June 1997 — Volume 2, Number 4
Writing as a Thinking Process
Mary S. Lawrence (1996)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xvi + 251
ISBN 0-472-08368-6 (paper)
In Writing as a Thinking Process, Lawrence presents a carefully-organized array of activities designed to lead students into the habit of questioning themselves throughout the writing process. The exercises in the book have real potential, and can be a good supplement to a course designed to train students in mastery of rhetorical styles as well as in the writing process.
Lawrence pays close attention to repetition and expansion: topics are “spiraled” so that units deal with how information can be organized and examined rather than with themes. The first section of the book presents examples of the different kinds of exercises students will encounter; the actual chapters are entitled “Chronological Order,” “Classification,” Synthesis,” “Comparison and Contrast,” “Cause and Effect,” “Prediction,” “Hypothesis,” “Generalization and Substantiation,” “Personal Opinion,” “Proposals,” and (again) “Synthesis.” Themes are repeated in a cyclical manner which “forces [the student] to actively recall” vocabulary (p. 1). This spiral organization of the book means that one particular rhetorical pattern is practiced intensively through application to various topics, which include health, weather, geography, biology, history, pollution, the media, and more.
One stage of preparation for writing is presented as different steps developed through reading practice: learning the vocabulary which distinguishes subject matter from that which details organization; drawing inferences from what is read; and developing questions which frame the reading material. These steps are introduced in the beginning and are repeated and enlarged upon throughout the text. As mechanical run-throughs of vital skills, the exercises are useful. On the other hand, there is a strong dependence on using the specified skills to simply manipulate a limited amount of provided data. Little creative response is called for.
The most outstanding aspect of Writing as a Thinking Process is the wide variety of topics and how they are each tied to varying patterns of writing. Lawrence has included an index of the topics that are scattered through the chapters. This index makes the book a useful tool for a theme-based curriculum as well as for the structure-based style of presentation which the author has designed. The book is not as easy to use as it could be, however. The notes to the students which introduce and explain the activities are very [-1-] sparse, almost mechanical. This book relies on the individual instructor to add life and motive to the exercises.
The graphic style of the book reinforces this utilitarian impression. The pages have a rough, photocopy feel, and the text is printed primarily in a sans serif font with clip-art quality icons scattered throughout. A layout like this gives the impression that Writing as a Thinking Process is a drill book which simply brings together handouts, rather than a text which has a clear plan or purpose for the exercises.
Lawrence has some very interesting aspects built into this rather mechanistic text. The exercises are carefully linked together, providing reinforcement of vocabulary while drilling a particular writing skill. Although some teachers might not be comfortable using Writing as a Thinking Process as the primary text for a class, the book presents real possibilities for adaptation as a secondary text.
The author, Mary S. Lawrence, heads the writing program at Oregon State University’s School of Law.
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