In her long term study of an experienced writer, Carol Berkenkotter addresses the “context stripping” phenomenon (as named by Janet Emig) that occurs in writing research. EMI claims that, by removing writers from their “natural” writing habitats and forcing them to perform as subjects in a writing lab, researchers inevitably influence their subjects’ performance. In the first part of the project, Berkenkotter’s subject, Donald Murray, spent 62 days speaking into a tape recorder whenever he was composing; in the second stage, he was given one hour to compose aloud, working on an unfamiliar task; and in the third stage, Berkenkotter observed Murray working at his home as he revised an article he was working on.
The results indicated a large percentage of time spent planning–although Berkenkotter realized that revising and planning were inseparable and described the two as a process of reconceiving (162). Since the writer constantly “moves back and forth between planning, drafting, editing, and reviewing” planning can be seen as a recursive process (166).
In terms of the study itself, I found stage two of the project most interesting. In the more traditional research setting of a writing lab where the “rat” is given an unfamiliar task to complete, Murray, experienced as he was, obviously struggled. He had difficulty imagining his audience–either young adults (around age 12) or the grandparents buying the magazines for them. Murray had originally stated that writers only consider their audiences when editing and polishing; however, the study shows that he was so accustomed to speaking to an audience after his years of journalistic experience that he did so automatically. In his own reflections on being the subject of the study, Murray noted his surprise that he was so aware of his audience throughout the process of writing.
It makes sense to me that a professional writer may be more aware of his audience than he believes; at some point, it just becomes habit to keep that audience in the back of your mind. However, Murray also notes that he worries that being too used to the process of writing can make “the experienced writer… too glib, too slick, too professional, too polished–can, in effect, write too well” (172). The notion of writing too well seems strange because there is always room for improvement in one’s writing. Yet if a writer is too used to his audience, maybe he stops questioning the ideas he is writing about and focuses only on “polishing” the work towards what his audience wants to see or hear. Stage two becomes even more interesting then, in that, while it does not accurately portray the writer’s full composition process since it takes place in a strange environment, it does force the writer, having been removed from his comfort zone, to reconsider his writing process. Future studies should consider using both methods to gain a better sense of a writer’s “natural” process while also forcing the writer to consider that process in a new way.