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Reading and Writing Ideas As Well As Words

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How the Language Really Works:
The Fundamentals of Critical Reading and Effective Writing
Reading / Writing
Critical Reading
Inference
Choices
Ways to Read
Grammar

.

Choice: Photography

Choice: Texts

Implications
for Reading

Implications
for Writing

Choices: The Ingredients of Texts

When examining a text, we would like to look for those elements, obviously, that control the meaning of a text. But what are they?

Choice: Photography

We can find a useful analogy between photography and texts. Photography seems objective. Photographs record "what's there," and nothing more. Or so it might seem.

In fact, all photographers make choices that affect the final photograph. Anyone taking a picture must select

  • the situation—where to be, and when
  • the camera and lens—whether to view a wide or narrow angle, with or without filters that adjust the color balance or image
  • the film—whether to use black and white or color film, slide, print or digital film, and the sensitivity of the film to low light (ASA rating)
  • the settings—the effects of the lens opening (f-stop) and exposure time (shutter speed) on the sharpness and clarity of the image
  • the shot—where to aim, what to focus on, and when to click the shutter
Finally, photographers must choose how to process the film and develop subsequent prints—factors that further affect the clarity and impact of the final image.

A single photograph can only depict one portion of a particular scene at a particular instant as seen from a particular perspective. Every photograph presents a subjective view of the world. This is not to say that photographs do not have value. Clearly they do. While the selection may be subjective, the image may indeed provide an objective account of that portion off reality. Yet the choices outlined above ultimately control any meaning a viewer might find in the final print. Photographs don't lie, as the saying goes, but they do offer only select testimony.

Choice: Texts

As with photography, all written expression involves choices. Imagine you are seated before a blank page. What choices must be made?

For openers you have to say something. Whether you start with an observation, a statement of belief, or simply a thought, you have to say something. We'll call that content.

Having decided on something to say, you have to decide how to phrase your remark. What words will you use? Different terminology, after all, can change the meaning of a remark. Will you claim someone cheated, bent the rules, or committed a crime? Will you refer to President Bill Clinton, William Jefferson Clinton, or Monika's Bill? We'll call that a choice of language.

Finally, you cannot simply rattle off disconnected remarks. (Well, you could, but they would have little meaning!) The remarks must be related to one another, from sentence to sentence and within the discussion as a whole. We'll call that structure,

  • Critical readers are consciously aware ofthe choice ofcontentThey look at the content, at the evidence marshaled for an argument, the illustrations used to explain ideas, and the details presented within a description.   That uniqueness is defined by choices of content, language and structure. .  They distinguish between assertions of fact, opinion, and belief. They are aware whether evidence consists of references to published data, anecdotes, or speculation, and they evaluate the persuasiveness of a text accordingly.

  • Critical readers are aware ofhowlanguageis being used.  They notice whether a text refers to someone as a "bean counter" (no respect) or "an academic statistician" (suggesting professionalism), whether some is said to have "asserted a claim" (with confidence, and no need for proof) or "floated a claim" (without backing, as a trial balloon).  And they draw inferences from the choice of language they observe. 

  • Critical readers are aware ofthestructureof a discussion, both in terms of the movement of ideas from beginning to end and in terms of the relationship of ideas throughout the discussion.  They distinguish between assertions offered as reason or conclusion, cause or effect, evidence or illustration.  They recognize patterns of contrast and distinguish whether contrasting ideas are shown to be dissimilar, competing, or contradictory.

    All authors confront three areas of choice:

    • the choice of content
    • the choice of language
    • the choice of structure
    Choices must be made in each of these areas, and each choice contributes to the thought of the text as a whole.

    Note that we do not list elements such as tone, style, perspective, purpose, and message. While these are all useful perspectives for discussing texts, they are all based on, and reflect, the choice of content, language, and structure.

    Implications For Reading

    To non-critical readers, texts provide facts. Knowledge comes from memorizing the statements within a text. To the critical reader, any single text provides but one portrayal of the facts, one individual's “take” on the subject. The content of a text reflects what an author takes as “the facts of the matter.” By examining these choices, readers recognize not only what a text says, but also how the text portrays the subject matter.

    The first step in an analysis of a text, then, must be to look at the content, at the evidence marshaled for an argument, the illustrations used to explain ideas, and the details presented within a description. Not that any particular author/text is necessarily wrong. We simply recognize the degree to which each and every text is the unique creation of a unique author. That uniqueness is defined by choices of content, language and structure.

    Critical reading thus relies on an analysis of choices of content, language, and structure.

    • Critical readers are consciously aware of the act of choice underlying the content. They distinguish between assertions of fact, opinion, and belief. They are aware whether evidence consists of references to published data, anecdotes, or speculation, and they evaluate the persuasiveness of a text accordingly.
    • Critical readers are aware of how language is being used. They notice whether a text refers to someone as a bean counter (no respect) or an academic statistician (suggesting professionalism), whether some is said to have asserted a claim (with confidence, and no need for proof) or floated a claim (without backing, as a trial balloon). And they draw inferences from the choice of language they observe.
    • Critical readers are aware of the structure of a discussion, both in terms of the movement of ideas from beginning to end and in terms of the relationship of ideas throughout the discussion. They distinguish between assertions offered as reason or conclusion, cause or effect, evidence or illustration. They recognize patterns of contrast and distinguish whether contrasting ideas are shown to be dissimilar, competing, or contradictory.
    These web pages examine each of the three areas of choice. They considers their effect on the meaning, and how readers might identify and respond to them.

    Implications For Writing

    Your first step as a writer is to generate some content, to put forth assumptions, evidence, and arguments that you can then defend and from which you can draw conclusions.

    Having generated some initial discussion, the task as editor is then to adjust the discussion to assure that it presents a coherent, consistent, and comprehensive discussion As we shall see in Chapter Twelve, what we take as evidence lies at the basis of all argument, and shapes and predetermines the outcome of an argument.

    Writing is ultimately concerned with

    • what we say (content),
    • how we say it (language), and
    • the flow from one assertion to another, how ideas connect to one another to convey broader meaning (structure).
    We may initially write in an unstructured manner, concerned simply with getting some ideas on the page rather than in creating a finished document right off the bat. Revision and editing then focuses on two concerns:
    • correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation
    • ensuring a coherent flow of ideas.
    To ensure a coherent flow of ideas, we must focus on the three areas of choice:
    • providing appropriate and sufficient arguments and examples?
    • choosing terms that are precise, appropriate, and persuasive?
    • making clear the transitions from one thought to another and assured the overall logic of the presentation
    We edit to assure the content and language and structure. An increased awareness of the impact of choices of content, language, and structure can help students develop habits of rewriting and revision.

  • Related Topics
    Choices: The Choice of Content
    Choices: The Choice of Language
    Choices: The Choice of Structure


    Reading / Writing
    Critical Reading
    Inference
    Choices
    Ways to Read
    Grammar

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