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What is This Thing Called Flow? Helping Writers Help Their Readers. Jan Frodesen frodesen@linguistics.ucsb.edu TESOL, 2009 Denver, Colorado. Flow and good academic writing.

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what is this thing called flow helping writers help their readers

What is This Thing Called Flow?Helping Writers Help Their Readers

Jan Frodesen

frodesen@linguistics.ucsb.edu

TESOL, 2009

Denver, Colorado

flow and good academic writing
Flow and good academic writing

DePauw University Writing Study (2007): What do you believe are the most important characteristics of good writing? Check the 3 you believe are the most important:

  • Free of errors
  • A strong thesis statement
  • Organization and flow
  • Personal style or voice
  • Incorporation of outside sources or research
  • A persuasive argument
  • Incorporation of subject-specific vocabulary and knowledge
  • Directed toward a particular audience
  • Other
flow chats with writing program and tutoring center colleagues
Flow creates sense of “transport” – reader feels as if he or she has been some place, changed somehow. Writer must have a passion for topic to produce optimal flow. (D. Bradley)

Some think of flow in a linear way, but reader experience of flow in a piece of writing is more like a web of connections. (J. Harlig)

Flow often described in terms of disruptions, problems re writing instruction; potential for flow disruption between every structural component …

“Flow chats” with Writing Program and Tutoring Center colleagues
flow chats problems with flow8
I sometimes compare flow problems to a grasshopper pattern. Grasshoppers jump all over the place; you never know which direction they are heading!

Karen Lunsford,

UCSB Writing Programs

Flow chats: Problems with flow
flow chats practices and strategies for improving flow
“Flow chats”: Practices and strategies for improving flow
  • Analyze kinds of flow in different genres (business writing, journalism, etc.)
  • Explain writing process – writer-based: natural to start off with new topics; reader-based: need to signal, anchor
  • Read writing out loud – where you fumble make notes in the margin
  • Check punctuation – needed or not needed?
  • Use stylistic devices for controlling flow, rhythm, pacing, e.g. through punctuation (slowing down); adding coordinating conjunctions, participles- speeding up, creating lively tone
  • Practice judicious repetition
  • Add transitional phrases
  • Practice sentence combining
  • Discuss reader load: How much load are you putting on your reader to move from topic to topic?

Avoid “stacking” in nominalizations.

Avoid too much “chaining” of topics (A-B, B-C, C-D, D-E etc.).

Put new information, long phrases clauses at end of sentence.

language based activities for flow
Language-based activities for flow

Considerations in designing and conducting activities

  • Proactive (anticipating needs/noticing and production exercises) or reactive (responding to draft problems and revision needs)
  • Group (class) instruction or one-on-one conferencing
  • Level of text focus: Global, between paragraphs, between

sentences, within sentences

  • Students’metalinguistic knowledge and writing levels
  • Sources for content: Assigned readings, models of passages from

published texts (e.g. Williams, 2006) or websites

guided language based activities for achieving flow in writing
Guided language-based activities for achieving flow in writing

Topics and tasks to be presented today:

  • Identifying thematic patterns in paragraphs
  • Analyzing draft paragraphs for thematic flow problems
  • Building language resources for cohesion:
    • Nominal phrases beginning sentences
    • Reference words: Distinguishing meanings
    • Classifier words: Vocabulary, use with reference words
    • Topic introducers with reference words
thematic relations a note on cohesion and coherence
In the words of Joseph Williams (2006b):

We judge sequences of sentences to be cohesive depending on how each sentence ends and the next begins… Think of cohesion as fitting together the way two Lego® pieces do.”

We judge whole passages to be coherent depending on how all the sentences in a passage cumulatively begin…Think of coherence as seeing what all the sentences in a piece of writing add up to, the way a hundred Lego® pieces create a building, bridge or boat.”

Thematic relations: A Note on cohesion and coherence
identifying thematic string sequences focused strings vs chaining strings
Identifying thematic string sequences: Focused strings vs. chaining strings

Focused topic string:

In a sequence of sentences, all of the new information at the end of a sentence is related back to the same old information at the beginning of the sentence.

Pattern: A-B A-C A-D A-E and so on

or A-B B-C B-D B-E and so on

focused thematic string
“Old Information”

(1) Two competing myths about Freud

(2) The first myth, that of official psychoanalysis,

(3) The second, opposing myth,

“New Information”

have gradually developed.

depicts Freud as a lonely genius, isolated

and ostracized by his colleagues.

places Freud as getting all his ideas from

someone else and taking credit for what

were in fact no more than minor

modifications in previously developed

theories.

