Response to Cooper’s “The Ecology of Writing”

Cooper did a really good job highlighting some of the issues that come with teaching and studying the writing process. The second paragraph where she said, “Motivation for the paradigm shift in writing theory perhaps came first from writing teachers increasingly disenchanted with red-inking errors, delivering lectures on comma splices or on the two ways to organize a comparison-contrast essay, and reading alienated and alienating essays written from a list of topic sentences or in the five-paragraph format” (364). She goes on to say that methods were developed that focused more on content and less on form. This passage really resonated with me and my college experience. Through my college years I have realized just how ineffective my writing classes in high school have been because they focused more on the form and less on the content. Due to this, early writing classes in college have had to focus on teaching us to ‘unlearn’ what we had been taught previously instead of expanding on previous knowledge. Rather than focusing on developing ideas, and explaining said ideas in a clear and flowing manner, I instead focused on making sure each paragraph followed the correct format, even if that format disrupted the natural rhythm of the paper.

Since I am going to school for two degrees I have had the unique opportunity to explore the different writing styles that are allowed in two departments: English Writing and Religious Studies. The interesting thing about this is that an outsider might assume that the writing major would require one to follow a much stricter guideline in terms of style, format, etc., but that has not been the case at all. In the writing department I have been allowed much more freedom in terms of how I choose to write, whereas in the religious studies department I am expected to adhere to “writing rules’. Another example of this is when I took an Art History class last semester where I was docked for not following the five-paragraph format. In this sense, Cooper’s concept of audience and how it is such a complex relationship to “imagine’ within both the cognitive model and the ecological model. As Cooper puts it, “whether the writer is urged to analyze or invent the audience, the audience is always considered to be a construct in the writer’s mind” 370. Cooper then points out through the ecological model that “by focusing our attention on the real social context of writing, it enables us to see that writers not only analyze or invent audiences, they more significantly, communicate with and know their audiences” (371). This was an incredibly crucial line to me because it put into words how I viewed audience through my experience with different professors and different departments. Through the social context of writing I was able to better understand which professor I was writing for so that I could craft my writing accordingly. By working through those conflicting expectations I think I was able to improve my writing and increase the type of writing that I was able to do. Genre-wise, I now can better understand the difference between writing an academic article in the religious studies field meant for other members of the field versus writing an article meant for those outside of the field. In this sense, viewing audience through the ecological model, I was able to better see “the web” that Cooper spoke of.

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