Writing: Overview & Background


Table of Contents for this Reading

Writing: Overview & Background. 1

Overview.. 1

Two Functions of Writing. 1



There are a few points that I need to make before we get into listing topics and get ultimately into the writing of your document.

First, forget about writing.  Or at least forget about writing as an “act of communication.”  (What does that mean? Read on.)  In fact you must understand that writing has two functions.  If you confuse them, then you will be frozen in your writing task; you may be unable to write!

Did you ever put your thoughts and ideas on paper?  (Here “on paper” means either “paper” or some digital method such as a word processor or other software.) That is, do you write things down in order to clarify your thinking, or to solve a problem?  Most of us do.  As we work through a problem, we make notes to ourselves.  These help us remember ideas that have passed through our minds, organize our thoughts, and see the problem (visually, since we are talking about writing things down). 

O     This thinking on paper  (or “thinking on a digital device” – whatever) is usually a comfortable exercise.  When you think on paper, you are writing for yourself, and you have no problem with selecting words, or grammar, or the “best” phrase to use.  You usually find this kind of writing relatively stressless, freewheeling, and profitable.  All you are doing is writing down your ideas so that you can see them on paper..

O     The other function of writing is writing for communication.  In this case you write in order to transmit your ideas (feelings, attitudes, knowledge) to others.  In fact, most people think of this as “writing.” Writing for communication is what usually scares writers.  Here, the writer feels that he/she is “on stage” and must give a good performance.  Every word must be perfect (or so you have been led to believe).  The techniques that we are using to write your User Document will help you to avoid this stress.

The danger in not realizing the difference between the two types of writing is that as soon as you “sit down to write” you feel that you are writing for communication, and not just thinking on paper.  Thus you get hung up on correct wording and grammar when you should be concentrating on getting the ideas you need to communicate to your Reader in concrete form.  Worrying about the communication aspect of writing, you slow down the production of your ideas.  It is the production of your ideas that is most important at this stage in “writing.”  Thus your writing bogs down.

The best way to write is to separate these two writing modes.  First, and here is where we will spend a large amount of time, is to think on paper.  Get your ideas (topics) down on paper and add some notes to yourself indicating what you want to say about the topic. 

Once we have thought out our topics and listed the concepts, which go with them, we can focus on getting our thoughts down into a first draft.  By this time you will know what you want to say, and when you want to say it.  Then you fill in the material for the ideas.  You're still "thinking on paper."  

In fact, in this Course you don’t begin to  “write for communication” until after you have done most of the writing.  It is the revising of your work where you polish it so your Reader can follow your thinking.  It’s easier still when you realize that you will be using a proofReader/editor to clean up the grammar and possibly odd phrasing in your writing.

 (This division of writing roles is presented by Howard & Barton, 1986, listed in our Bibliography.)

Actually, you will be doing some communicating in the “thinking on paper” stage.  However, you will be communicating only with yourself.  That is, today you might think of a topic to add to your document.  You write the topic down.  You must write down enough information so that when you look at what you wrote you will understand what you meant; even if your revisit your notes many months later.

I describe this in our section on How to List Topics in the “Your Writing Tools” section of this Course.




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