Monday, September 29, 2014

The Reading-Writing Continuum Redux

Every now and then I feel compelled to raise the idea of the powerful connection between reading and writing because it comes as such a revelation to so many people. In nearly every class I teach, I say, "You become a better reader by reading a lot, but you become a better writer by writing and reading a lot."

Even many highly educated people have not reflected on this truth. I have met accountants, engineers, executives, lawyers, scientists, and professionals from many other disciplines tell me that they so strongly desire to become better writers. Yet when I ask whether they read regularly, many say no. Then it ain't gonna happen.

I have spent years teaching the writing process: plan, draft, revise, edit, and proofread. But the real process is a reading-writing one. To be a successful writer, you must read and write. A look at the accompanying graphic starting from the upper left box explains:

  1. READ to know what to write. Reading will inform, persuade, and inspire you as a writer, so read with an aim toward mining for ideas.
  2. WRITE to take key notes. While you are reading, take notes to capture ideas that you want to express.
  3. READ to evaluate your notes. Now that you have scribbled some notes, determine the best place to slip them in your draft and the best way to express them.
  4. WRITE to draft the ideas. During this phase, you are writing with a mindset of quantity, not quality, so that you will have a complete draft, if not necessarily a neat one.
  5. READ to assess content and structure. As you are revising, check for purposefulness of content; emphasis, unity, and coherence of paragraphing, consistency of format, and cohesiveness of style.
  6. WRITE to focus the ideas. As you do step 5, move, add, and delete ideas based on your reader's perspective.
  7. READ to make sense of the draft. Now that you are editing, read sentences aloud for fluency and congruity.
  8. WRITE to sharpen the style. In tandem with step 7, rewrite ambiguous, verbose, awkward, or weak phrases.
  9. READ to find overlooked mistakes. In the final proofreading stage, read not for meaning, which you have already done in step 7, but for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors.
  10. WRITE to perfect the message. You have found those mistakes in step 9, so correct them.
If you think I am complicating the writing process, consider that most purposeless, dull, unorganized, unclear, wordy, or incorrect writing results from a failure to read. Keep the Reading-Writing Continuum graphic handy the next time you need to write an important piece on the job or for publication.