Writing and Information Competency in Small Bytes

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Exigency: Need to Know and Communicate


As with everything else, writing begins at a beginning. Sometimes our decisions to write are external. I have a job that requires me to write this material for the Summer Bridge. Why and how I got the job is another story, but the essential fact before me is that I have to write this book for our Summer Bridge Writing Component or else. The "or else" includes a lot of people will get mad at me. I may have better motives, such as a hope that students such as yourself will be read what I write and will perhaps develop some useful skills to help them get a university education. But whatever motives I have come together for me and so here I am at my computer typing words, fixing mistakes, looking at the blank screen for long periods, and so forth. As I do this writing, by the way, the clock continues to tick and I am aware that it has to be finished by the time the students arrive. Egad, it takes a few days to get this much writing printed, so I had better hurry up.

At some point you too begin, not just for a university assignment, but in virtually all of your communication and activities. You go to court to defend yourself against a traffic ticket for speeding. You could just pay the ticket and go on with your life, but the thing is--you really thought it was safe to be driving 50 miles an hour on that street. Paying a traffic ticket for speeding is a "real world" deal. If you are going into court to argue before a real judge, it would be a good idea to really know what you're talking about. With that in mind, what is a "posted speed limit" in the law? What does prima facie mean? Armed with answers to these questions, perhaps you can construct an argument that it was indeed safe to be driving 50 mph in a posted 45 mph zone, perhaps you can meet your burden of proof. But where do you get this information?

As a university student, you make a decision to start thinking about something, ultimately to write something. Often a professor assigns a paper to be written by a certain date, sometimes with a specific question to answer, sometimes with an open-ended task to find out about something important to the class. However the process begins, a rhetorical need is identified. In the end, will you want to inform a professor about a topic? Or will you want to persuade the professor toward a point of view on a controversy? Or will you present a solution to a problem? What kinds of things will the people who read your paper be interested in? What does they know already?

Each student's motivation for this work differs. Even for the same person, some writing tasks are more interesting or motivating than others. Actually a lot of student failure and writing problems can be located at this very point. Research, thinking, and writing are difficult tasks that take effort. Without a commitment to do the work, many students sadly don't do it or put it off so long that there is not time to do it well.

You know these things are true. Each time you confront a problem or you have a deadline to communicate something, you have to deal with all these issues.

At the beginning of this process, you must build your personal motivation for the tasks ahead. Furthermore, you must plan how to use your time well in order to complete the assignment or project on time.

How can you manage your time well? As you begin, one initial task is to understand the major steps you will need to complete before your are done. List them and estimate how much time each step will realistically take. In doing this, you will have to consider many questions: How long does your finished paper need to be? How many books will you be able to use? How fast do you read? How fast can you type?--even with computers to help you, you need to type the words into the files and that takes a certain amount of time. Do you need to do a lot of work revising papers usually? As you have more experience as a university student, you will get an increasingly more realistic basis for estimating the time for these various tasks.

When you've finished with this list of major steps and the time estimates, you should then take a look at a real calendar and assign yourself times to do the work and deadlines by which each step should be completed. Don't forget that your university and private life also includes many other competing tasks and things to do--you may work 25 hours a week, have to attend four classes at various times during the week, have to study textbooks and complete assignments, have a girlfriend or boyfriend you need to take on a date now and then, and so forth, including time to eat and sleep. You must create a schedule for all this work that assures that you can get the work done, but also is one you can realistically do.

Links to Introduction Page and to Next Competency

Link to Table of Contents

fstlogo.gif (4428 bytes) Writing and Information Competency in Small Bytes
John A. Cagle, Ph.D.
Summer Bridge Program
California State University, Fresno

1998 by John A. Cagle, Professor of Communication, California State University, Fresno.

This information competency website was designed by John A. Cagle (Department of Communication) and Ross LaBaugh (Librarian) as part of a grant from the California State University.  It continues to be under construction.