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6.4 Learning from Your Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. Realize that it is normal for a writing project to come together differently than you initially planned.
  2. Know some unexpected situations that often happen during a writing project.
  3. Understand why and how to maintain a constant sense of critical inquiry as you write.

As you start writing, you are likely to discover that your ideas don’t always come together as you expected. The following list gives some examples of types of unexpected situations you might encounter:

  • Some ideas you thought would expand into multiple paragraphs actually are not meaningful enough to receive that much space. You might have to do some additional brainstorming, research, or both to fill the unexpected extra space or adjust the scope of your topic by broadening it.
  • Some ideas you thought would take only a paragraph or two turn out to take considerably more space. You might have to cut something out if you have a tight page limit or adjust the scope of your topic by narrowing it.
  • As you write, you get additional ideas that change the direction you intended to take with some of your original ideas. Stop and rethink your direction and make adjustments so that your paper works well.
  • Once you get started with your research, you might develop a different attitude about some of the facts you encounter. This change could alter your whole plan and thesis. Decide whether you want change your plan and thesis or incorporate the evolution of your thinking into the essay.
  • You could discover that you need to do more research to clarify your ideas, support them, or both. This discovery is extremely common, so you might as well just plan on at least one round of additional, targeted, inquiry-based research after you start writing.
  • You might find that you do not have the information you need to transition smoothly from one topic to the next. Take the time to flesh out and articulate the transitions between points and ideas that are probably already half-formed in your head.
  • You might find that your writing doesn’t sound as professional as you would like it to sound. Slowly work through your paper replacing some of your more casual wordings with more formal wordings. Conversely, you might find that you need to adjust your tone to a less formal register to meet the needs of your chosen audience and purpose.
  • As you are writing, you might realize that you have not included enough of your thoughts and opinions to make the work your own. Add some of your thoughts throughout the work.
  • You might realize your writing sounds like a lot of different topics lined up and strung together haphazardly. If this happens, consider if you failed to slow your thinking down enough. Perhaps your topic is still too broad.
  • You could realize that the topic on which you are currently focused should have been aligned with a previous idea. If this happens, stop and move things around. Continually pay attention to the organization so that, in the end, your paper flows well.

If you pay attention to your thoughts while you write, you are likely to find that your thoughts can lead to more good ideas. In other words, maintain constant critical inquiry about your content, your formatting, and your relationship to your main topic.

Some people tend to “write in the moment” without paying close attention to what they wrote a page ago or what they intend to write on the next page. If you are a person who tends to wander in this way, you should periodically stop and step back to consider how your writing direction is going.

As you write, make notes of all the points that come to your mind as they come so you don’t lose any of them before you can fully incorporate them into your writing or decide if you want to incorporate them.

Key Takeaways

  • Your writing projects will almost never come together exactly as you planned since many unexpected situations can occur, and at least some of them will have an impact on your writing direction.
  • Some unexpected situations include ideas taking more or less space than you intended, ideas coming together differently than you planned, a change in your idea about what you want to include, missing transitions, writing that is too casual or formal, and ideas you decide should be in a different order.
  • You will generate your best work if, instead of being an overly mechanical and rigid writer and thinker, you maintain constant critical inquiry while you write.


  1. Choose a passage from a text you are reading for this course or another course, from an advertisement, or from a political speech. On a scale of zero to one hundred, determine the relative level of informality (zero) or formality (one hundred) in the text’s tone (defined in Chapter 4 "Joining the Conversation"). Next, rewrite the text to adjust the tone at least fifty points in one direction or the other.
  2. Choose a passage from a text you are reading for this course or another course, from an advertisement, or from a political speech. On a scale of zero to one hundred, determine the text’s attitude toward its subject matter (defined in Chapter 4 "Joining the Conversation"), with negative being zero, positive being one hundred, and neutral being fifty. Next, rewrite the text to adjust the attitude at least fifty points in one direction or the other, at the very least from negative to neutral, or from neutral to positive, and so on.
  3. Working with a partner, create a humorous presentation showing the traits of an overly mechanical and rigid thinker and writer.