Writing is an essential part of the research process. Sometimes writing can seem like a difficult or even insurmountable task. However, there are good tools available to facilitate the writing process, and writing becomes easier precisely if one thinks about it as a process.
The different stages of the writing process are: # Preparation
- Letting the idea develop
- Insight and idea
- Testing out solutions
- Finalizing the text
- Publishing and evaluating the finished work.
There are different solutions to writing difficulties. More information on the writing process, the difficulties related to it and the possible solutions can be found here (in finnish): https://wiki.oulu.fi/download/attachments/8294497/Kirjoittaminen+prosessina.pdf?version=1.
WRITING AS A PROCESS
PSYCHOLOGICAL HINDRANCES CONCERNING WRITING AND SOLUTIONS FOR THESE PROBLEMS
Sometimes writing can turn out to be an insurmountable task. It could be that the writer has ideas, but finds it difficult to start. Even professional writers can suffer from the so-called writer's block. Boice (1993; see Lonka et al. 2006, 26-27) presents some reasons why the writing process can get difficult:
1. Perfectionism,i.e. striving for perfection. The writer often has unrealistic expectations of his/her text: it must be perfect before it can be published. This is a very common problem among university students.
2. Inner censorship. The writer is obsessed with critical thoughts. Nothing gets written down, because nothing is smart enough.
3. Fear of failure. Fear of failure might lead to underachievement. On the other hand, it might stop the writer from seeking feedback from others, which further hinders the writing process.
4. Putting things off, i.e. procrastination. The work is put off until the night before deadline. This phenomenon is familiar among both students and scholars alike. At worst, procrastination can become a vicious circle: because there is too little time to write, results are bad, and feedback is always negative.
5. Previous negative experiences. Negative experiences can be related to perfectionism, inner censorship and the fear of failure alike. If the feedback has always been negative, writing is sure to be difficult. Negative experiences can stem from both essays written in comprehensive schools and university seminar papers alike.
6. Mental health problems. Because writing is a psychologically demanding mode of problem-solving, even minor mental health problems can potentially impede writing.
Even if writer's block strikes, there are many methods available for supporting the writing process. The most important thing is to see writing as a way to develop one's know-how, not just as a way to display it. According to Boice (1993; see. Lonka 2006, 27-28), the following methods prevent writer's block:
1. Right thoughts concerning writing. One should be calm and accept the fact that sometimes writing seems difficult. One should also think about which stage of the writing process seems difficult and try to put special effort into that particular stage.
2. Regularity. One can only learn to write by writing. According to research, people who produce lots of text often also produce higher quality texts than people who only seldom write anything.
3. Automatization comes through writing large amounts of text regularly. One should try to make one's writing an automatic process by e.g. doing free writing exercises where one does not have to pay any attention to formality.
4. Social support. Constructive feedback is an essential form of support. Every writer should strive to get feedback from others, so that the writing process would be as complete as possible.
BEGINNING AND EXPERIENCED WRITERS
A so-called beginning writer might find the writing process difficult due to e.g. the following misconceptions (Boice 1990; see. Lonka et al. 2006, 26):
1. Good writers do not show their texts to others before they are finished and perfect.
2. Good writers do not begin writing until they are in the right mood.
3. Good writers do not begin to write unless they have a novel, creative idea.
4. Good writers postpone writing until they can devote a long, uninterrupted period of time to it.
5. Good writers produce final results on one go - the first version can already be published.
6. You cannot become a good writer - you are born one.
In this text, the term beginning writer refers to a person who is not a real expert in writing, such as an experienced scientific writer or a professional fiction writer. Studies show that a beginning writer uses the strategy of repeating information when writing, whereas an experienced writer used the strategy of editing information. When examining the working methods of beginning and experienced writers, the following differences can be found, for example:
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BEGINNING AND EXPERIENCED WRITERS
beginner >< highly experienced scientific writer / professional fiction writer
Beginner (information repetition strategy) expert (information editing strategy)- does not set many goals to his/her work and does not strive to solve problems
- is impulsive and quick to begin the writing process
- does not plan his/her work to a great extent
- does not consider the relationship of content and expression (minimizes the intellectual capacity required by the task)
- lists ideas retrieved from memory
- writes almost everything s/he knows about the subject
- > cannot formulate questions or make arguments in a meaningful way
- the arguments in the text are related to the title but not necessarily to each other (the chain of deduction is not systematic)
- does not take the reader into consideration (does not explain different things very clearly)
This strategy develops in situations where the text must be finished quickly and it must conform to a certain formula (answers to exam questions etc.) - begins writing by formulating the demands of the task and the goal of the text in his/her mind
- makes a plan (in his/her mind, on paper or on the computer)
- writes fast at first and makes drafts
- returns to the draft and edits it
- carefully considers the relationship between what is presented and how it is done
- works in stages, occasionally goes back to a previous stage
- is able to view the text like an outsider would and thus make the necessary modifications
- the text takes the reader into consideration
- arguments and deductions are in a logical order
- the style fits both the content and the overall aim of the text
One can develop one's thinking by not merely trying to save and print out information, but by trying to come up with, modify and present original ideas as well.
