Over the course of this semester, I have began and completed the processes of the three gateway experiments and a variety of essays for my other classes. In doing so, I have found quite a few similarities between them, and also a few differences.
In the beginning, there is only a prompt. Sometimes it is specific, sometimes less so. Of course, for our experiments the only real prompt was to explore a form a writing in the topic which I chose, and to create an outline and excerpt of this experiment. There was lots of freedom, which proved to be both helpful and challenging at the same time. I learned the value of just getting my thoughts down on the page, even if I knew they would all be deleted later, because you just have to get the ball rolling. For my various poli sci papers I have had prompts on many subjects and with different degrees of specificity. One asked me to “forward [my] own assessment of the nature and extent of judicial power/impact in the Guantanamo decisions” using policies put forth by the Bush administration and related Court decisions, while another asked for a six page paper themed around “Sport and Modernity”. As a general rule, I have had an easier time beginning the process of papers that have more narrow prompts than those with more leeway, but once I fully dive in, I usually end up enjoying the work of papers in which I can write more about my interests.
In outlining and writing both essays and experiments, I would try to get a sense of what I wanted to write about mostly through a sort of trial and error, where I wrote ideas and rewrote them until I liked them. This process was considerably shorter in the experiments, not for lack of time spent but because I had a much harder time even getting to the outlining stage. I spent a lot of time just staring at a blank screen, trying to decide whether to make a podcast or speech or another form of writing. And once I did, the format of the experiment allowed me to mostly just get to work, putting my thoughts of research and content into the genre analysis section or the sample excerpt itself. In contrast, my process of writing essays for my political science classes involved creating very detailed outlines of my arguments, thesis, evidence, and of course the essay structure itself. I would then write each paragraph separately, often rewriting sentences and even full sections before placing them all together on a separate document at the end.
In editing and reviewing, the processes were quite similar. I had gone through the various stages of creation for the experiments or paper, and now needed to take a step back and see if it made sense as a whole and whether the individual pieces work well together. This part usually took much less time than the previous stages, but was very important to each work’s overall coherence and general quality. I made many changes, no doubt, but to me revising is a much easier process than creating. This, combined with the fact that I was usually making these final edits as the deadline approached, allowed this portion of the process to largely have fewer hiccups than the writing and planning portions.
Which is better? I’m not sure. In a way I like the guidance of some more traditional essay prompts because they make it easier to just get down to it and knock it out. But the freedom of deciding what topic to work on and what format to work in, as long as I made good choices, made for a more engaging product.