paper, and always revise multiple times,” I should have known better than to attempt a genre without proper research. That incident was enough to make me question where I left my writing toolkit (probably buried under all the squiggles I have to see every day). It was a good check, though, because it helped me see how I was forgetting about the importance of being intentional in my writing.
One of the biggest struggles I had with the Writing 200 (it’s 220 now?) class was the reflection portions of the projects. Before then, I only ever had to be concerned about producing a good essay. But, in 200, I had to justify my choices explicitly and then, after turning in a project, write about what I felt could have been improved. It felt strange having to point out the many flaws in my “finished” work. And having to justify my decisions? Can I just be honest and say that sometimes I make some decisions because they “feel right” while I’m writing and editing? But – this realization came sometime during the semester – having to be explicitly accountable for every decision I make in my writing has turned out to be one of the best tools my professor has given to me.
Being intentional while writing may seem to be a no-brainer. But doing it consciously is quite another issue. When I pause while writing to think, “Why am I doing this?” the answer isn’t always immediately obvious. That is when leaving notes in the text or in the margin helps a lot. When I jot down my thoughts concerning why I’m choosing to do certain things, it makes the revision process a lot easier.
This was particularly helpful in remedying my rather haphazardly thrown together case study. Before turning in the draft, I looked back at everything I’d written and questioned myself about things I had barely noticed before. In revising the draft, I could see where my paper became weak and how to fix those spots given my intentions in explaining an idea in the paragraph. The revision became less intimidating and a lot more productive than if I had done it without outlining the reasons for my decisions while writing. Phew.