A beginning writer should learn
- to see that good texts do not come out of nowhere, but must be produced
- to plan, evaluate and polish one's text
- to pay attention to conscious problem-solving
- to ask for feedback (feedback assists in the development of the metacognitive skills related to writing)
- to separate himself/herself from the text so that s/he does not feel threatened or offended even if s/he must rewrite the whole text (one must learn to accept feedback in order to really develop as a writer)
- to view his/her text as an outsider would (this is done best by letting some time pass before re-reading one's writing).
WRITING AS A COGNITIVE PROCESS
Many studies find writing a rather complex cognitive process. According to Hayes and Flower (see Viskari 2001, 43-45), for instance, the writer's world can be divided into three main parts: the writing task, the writer's long-term memory and the writing process. The writing task starts the thinking and writing processes. When the writer plans the text, s/he retrieves images, experiences and information related to the topic at hand from his/her long-term memory, either consciously or unconsciously. Those images are selected, structured and complemented by extra material in accordance with his/her aims. Gaps become more evident when the thoughts are written down on paper. Structured thoughts are verbalized into a text which the writer reads, re-reads and edits and re-edits again and again.
Hayes ja Flower state that all writers do not use all of the parts of the writing process, which are, basically, planning, putting thoughts into words, and editing. In addition to cognitive factors, writing is governed by many other factors related to context, language, language use and the nature of communication.
THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF THE WRITING PROCESS
The writing process can be seen to consist of different stages. There are many opinions as to how the actual division is made. The following example of the different stages of the writing process is presented by Irma Lonka et al. (1996). The writing process can be divided into six parts:
2. Letting the idea develop
3. Insight and idea
4. Testing out solutions
5. Finalizing the text
6. Publishing and evaluating the finished work.
As mentioned before, there are several different ways the divide the process into stages, and this is only one of them. In this text, some views of other researchers are dealt with under the headings created by Lonka et al. as well. The stages are usually not clearly defined, and they do not necessarily follow one another in the same order with different writers. Some of the stages can be left out or even switch places.
Preparation is an essential, if not the most essential part of the writing process. If the preparation and planning process is skipped, there is a great risk that the end result is a failure. Preparation is a way of warming up the memory: because the writing process is a cognitive function related to memory, it is during the preparation stage that the memory begins to gather information for the yet-to-be written text from previous experiences. Often the best ideas present themselves somewhere other than when sitting at the desk, and those ideas ought to written down as they come.
The memory can be piqued and the writing process activated with the help of different exercises. The following is a free writing model by Esa Väliverronen (2002: 86-87), namely a cubing exercise (e.g. Lonka et al. 2006) and the Meaning chart by Anneli Kauppinen and Leena Laurinen.
It is possible to begin writing without a topic as well, but often the easiest way to start is to give oneself a title or a first sentence (e.g.: Writing scientific text is ________ because...). However, the style and the way the topic is approached can be chosen freely. The most important thing is to write to yourself without thinking about readers.
• write for 10 minutes without interruptions
• do not censor yourself or stop (if you are unable to do so, try writing with your computer monitor turned off)
• ignore typing errors or misspelled words or whether what you write makes any sense
• read the text later. Select an interesting thought and use it as a basis for a new exercise. Resume this activity later.
Cubing is a writing exercise developed in the United States. It is an application of Aristotle's rhetorics and it allows the writer to clarify and enrich his/her expression (Lonka et al. 2006, 14-16; Linnakylä et al. 1988, 76-83).
Instructions (Linnakylä 1988, 77)
Use all six faces of the cube. Proceed quickly from one side to another. Write about each side for three to five minutes.
Describe! Examine IT carefully and from up close. Describe what you see: colours, forms, sizes, smells, details.
Compare! What is IT similar to? What is IT different from? What can IT be compared to?