Adapted from: Little Red Schoolhouse materials by Joseph Williams, handout from Karen Lunsford

Focused thematic string
identifying thematic string sequences chaining strings
Identifying thematic string sequences: Chaining strings

Chaining topic string: This sequencing links the end of one sentence to the beginning of the next sentence.

Pattern: A-B

B-C

C-D and so on

Note: Few paragraphs use chaining exclusively and most paragraphs are a combination of focused and chaining strings.

chaining thematic string
Chaining thematic string
  • Over the last three years, municipal bonds have been used to buoysinking housing markets.

For this purpose, municipalities have issued not general obligation bonds, but rather revenue bonds.

These bonds are backed by below-market interest rate

mortgages.

Mortgages carrying below-market rates are capable

of generating sufficient income to compensate

purchases because the bonds have tax-exempt status.

That status makes possible relatively low rates.

From: Little Red Schoolhouse, Joseph Williams

activity identifying types of topic strings
Activity: Identifying types of topic strings

Give students short paragraphs from assigned texts or articles in their fields. Ask them to identify the pattern: focused, chaining or combination.

Example:

The relationship between steam economy and the overall heat transfer coefficient is shown in Figures 3 and 4. Both graphs show that the higher heat transfer coefficients reflect increased steameconomy.The steam economy, in turn, reflects the rate and amount of water evaporate. These values are recorded in Table 2.

(Handout from Karen Lunsford)

draft analysis identifying thematic flow problems
Draft analysis: Identifying thematic flow problems

Steps for students to take in identifying cohesion/theme breaks:

1. Underline the subject or topic of each sentence. If the subject is a complex one (modified by adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc., underline these too).

2. Read through the underlined topics as if they were a list. Is there a link between the sentence subject and ideas in the previous ones?

3. If one of two topics differ from what the passage is about, make sure this unanticipated” topic is in the appropriate part of the sentence. If it is “new” information, put it near the end of the sentence.

4. Revise your paragraphs to improve the flow/cohesion. Add sentences if you have forgotten some information. OR switch the order of nouns in the sentence, putting the new information near the end of the sentence (after the main verb).

Adapted from course handout by Christine Holten, UCLA Writing Programs

draft analysis identifying thematic flow problems19
Draft analysis: Identifying thematic flow problems

Sample student introduction (slightly edited) for essay on cyberbullying:

ThemeNew Information

The advancedtechnology has many traps.

People especially teenagers tend to be giddy-headed and reckless.

They are addicted to cyberspace and easily trust strangers

who use sweet words to lure those innocent

adolescents.

Nowadays,the relationship has drifted away because of busy jobs and life;

between people

Therefore, people seek mental comforts in order to gain strength.

That is why the social network site becomes a criminal way.

An online tragedy happened in 2006 was a typical example which leads us to think about the

complication and chaos of internet.

draft analysis identifying thematic flow problems20
Draft analysis: Identifying thematic flow problems
  • For an extended analysis and discussion of grammar and thematic flow in the teaching of college-level academic writing:

Schleppegrell, Mary. (2009). Grammar for generation 1.5: A focus on meaning. In M. Roberge, M. Siegel & L. Harklau (Eds.), Generation 1.5 in college composition: Teaching academic writing to U.S.-educated learners (pp.221-234). New York: Routledge.

building language resources for cohesion nominal phrases beginning sentences
Building language resources for cohesion: Nominal phrases beginning sentences

One of the ways that writers create cohesion is through introductory or subjectnoun phrases that have lexical links to previous text:

Examples:

(a)In addition tothe concerns about rising

unemployment and unstable banking systems,

(b)One consequence ofall this debate about

increasing unemployment ratesis …

Developing writers need instruction/practice in the elements that

create these abstract phrases used so often in academic writing.

building language resources for cohesion noun preposition collocations
Building language resources for cohesion: Noun + preposition collocations

Creating noun phrases that link to other ideas often involves adding a prepositional phrase after a noun. Many nouns require specific prepositions after them for particular meanings.

Task: Using examples from assigned readings that will be useful for students for their academic writing, give phrases to complete using correct prepositions.

Examples:

1. One unfortunate consequence ______ (something or doing something)

2. This trend _______ (doing something)

3. The direct result ______ (doing something)

4. The criteria _______ this evaluation

5. The first stage _______such a process

6. One other solution _______ this dilemma

building resources for cohesion distinguishing reference meanings
Building resources for cohesion: Distinguishing reference meanings

Task: Explain the difference between the (a) and (b) sentences. Which

one do you think might best follow the first sentence. Why?

