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Drafting and Revision

In Communication, Information Design, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Writing on December 21, 2010 at 10:45 am

In their article “Drafting and Revision Using Word Processing by Undergraduate Student Writers,” Anish M. Dave and David R. Russell attempt to refigure theories of drafting and revision in light of technological advances altering writing processes since drafting and revision became touchstones of composition pedagogy in the 1980s.

Process pedagogy prizes drafting and revision.  Since its inception, however, process pedagogy has undergone many changes.  Composition scholars and teachers have institutionalized the once novel and controversial process pedagogies; and subsequent trends—referred to as post-process pedagogies—have called into question several premises of the process movement.

The authors of this piece rethink concepts of drafting and revision by researching empirical data about pre-computer and computer eras of writing.  Presupposing that drafting and revision demand social as well as cognitive theoretical frameworks, the authors show that research in the late 1980s and early 1990s tended to dismiss word processing as ineffective or irrelevant to the revision process.  Studies from these years also suggest that multiple drafts benefited students, that students preferred hard-copies to computer screens, and that students viewed concepts of “drafts” differently than they do today. 

Based on data collected by surveys and questionnaires, the authors produce several curious statistics, presented in charts and graphs, suggesting that students continue to focus their revisions on “local” rather than “global” issues.  These statistics also show that very little has changed about the ways students view drafting and revision.  Getting students to do more global revision still requires more thinking and theorizing.

The authors submit that encouraging multiple drafts is not enough to motivate students to do global revision and that the word process era has not affected the amount or ways that students revise.

In fact, because editing is much easier on computers, students have begun to assume that minor changes of grammar and syntax constitute global revision.

Because of this lack of progress in teaching revising and drafting, the authors propose that professors explain to students how to revise rather than “trick” students into revising by mandating multiple drafts and submissions.  They also indicate that paper and computer screens are not mutually exclusive but symbiotic technologies that help students produce more and better drafts.

The authors conclude by calling for more empirical studies formatted and quantified in terms of tables and diagrams.  They imply that scientific methodologies—what they call “process tracing studies”—could assist the field of writing instructors.  Sidestepping definitive solutions, they express hope that their study will inspire future research and discussion about drafting and revision.  Their approach demonstrates that such research and discussion could benefit from empiricism.

Allen Porter Mendenhall

Further reading:

Anish M. Dave & David R. Russell.  “Drafting and Revision Using Word Processing by Undergraduate Student Writers: Changing Conceptions and Practices.”  Research in the Teaching of English.  Vol.  44 (2010: 406-434).

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