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Planning

Different approaches to planning mark writers’ levels of expertise.  Several studies of writing demonstrate that expert writers are more likely to plan than novices.  The success of their writing is affected by presence or lack of prior planning, as shown in studies by Best (1996).  Best’s study may be about student levels of writing, but the trend from expert to novice levels of writing is applicable to professional writers as well.  

Expert Approach

Best (1996) writes that “Expert writers envision their texts” (p.6).  They plan their documents instead of launching into them headfirst without considering where their arguments are going.  Best (1996) discusses how experts use organizational skills to determine the order of information in their writing, considering their logical flow and how the reader will follow their arguments (p.11). Awareness of these global aspects to their writing helps them produce more coherent documents. 

Furthermore, planning allows experts to think about their document holistically and thus employ a recursive process.  Experts go back to the beginning and assess their writing as they go, demonstrating control over their texts (Best, 1996, p.13). 

Novice Approach

One might say a novice approach to planning is to discount it completely.  In Best’s (1996) study, novices barreled through their writing with little thought for the end result (p. 11).  She writes they “expose a lack of control over the writing process, a tendency to approach writing as a linear, ‘what's next’ activity” (Best, 1996, p.13).  For example, in a study of expert and novice teachers constructing lesson plans, Dunn and Taylor (1990) discovered that novices did not plan before reading; instead they started reading the story right after they were told the instructions for the activity.  Novices do not see a piece of writing as a whole or approach it recursively; they barely look back on their previous paragraphs at all (p.11).  This results in disjointed writing that trails off onto tangents instead of remaining focused (p.11). 

Applications

  • Plan the document. Use an outline, brainstorming session, or some form of pre-planning to organize the document before any writing occurs. This will keep the document focused and on task.
  • Write recursively. Look back at the beginning of a document, constantly evaluating the writing.  Check if it is still on topic, and adjust parts of the document accordingly, such as modifying the beginning to reflect the body content.