I interviewed a peer, Isabelle Lacombe, as she wrote a paper for one of her upper division Philosophy classes. Philosophy is her minor, so I expected her to have a pretty well-thought out writing process for such complicated papers, and I was right! I interviewed and watched her work in her apartment – a staple in her writing process. When she works, Isabelle has a very meticulous set up in her apartment. She always has tea, headphones, and a pillow on the back of her chair. She also positions her chair by the window for a little natural light and people watching if her writers block kicks in. Through conversation, questions & answers, and a flow diagram of her writing process I would like to think that I walked away with a pretty complete understanding of her steps. I wanted to observe her work & casually ask her questions instead of interview her after the paper was done to get a more candid version of her process. During interviews, I find myself sometimes exaggerating or misleading the interviewer because I am only reciting it from memory, not explaining it in real time. Hindsight, I feel like a could have sat down with her and interviewed her at the conclusion of her paper since she is so used to writing these research papers but this approach also proved very successful.
Presentation of Findings:
Isabelle took a very specific and interesting approach to her philosophy paper.The assignment was to create a fictional dialogue between Machiavelli, Karl Marx, a Utopian Prince, and John Locke. Due to the complexity of the assignment, Isabelle mapped out a very rough and flexible conversation for the characters based on their discussions in class.This paper was worth 30% of Isabelle’s overall grade in the class, a significant chunk for one assignment so she prepared and executed the assignment with slightly more attention to detail and concern. Off the bat, some differences she mentioned to me where how early she was starting, her trip to office hours twice before she even begun her outline, and the excessive amount of time and effort she put in to finding extra quotes for options. “My professor is also incredibly particular about grammar and sentence structure so I have to be extra attention to the details. If I have more than five grammatical errors, he stops reading, gives it back for revision, and you have to resubmit it….” (Isabelle, 2/24/15). Isabelle decided to place her characters at the funeral of Calvin Coolidge, a controversial president who would give the three varying characters plenty to debate and discuss. After analyzing her notes, it immediately reminded me of Harris’ take on the writing process. Specifically, his thought that, “What matters most to me is now how this conversation ends, but that it is a conversation, an exchange in which both writer and reader, student and teacher, assert their views about the text they are working on together” (Harris, pg. 94). After using her notes to map out a rough frame for her dialogue between the two characters, she started pulling her quotes from the book – anything she thought would be helpful or relevant. By the end of her paper, she had roughly 15 left over quotes that did not fit, but it gave her options which ultimately helped improve her paper. Following a collection of other 50 quotes from the three characters, Isabelle started creating the script for the conversation. She decided on a setting, a time period, & a theme for their conversation. She developed a fairly sophisticated conversation, inserted quotes were they made sense, and concluded the paper. We finished the interview, then she revisited the paper three days later and tweaked grammatical errors and sentence structure. This constant processes of revision reminded me of Murray’s work, Decisions & Revisions in writing. “When the writer saw the major revision (as opposed to copy-editing) was necessary, he collapsed planning and revising into an activity best described as reconceiving. To “reconceive” is to scan and rescan one’s text from the perspective of an external reader and to continue re-drafting until all rhetorical, formal, and stylistic concerns have been resolved, or until the writer decides to let go of the text” (Murray p. 162). She constantly revisited paragraphs and reworked introductions to create, in her mind, the perfect paper for her audience.
Although she has not yet received a grade on the paper, I think she was fairly successful by using this writing process. Philosophy papers in particular can be incredibly detailed and difficult because the classes are so reading intensive and she has employed this process for several papers. Her process with almost scientific – and I think it was successful.
In comparison to other writer’s and their studies of processes, I think Isabelle was fairly balanced. She incorporated virtually every aspect of the class we have talked about – She inserted her own ‘voice’ into the paper, even though it was primarily made up of quotes, she utilized the power of ‘community’ conversations by taking notes on her classmates discussions and turned that around for her paper, and weeded through the ‘errors’ in her paper by doing multiple steps to her drafts and revisions.
Examples of Isabelle’s Notes on the Paper:
Notes on Calvin Coolidge & how her characters would view him:
Calvin Coolidge was incredibly modest, benevolent, humble, soft-spoken
-Knew he was not a ‘great man’ & believes modesty is essential to a successful presidency
-Ran an efficient, honest, and frugal government
-Modest, quiet, virtuous, soft spoken
Machiavelli thoughts on him: Would completely oppose the majority of Calvin Cooliges presidency & how he got there
Marx: Would not like him… see him as weak and lazy
Utopian Prince: Neutral toward liking him
Locke: Would be a fan, only did what was needed
Screenshots of Notes/Quotes:
Example of some of the finished dialogue between the characters:
My methods of data collection yielded several different types of evidence – Isabelle was incredibly comfortable letting my take screenshots of her finished product as well as her notes which was incredibly thoughtful, although I wish I had a bit more information on the structure of her course and the way discussions transpire (it seemed like much of her work came out of thoughtful class discourses led by the professor). If I were going to re-do this, I would ask more specific questions about the nature of the class specifically, especially for such an advanced and complex assignment (what information or direction was given ahead of time, did he provide examples, etc).
I believe my findings, although tailored specifically to this assignment, expose a lot about the benefits of preparing and outlining your paper. Isabelle was ultimately so successful because she took great care and time to finding appropriate quotes, outlining conversations, and detailed descriptions before she started putting it together. If all students put the amount of time and detail into their outline that Isabelle did, I think they would be much more successful.
I was slightly concerned taking pictures of her final product would cross some ‘ethical’ boundaries, but ultimately decided that because she was so comfortable and the assignment for her course had already been turned in by the entire class, it was harmless. I asked Isabelle several times if she wished to remain anonymous and she was comfortable being an open participant which helped me see no potential conflict publishing her work.