Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Second Discipline

The Second Discipline.

According to Senge, the second discipline, mental models, is based upon the “deeply held internal images of how the world works.” These images can be trouble if “they limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting” (174). Mental models are structures, processes, and frameworks around which we organize our thinking and actions. Like all such forms, they have the power to both enable us, or to constrain us.

In thinking about writing, the first framework that comes to mind is “the writing process.” The steps of the writing process: invention, research, arrangement, drafting critiquing, revising, editing, and publishing can be a very useful heuristic tool when you are facing difficult writing tasks. However there are situations where the writing process can actually limit your writing. For example, I know a middle school teacher who requires every student who writes a research report to put all the ideas they find on index cards. The same teacher requires an outline of the report before the writer starts writing a draft. This sort of inflexible attitude towards the writing process tends to make students see it as a set of rules which must be followed. The writer taught in such a way is unlikely to discover his or her own best writing processes. For example, some students prefer to cut and paste information found on the internet onto electronic versions of the teacher’s index cards. Other students may discover that they prefer to build an annotated bibliography. Other students find that they work better reading over the research, making notes to themselves, and then come back to the research during the drafting stage to get specific quotations or information. It is also important that the writing process does not have to be “done in order,” nor should a writer go through every step of the writing process for every piece of writing. Business writers and journalists, among others, often write under conditions in which there is a “deadline” imposed, and sometimes those deadlines are impossible to meet if you feel you have to go through each step of the writing process.

Genres are another mental model, the model texts we “have in mind” as we face recurring rhetorical situations where we are called to write. Too often we teach business genres as if they are rules, conventions which must be obeyed at all times. If that were true, then every piece of business correspondence ever written would tend to follow the same patterns or formats. We know that is not the case. The business letter of today, with its clean block format, and use of white space to separate paragraphs is very different from the genre I learned during my undergraduate years. The lesson is this: mental models are not rules and processes “imposed” by an outside authority. They are “our rules, our processes.” That means we have the agency, the freedom, even the responsibility to modify them in such a way to make them work better for us as writers, and for our readers.


Blogger Dawn said...

I remember those days, and my papers (and the ones for w130 and w131) all turned out badly having to do this process. I cannot write a research paper going through such a dictative process. Of course, no one else would be able to follow my notes, cards, what have you that I used to collect and use information, but the whole point of a paper is to get it down and make it understandable. So why turn in all the garballygoob? Just to prove you can do it their way? Outlines are the worse for me, and knowing that many publishers want outlines will be a challenge for me. I've tried and tried to put a paper into an outline but they always fall apart. I do better in trial and error, re-reading and re-reading the order that I place the paper in until the information comes out right.
Ah! I just told you my dirty little secret: outlines are my downfall. I can't avoid them forever, can I?

4:12 PM  

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