1. In some lecture halls, students spend their time searching the web or answering e-mail on their laptops instead of paying attention to the lecture.

a) These activities may distract the students around them.

b) Such activities may distract the students around them.

building language resources for cohesion using reference words with classifier words
Building language resources for cohesion: Using reference words with classifier words

Task: Write a sentence using such + classifier noun phrase that could follow the sentences below.

Road rage, in which motorists act rudely or even violently toward other drivers, is another type of uncivil behavior in contemporary society. In extreme cases, drivers have even tried to shoot at or run over people with whom they are angry!

Example: Such violent reactions by motorists have made some people afraid to drive on the freeways and on city streets.

building resources for cohesion using topic introducers with reference words
Building resources for cohesion: Using topic introducers with reference words
  • Topic introducers are words and phrases that signal a topic is “about” something: as for, as concerns, as regards, with reference to, with respect to
  • When followed by reference forms and noun phrases they signal how a new topic connects with what has been discussed in previous sentences and paragraphs.

As concerns this ongoing problem,

With respect to these difficult choices we are facing,

  • Corpus data have now given us a better idea of which topic introducers are most common in particular kinds of writing and what kinds of classifier words occur with them. (Of course we must caution students not to overuse these introducers.)
building language resources for cohesion nominal phrases with topic introducers
Building language resources for cohesion: Nominal phrases with topic introducers

Task: Create noun phrases to follow introductory expressions by changing the words in parentheses into a noun phrase. Use a form of the underlined word for the head noun. Write the phrase in the blank.

1. As concerns _____________________ (a problem needs to be solved)

2. In regard to ______________________(this proposal may have some drawbacks)

building language resources for cohesion nominal phrases with topic introducers29
Building language resources for cohesion: Nominal phrases with topic introducers

Example answers:

1. As concerns the solution to this problem (a problem needs to be solved)

2. In regard to the possible drawbacks of this proposal(this proposal may have some drawbacks)

This kind of task gives writers practice in changing word forms and vocabulary. Note that for (2), possible has replaced modal may. Instruction can include probability adjectives that can express modal meanings.

To simplify the task: (a) Make all transformations the same; (b), tell writers which word needs to be the head noun: e.g., direct students to change an underlined word as showninto the head noun.

building resources for cohesion error correction of topic introducer forms
Building resources for cohesion: Error correction of topic introducer forms

Task: Read each of the following groups of sentences. The form of the topic introducer in the last sentence is incorrect. Cross out the topic introducer with the incorrect form and write the correct form in the blank. More than one correct choice is possible.

1. Tuition costs are on the rise, even for public colleges and universities. As related to this problem is an increase in housing and textbook costs, which makes a higher education even less affordable. ________________

  • We have received your letter dated January 5, 2009, in which you ask for a full refund. In reference with your letter, we will not be able to fulfill your request withoutthe following documentation.

_____________________

and finally a few last words on flow from a student writer
And finally: A few last words on flow from a student writer
  • From a freshman portfolio reflection essay (March, 2009):

I am [now] able to identify concepts and ideas which I have only heard of. One of those concepts that I am starting to see is flow… when reading a piece of writing, there are certain things that slows me down: unusual punctuation, long and descriptive nouns, using a subject’s name rather than a pronoun that refers to it, more then two short sentences together, and of course long lists. I refer to these things as bumps, because it slows me down. Bumps are useful because when used correctly it stresses ideas or facts to make them more important, but when used incorrectly the essay will have bad flow.

references and resources
References and Resources

Graf, G. & Borkenstein, C. (2006), “They say, I say”: The moves that matter in academic writing.New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Schleppegrell, M. (2009). Grammar for generation 1.5: A focus on meaning. In M. Roberge, M. Siegel & L. Harklau (Eds.), Generation 1.5 in college composition: Teaching academic writing to U.S.-educated learners (pp.221-234). New York: Routledge.

Tannen, D. (1999) The argument culture: Stopping America’s war of words. New York: Ballantine Books.

Williams, J. (2006a). Style: Ten lessons in clarity and grace. 9th edition. New York: Longman.

Williams, J. (2006b). Style: The basics of clarity and grace. 2nd edition. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.

Website with Little Red Schoolhouse information and exercises: http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/schoolhouse/WP/index.html