Combine! What makes you think about IT? What comes to your mind when you think about IT? Can you link IT to similar or different things, objects, people, places or times? Let your thoughts run freely and write about things that come to your mind. What does IT remind you of? What places, people or feelings IT brings to your mind?
Analyze! Describe how IT is made. You do not have to know it; you can just imagine how IT is made.
Apply! Explain how IT can be used, what can be done with IT. How can IT be used? What is IT good for? Who needs IT?
Argue for and against it! Be for or against IT! Use all sorts of reasons and claims - sensible, absurd or anything in between.
When you have written about all six angles, read your text. If some angle offers interesting ideas, you may have found your point of view.
Cubing is often an appropriate method when one is writing about persons or objects. When writing about issues, everything cannot be dealt with in the cubing exercise.
The purpose of a meaning chart (Kauppinen-Laurinen 1988, 26-27) is to help to discern and consider the causal relationships of complex issues and phenomena.
2. LETTING THE IDEA DEVELOP AND MAKING DRAFTS
This is the stage in which at the latest the writer should draw up a working plan for himself/herself. You should consider carefully what kind of goals you are setting for your text and what your schedule is like: are you going to write full-time or should you be able to do something else besides it? You should start writing the actual text as early as possible, or otherwise you are never going to get started. At this stage, the text does not have to be in its final form and it does not have to be written in the same order as the final work.
At this stage the writer begins gathering information from written sources, for instance. It is recommended to write down the source information as exactly as possible now, because it can be difficult to find again later. You can also begin thinking of the structure of the final text. Hirsjärvi et al. (2007: 37-38), in their book Tutki ja kirjoita, present different ways to structure a text:
1. Chronological order (e.g. previously - now - in the future) is a simple alternative. Chronological order fits some topics directly, but it can also be combined with other methods.
2. Organizing by location (e.g. us - elsewhere, near - far) is also a simple model, and it can be combined with other solutions as well.
3. Making a list (e.g. from important to less important, from generalities to specifics) can also be combined with other alternatives.
4. Thematic, i.e. a structure that examines a theme from different angles in different chapters can be a framework for the previous structuring options.
5. From known to unknown or from simple to complex-structure is based on the premise that a familiar thing gives the reader a point of reference from which s/he can, together with the author, proceed to a more unfamiliar or complicated issue.
6. A dialectical structure, i.e. a structure based on comparison, oppositions and juxtaposition (e.g. juxtaposing two phenomena) aims to be systematic.
7. A cause-effect-structure or a phenomenon-cause-structure is useful when examining an event and its consequences or an event and reasons behind it.
8. A problem-solution-structure or a question-answer-structure are based on identifying and defining a problem, understanding it from many points of view, setting goals, seeking out and considering possible solutions and planning the execution of the chosen solution.
During the idea development stage it is recommended that the writer asks for feedback from e.g. his/her fellow students. This feedback is a good basis for editing the text further and for coming up with different solutions for the next version. At this stage the writer tries to solve the problem, but might not yet be successful. At worst, the writer can even give up at this point.
3. INSIGHT AND IDEA, I.E. THE ACTUAL WRITING OF THE TEXT
After the topic has been thought over and a draft has been written, writing should become quick and easy, and text is produced rapidly. The structure of the text starts to become clear, although it is still not necessary to write the sections or chapters in the order in which they will appear in the final version. Individual writers' working methods and rhythms are very different. Some work regularly for eight hours per day, while others find it more natural to work intermittently, t.e. to labour day and night at first and then rest for longer periods of time.
At this stage at the latest, the reader analysis should be completed. The writer should think about what the readers already know about the topic and what sort of preconceptions they might have. A good text does not underrestimate the readers by being too easy, but too complicated expressios will drive readers off as well. The text should above all aspire to be fresh in terms of content as well as the choice of words. You should also think about what kind of an image about yourself you want to give to your readers, and how this image is conveyed.
The text should be left alone for a moment, or even a longer period of time. Putting distance between yourself and your text enables you to criticize yourself, but it also gives you fresh points of view in terms of both structure and content.
4. TESTING OUT SOLUTIONS
Every writer becomes blind to their own text. The way to detach youself from your work is a good way to open your eyes, so to speak, but it does not remove the need for outside assessments. When the text has become logical and coherent, you should ask for feedback from others. Of course, it would be advisable to ask for feedback in all stages of the process and not only after finishing the text.
