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Takayoshi, Pamela. “Short-Form” Writing Processes. C&C, July 2015. Posted 08/05/15.

Takayoshi, Pamela. “Short-Form Writing: Studying Process in the Context of Contemporary Composing Technologies.” Computers and Composition 37 (2015): 1-13. Web. 30 July 2015.

Pamela Takayoshi argues for increased attention to the writing processes involved in composing the “short-form” texts that are increasingly common rhetorical products as technology impacts literacy.

Takayoshi contends that there has been too little consideration of these forms of writing in composition studies (3). She argues that this lack of attention arises from several factors. First, the products of this kind of writing are often seen as “trivial,” not deserving full examination (2). Second, since the 1980s, in Takayoshi’s view, composition has veered away from focus on the actual processes of writers that occupied scholars trying to understand its cognitive dimensions; instead, the field has taken a “social turn” in which scholarship has highlighted the relationship of writing to larger cultural forces, replacing close examination of actual writers with theoretical considerations (3). Third, this shift to theory has paralleled a “dearth” of “empirical, data-based” research (3-4); Takayoshi urges more of what Richard Haswell has called “replicable, aggregable, data-based (RAD) scholarship,” conducted “in situ,” to shed light on how rapid, ongoing changes in technology have affected writers’ practices (4).

In short, Takayoshi contends, scholars of writing do not know “what writers do” (2) in the kinds of writing that James Porter has labeled “internetworked” (2; emphasis original). This kind of writing, which Takayoshi sees as encompassing almost every writing task undertaken today,

involves writing for and on the Internet. . . . [I]nternetworked writing also refers to more than simply POSTING text: It includes reading, browsing, and collecting electronic text, as RESEARCH activities that are also types of WRITING activities. (Porter, qtd. in Takayoshi 2; emphasis original).

Takayoshi argues that attention to writers’ practices in communicating in this expanding milieu can shed light on how technology is driving change in literate practices (2). This knowledge is particularly important because students are often so deeply engaged in these forms of writing, and only focused study of their processes can provide literacy scholars with the insights needed to understand how these ubiquitous writing practices, responding to rapid change in composing media and contexts, intersect with previous research in composition studies (2, 11). Scholars of computers and composition, she posits, are especially well-positioned to investigate these issues (4).

The two case studies she presents in this article are part of a larger study of eight writers posting to Facebook (5). The writers created a “30-minute screencast think-aloud video” that allowed the research team to understand the thinking processes involved as well as how the messages were constructed step by step (5). Takayoshi notes the importance of studying the writers’ practices rather than the specific technologies: the technologies themselves change rapidly, but “the impulse to make meaning and communicate using symbol systems , , , seems to only get stronger” (5).

Takayoshi reports on “Dan” recording a status update that described a dream he had had and on “Sherry” engaging in a number of activities, including a chat, commenting on friends’ posts, and emailing a professor. Dan’s project involved compressing his long, elaborate dream into a few lines, while Sherry’s multiple projects involved revising for audience and genre. In the article, these tasks are translated into tables that simultaneously reveal both the “textual product” and the “composing process” (6-8). Watching the messages emerge as the writers plan, correct, delete, and add, Takayoshi comes to several conclusions about short-form composing, in particular that the process is much more complex and varied, calling on a much broader range of rhetorical responses, than would seem likely from the short, apparently simple communications that result (6):

  • Writers “micro-process[ed]” their texts as they wrote, evincing a clear awareness of even small features such as typos or punctuation (8), their corrections or revisions occurring without visible “hesitation” (9);
  • This micro-processing, unlike the revision processes usually recommended to students in composition classes, occurred concurrently with composing; it was not deferred until a draft had been completed (8);
  • The writers constantly made judgments about audience, genre, and appropriateness, incorporating this awareness into their micro-processing (7-9);
  • The processes revealed constant “self-evaluation” and reflection (7);
  • Both writers experienced ongoing competition for their attention, which they managed via “horizontal” and “vertical” composition dimensions. moving back and forth across texts and tasks, while “stack[ing]” tasks in order to “call one specific task to the foreground” (9-10);
  • Planning, composing, and revision of one text often takes place in the “background” while the writer is working on another (10);
  • Construction of a socially meaningful ethos underlines many rhetorical choices in these highly interactive genres (11).

Takayoshi suggests that studies uncovering this complexity contribute to a reinvigorated sense of how form impacts content (11). Such studies can bring a needed dimension to the study of literacy as social practice by providing fine-grained information about how social interaction is negotiated in the kinds of writing that increasingly occupies all writers. They can reveal the kinds of rhetorical practices that students bring to the “more elaborated, institutionally-sanctioned writing” of the composition classroom (11).