Sharing of Work to Elicit Responses
Sharing runs through the entire process of research and writing. In one sense, sharing might mean simply that you let others read your work in progress or listen to your spoken thoughts. However, in an evocative passage Elbow (1980, p. 20-21) conveys a deeper sense:
The essential human act at the heart of writing is the act of giving. There's something implacable and irreducible about it: handing something to someone because you want her to have it; not asking for anything in return; and if it is gift of yourself... risking that she won't like it or even accept it. Yet though giving can sound rare and special.., it is of course just a natural and spontaneous human impulse.
This central act of giving is curiously neglected in most writing instruction. Otherwise people would have shared their writing—just given it to another human being for the sake of mutual pleasure—as often as they gave it to a teacher for evaluation and advice. For most people, however, the experience of just sharing what they have written is rare...
To cite Elbow's passage is not to discount the need for feedback and advice. It is simply to suggest that Sharing of Work to Elicit Responses can occur in a space of respect—including self-respect—for the person doing the writing. Respect helps provide a basis for taking risks (and minimizing fear that obstructs access to our full intelligence), for clarifying and extending our thinking, and for engaging with the challenges involved in questioning, understanding, and communicating (see 4Rs
sequence.) In this spirit, early in your process, you might:
Read your Paragraph Overview to the group to hear how it sounds shared out loud with others (Phase A).
Explain your project to your advisor and peers and respond to their questions or suggestions. This can work both to open wide and to focus in and formulate (Phase C). So that your train of thought can keep going without interruption, you might ask the other person to take notes and record highlights of what you say.Elicit comments on your Narrative Outline and Drafts, taking the opportunity to specify the way you would like to be responded to. Elbow and Belanoff (2000) provide a valuable summary of kinds of responses that ranges from “Read your piece aloud to listeners and ask: 'Would you please just listen and enjoy?'” through asking readers “What is almost said? What do you want to hear more about?” to providing readers with “specific criteria that you are wondering about or struggling with.”
When you decide what approaches to commenting you ask for as a writer or what approaches you use as a commentator, keep Elbow and Belanoff's (2000) variety of Responses
in mind. (Elbow 1981, chapters 3 and 13 on sharing and feedback is relevant here as well.) After all, although some advisors (instructors) fill the margins with specific suggestions for clarification and changes, the response of students to such suggestions often goes no further than touching up—the desired re-thinking and revising of ideas and writing rarely happen. As writers, we all value comments that show us that we have been listened to and our voice, however tentative, has been heard. In light of this, it seems a better use of an advisor's time to capture where the writer was taking you and make a few suggestions that might clarify and extend the impact on readers of what was written.
Elbow, P. (1981). Writing with Power.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Elbow, P. and P. Belanoff (2000). “Summary of kinds of responses.” In Sharing and Responding
. Boston: McGraw-Hill: 7ff.