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Imagining a dialog may improve writing skills

29 Mar

There is a line of evidence suggesting that visualizing a task improves subsequent performance. Now a paper published in Psychological Science suggests that imaging a dialog improves writing. Here is the abstract:

Young adults received information regarding the platforms of two candidates for mayor of a troubled city. Half constructed a dialogue between advocates of the candidates, and the other half wrote an essay evaluating the candidates’ merits. Both groups then wrote a script for a TV spot favoring their preferred candidate. Results supported our hypothesis that the dialogic task would lead to deeper, more comprehensive processing of the two positions, and hence a richer representation of them. The TV scripts of the dialogue group included more references to city problems, candidates’ proposed actions, and links between them, as well as more criticisms of proposed actions and integrative judgments extending across multiple problems or proposed actions. Assessment of levels of epistemological understanding administered to the two groups after the writing tasks revealed that the dialogic group exhibited a lesser frequency of the absolutist position that knowledge consists of facts knowable with certainty. The potential of imagined interaction as a substitute for actual social exchange is considered.

While I am intrigued, I do have some skepticism about the “epistemological understanding” outcome measure. This approach is based upon a Kuhnian model of science, an approach that is largely rejected by philosophers and historians of science.

The best piece of prose I have read in a long time

5 Sep

By Dr. Naomi Rosenberg, read it here.

Becoming a more productive writer

11 Sep

A piece in The Daily Beast:

“Focus on content, not word count. What matters to me most is that I write every day, not how much I write. There have been a few days where I’ve written only one or two paragraphs. Quantity will take care of itself as the streak builds.”

I’ve also found this book helpful.

Janet Asimov, it’s never to late to start writing

21 Aug

Janet Asimov writes:

“Now that “aging brains” have been much in the media, I am sure that most people understand the adage “use it or lose it.”

Without working brains we humans are hulks of protoplasm without purpose or joy. Of course, a lot of people with supposedly intact brains also seem to lack purpose and joy, but I can only urge them to get some through writing. “

Read the rest here.

National Grammar Day

4 Mar

March 4th is National Grammar Day!

You may celebrate by reading this post.



For instance

12 Feb

One of the educational psychology classes I teach is designated as a writing across the curriculum course. This means that students are required to do a certain amount of writing and I must grade them on their writing, including usage and clarity.

Occasionally, I come across some error that I have never seen before. This time a student wrote “for instants,” instead of “for instance.” Not to be out done, another student, on the same assignment, wrote “for existence.” After some internet searching I found a report of an opposite error:

‘I heard a new grammar error this week: A mother telling her son to “stop this instance.”’


At what age did famous authors write their breakthrough books?

26 Jan

Twenty six for Jack Kerouac, but 54 for George Eliot.

A fascinating chart can be found here.

Note that Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, published a book at age 91.

Writing as self improvment

21 Jan

An article in yesterday’s New York Times makes the case:

“The scientific research on the benefits of so-called expressive writing is surprisingly vast. Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.

Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

This draws on the work of  James Pennebaker. You can read about his ideas in this book.



11 Jan

I think I have invented a new word, lexicographers take note.

I was reading an opinion piece in Education Week by James R. Delisle. In it he writes of “the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (now known simply as ASCD).” It was another example of an organization renouncing the meaning of its acronym while still retaining the letters as its name. For example we are told that  AARP no longer stands for  the American Association of Retired Persons, and that AT&T no longer means American Telephone & Telegraph . This seems to be a growing trend. It is unclear to me why these groups want to dissociate their names from their original meanings.

The Wikipedia entry on acronyms does not discuss the phenomenon (at least not yet), so I take this opportunity to label these non-acronym acronyms “vacunyms.”

It’s not too late to start writing: Advice from Janet Asimov

8 Dec

Janet Asimov makes the argument:

“Never assume that you must have a big block of uninterrupted time for writing. The motto for writers should be carpe diem—seize the day. Or the morning or the time sitting on the john or while stirring the stew, or whatever.”


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