Reading and Writing *with* Authority!

For this week, I read Penrose and Geisler’s “Reading and Writing Without Authority.” Although they themselves would caution against my saying this, I agreed with the majority of their points. The two administered an interesting semester-long experiment on two individuals, Roger and Janet. At the time, Janet was a college freshman while Roger was seeking his doctoral degree in a field related to ethics. Penrose and Geisler asked each to consult eight scholarly articles to guide their thinking and development of an essay on paternalism. The two had clear differences in educational background and experience surrounding the topic. I would like to think that I would’ve succeeded in this experiment, but I will admit that I continue to make the same mistakes Janet committed.

The piece lays out the four premises of their research: (1) texts are authored, (2) authors present knowledge in the form of claims, (3) knowledge claims can conflict, and (4) knowledge claims can be contested.

1. Texts Are Authored

  • While Roger noted the authors’ names and used them to organize his thoughts, Janet put excerpts of the text into simple quotes and laid out her thinking into topics. I find that I make similar mistakes when I’m reading text. I need to do a better job of citing authors and giving proper attribution. The key remains reading the text as the thoughts and claims from a person rather than a definitive text. In class, I tend to make the error in referring to readings as coming from “them” or “it.” Well, “it” and “they” are people just like me! I need to steer clear of the mindset that the material stands above me.

2. Knowledge Presented in the Form of Claims

  • Roger analyzed the authors’ thoughts and broke down their validity. Meanwhile, Janet simply searched for facts. I empathize with Janet: we all just want the truth! I need to remind myself that these authors are making claims and should be taken as such. They exist far from the truth. I have a tendency to do this in my everyday life. Are you on this side of the argument or the other side? Well, whichever side is the right one. Most times it’s not as clear which side is the proper one.

3. Knowledge Claims Can Conflict

  • Janet failed to face controversy head on. Many times, she had few strategies for dealing with it and simply wanted to take sides. On the other side of campus, Roger used debate as a springboard for his own opinion and acknowledged controversy as critical to his work. Roger appeared to have immersed himself into the conversation while Janet served as simply an outsider. Again, I understand Janet’s feelings towards this situation. I’m sure Janet didn’t feel qualified enough to act as an expert in the field of ethics. I have a tendency to think the same way–what makes me qualified to talk about proper campaigning strategies in my political science class essay?

4. Knowledge Claims Can Be Tested

  • Again, Janet made another error. She used examples only to illustrate her point rather than to help examine connections and contrasts. This girl can never get a break! It’s ok, Janet, I’m in the same boat. I want to get better at using examples to test my claims.

At the end of the essay the author explains that feminist theorists believe many women resist inserting themselves into in argument because they feel no place for themselves in the conversation at hand. This statement resonates with me. I’m going to read this essay again because I think it illustrates common errors in writing and tips for improvement.  I hope Janet will join me in this effort.

3 thoughts to “Reading and Writing *with* Authority!”

  1. Awesome picture at the top of the page, Mark! The way that you explained the texts are very helpful. I found that upon looking at my older papers in freshman year, it was often easier for me to merely choose the more easily arguable topic. I especially resort to this tactic when I don’t feel my research is sufficient to support my claims for something against a general argument.

    How do you want to change those habits? I think it’s hard to always see something that you’ve fallen into a groove. For me, it’s transitions. My transitions are terrible. Anyway, I hope to see your writing include some of these elements sometime!


    1. I agree, my writing has changed quite a bit since freshman year. I never really had my own ideas, I just chose to report my sources as facts. It may have worked for my those classes, but that kind of writing is just so empty. It’s meaningless. In the future, I’ll definitely look to put my own ideas in a paper, challenging my sources. Their writing is not the truth.

      I’m excited to see how this will change my writing. In my “Why I Write” essay, I actually talked about about how my writing is constantly changing. I’m want to see where this leads me in the future.

  2. I really liked what you wrote here and the discussion that we had in class. Eventhough I thought this essay sucked, I think that there are some valid points that can be taken from it.

    My favorite part of your blog post was the point that you made about essays being authored, and I quote, “Roger analyzed the authors’ thoughts and broke down their validity. Meanwhile, Janet simply searched for facts.” I would have to admit that I am a fact-searcher too. But again, I don’t necessarily think that that is a bad thing. Last semester I took an English class for ULWR with a bunch of grad students and you’d better believe that I was fact searching since I didn’t have the background that they did. And my method earned me the same grade that most of them got…A. So I’m not entirely convinced that this is an awful thing while in context to classes that are not-relevant to your major.

    Like you said, I would really like to develop my authority while writing and insert more of my own original ideas, rather than just quoting things that I’ve read. I would love to argue with the texts, because texts are not concrete evidence, they too are opinions written by scholars; and are solely that, educated opinions.

    Good work, Mark, I really saw some of the good points about this article after reading your post: I feel more enlightened.

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