According to Väliverronen (2002: 91-92), it would be ideal if the author received feedback on three levels: At first, s/he needs friends who can give uncritical feedback that consists of commenting upon the text. Secondly, the text could be evaluated by fellow students, whose feedback could be more detailed and more critical. Finally, the third level feedback could be given by e.g. a teacher, an advisor or a more advanced fellow student.
Giving feedback is a challenge in itself. Iisa et al. (1998: 29) give out practical instructions to commenters:
Address concrete points in the text.
What is your general opinion?
How does the text fulfill its function?
Is the tone of the text appropriate?
Is it clearly structured?
Are the individual sections logical in terms of structure?
Is the logic of the text easy to follow?
Has the author used concepts suitable to the task?
Is the use of the concepts consistent?
Are the expressions accurate and understandable?
Besiders the commenter, the author him/herself can of course make use of these instructions when critically evaluating a text.
5. FINALIZING THE TEXT
At the final, polishing stage it is time to start paying attention to the language. You should also check that you have written in the correct style and followed the appropriate conventions. According to Hirsjärvi et al. (1998, 45), when thinking about structure, you should take the following issues into consideration:
1. Are the purpose and point of view of the work made clear in the introduction, and is this done in an interesting manner? Is it easy to discern the basic principle (main idea) of each chapter or section?
2. Are the main lines in accordance with the text and factually correct? Does the basic structure of the text follow the norms of the type of text in question?
3. Are the issues discussed and ideas developed logically? Are the different structuring principles used clearly discernible in different parts of the text?
4. Is the text a balanced whole? Are the different parts well linked to one another (chapters to other chapters, paragraphs to paragraphs and sentences to sentences)?
5. Is every chapter and heading necessary and in the right place? Is the text lacking in something?
6. Is the beginning snappy, so to speak? Does it encourage you to read on? Is the ending coherent?
7. Are the different opinions expressed in the text adequately, soundly and accurately justified?
8. Are the conclusions correct, and are they presented clearly?
9. Are all the figures and tables necessary and in the right place? Should they be situated in the body of the text or as appendices?
10. Are the references to other studies accurate (=is the selection and interpretation of sources appropriate, is source information documented correctly)? Are the references made in the body of the text reliable and natural?
When looking at questions of form and correct spelling, you should never trust only a spellchecker program. Granted, it finds missing letters, but it will not recognize wrong words or inadvertent repetition. According to Hirsjärvi et al (1998, 46), important issues regarding proofreading include
- structuring of an individual paragraph (developing the main idea, linking of sentences)
- the flow of the text from one paragraph to another (transitions, linking)
- sentence and clause structure (clarity, conciseness, word order etc.)
- word choice (uncomplicated accuracy, accuracy of terms used etc.)
- many grammatical issues and spelling (punctuation etc.)
- formal issues depending on the purpose of the text (title page, heading conventions, referencing method, bibliography etc.)
Finalizing both the external issues and the content can take a lot of time, and there is an endless amount of possible corrections to be made. At some point you just need to have the courage to decide that the work is finished.
6. PUBLISHING AND EVALUATING THE FINISHED WORK
At last it is time to publish the text and submit it to evaluation. Any feedback received at this point can be seen as fruitful advice concerning future projects - what was good and what could still be improved.
Hirsjärvi, Sirkka, Remes, Pirkko ja Sajavaara, Paula 2007: Tutki ja kirjoita.
Iisa, Katariina, Kankaanpää, Salli & Piehl, Aino 1998: Tekstin tekijän käsikirja.
Kauppinen, Anneli ja Laurinen, Leena 1987: Tekstioppi. Johdatus ajattelun ja kielen yhteistyöhön
Linnakylä, Pirjo 1986: Yleisestä kirjoittamisprosessista tehtävänmukaisiin strategioihin. Kasvatus 4/1986.
Linnakylä, Pirjo, Mattinen, Eija ja Olkinuora, Asta 1988: Prosessikirjoittamisen opas.
Lonka, Irma, Lonka, Kirsti, Karvonen, Pirjo ja Leino, Pirkko 2006: Taitava kirjoittaja. Opiskelijan opas.
Lonka, Kirsti & Lonka, Irma 1993: Aktivoiva opetus. Käsikirja nuorten ja aikuisten opettajille.
Viskari, Sinikka 2001: Tieteellisen kirjoittamisen perusteet.
Väliverronen, Esa 2002: Kirjoittaminen prosessina. Teoksessa Tieteellinen kirjoittaminen (toim. Kinnunen, Merja & Löytty, Olli).