Charles Bazerman’s The Informed Writer

Introduction – Where all the So-called “Boring” Information Dwells

So you can read this book for yourself after reading this, here’s all the necessary information. The Informed Writer by Charles Bazerman was published first in 1995 by Houghton Mifflin and published online in 2010 by the WAC Clearinghouse.  One of the best parts about this book is that the WAC clearinghouse books are open access. Except for some copyrighted material, which is mainly examples by other authors, the entire book is available for free and each of the 16 chapters is quite printable if you don’t mind killing a tree or three.

The Overview

Bazerman spilt the book into two parts. The first section focuses on simply improving one’s writing by responding in various types of writing to whatever you are reading. These types include writing the margins, journaling, summaries, paraphrasing, and essays. The second part shows you how to use what you learned in the first part to write a research paper in the academic style of original, in-depth research and thoughtful arguments, not the harried undergrad style of oh-gosh-I’ve-got-to-get-this-turned-in- two-weeks. The last four chapters show you the differences between scientific research papers, humanities research papers, and theoretical research papers.

What Makes This Book Amazing  – Content

The first reason this book is amazing is what Bazerman shows you. The first chapter tells why you need the book and his philosophy about writing. The next seven chapters show you how to respond to an essay, by, namely, writing another essay. First, in Chapter Two are marginal notations, which include your first gut reactions as you read. Also, journal right after you read captures your overall impressions and thoughts and reactions to the reading.

Then, according to Chapters Three and Four you paraphrase and summarize what you read to understand it better. According to Bazerman, paraphrasing “makes you pay close attention to the author’s ideas and thereby improves your level of understanding” while, at the same time, writing the original meaning accurate in a different way. Summarizing, on the other hand, forces you to “focus on the most important statements of the original statements of the original passage and eliminate the less important material”. Chapter Five shows you how to formulate an essay from the material you gathered from the preceding chapters.

Chapters Six and Seven tell you what you should pay particular attention to and analyze. Chapter Six focuses on why the author is writing which leads into the techniques the author of your particular essay uses. You can hopefully see why the author choose that phrase, sentence or whatever instead of another and then use that knowledge to improve your response to the essay. In Chapter Seven, you are told to listen for the many voices inside the essay and how the author uses them to “create one single voice of authority”, as Bazerman says, which “will enable you to draw upon and control effectively a number of voices in your own writing”.

The rest of the book, I admit, I skimmed. This section, while useful and well-written, was not what caught my attention, since writing in-depth academic research papers is not where I am in school. As an undergrad, the first section was much more interesting because those first seven chapters are a lot more applicable to me right now. Chapters Eight through Sixteen tells you how to write a research paper using what you learned in previous chapters and how to the paper in the various disciplines of science, humanities, or theory.

What Makes This Book Amazing – Writing Style

For me, what really amazed me was that Bazerman truly wants the reader to learn. His writing style was understandable and fairly casual for a manual of how to write well. For instance, look at this paragraph from Chapter Three.

The paraphrase allows you to make your point complete, just as a question, but it is more flexible in allowing you to fit the original material into the flow of your argument. Through the paraphrase you can bring out your interpretation, and you can emphasize those points that are most crucial to your argument. Moreover, you can write the paraphrased sentences to fit in smoothly with the surrounding material of your argument.

The understandable words, and clear, straight-foreword sentences tell you exactly what you need to know, in this case, how to use paraphrasing to its full use. By how he writes you can tell he wants you to learn and is trying his hardest to make you understand what he teaches you. In fact, he writes as if he were lecturing to a class. He gives you the main points immediately after he explains something, like putting what you absolutely need to know on the blackboard so you can take notes. An added benefit to doing that is that you are more likely to remember them as you read. In the research paper section of the book, he flips this around, giving you the points first, then explaining them.

For both portions, he also tells you exactly what to put in the introduction, the body, and conclusion so you know where and what to write. Just as he would tell his students exactly what he wants in their papers. Since the introduction is always the one of the hardest parts for me, here’s an example of how he breaks it down for a response simple essay.

In the opening part of your essay, identify both the specific passage and the specific experiences or personal beliefs that you are comparing to that passage. Then set up the general pattern of agreement, disagreement, or qualified agreement that will ultimately emerge from your comparison.

He also uses both student papers and paper written by professors to give examples of what he is talking about. While most the professor writings are removed from the online version of the book, each chapter has a student essay to that he breaks down and explains. I felt he was implying, in a subtle but encouraging manner, that if a fellow student can write this paper, you most certainly can.

In keeping with the classroom metaphor, Bazerman also has lots of “writing assignments”  (as he calls them) that you can use to practice what he just showed you, but usually the assignments are quite fun. Here is an example from Chapter Thirteen, which is about how to write a humanities research paper: “In a short essay (300 to 500 words) discuss how a film with which you are familiar uses various techniques to develop its impact. You may want to consider how the techniques you examine contribute to a particular theme the film expresses. “

What The Informed Writer is All About

Bazerman sees reading and writing are a conversation between the authors and their audiences. He says that,

As a reader and a writer, you converse with others over the written page. To converse effectively you need to know what is on other people’s minds, how you want to affect other people, and how you plan to achieve that effect. Thus writing well requires that you understand the writing situation, grasp the particular writing problem, and carefully plan your writing strategy.

The Informed Writer shows you not only how to write, but also how to examine what the essay or book you are reading. Bazerman shows you what techniques the author might use, how the author uses others’ ideas to support his or her claims, and how you can use what you learn in your own writing.

This book is basically and extended version of Michael Bunn’s Essay “How to Read Like a Writer”, which is wonderful since Bazerman goes into more detail about how to respond to essays and books than Bunn does. I really enjoyed Bunn’s essay, so learning more about how to improve my writing was an opportunity to be seized with pen in one hand and computer in the other. I’m seriously considering using this as part of my final project.  Applying Bazerman’s lessons will be hard at first, but I believe that it should pay off. But, see for yourself. Here’s the link again:

Published on June 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like the way you wrapped this up with a comparison to Bunn’s essay–and how you talked very directly about the parts of the book that worked for you right now. And hopefully, then, the book can be a resource as you do undertake those big research papers that will come. I’m glad you addressed writing style, too. I always forget to talk about that when I’m reviewing a book–it’s important for readers to know how easy or difficult a book is before reading. I’m inspired to make that a point in my own ongoing book review!

    • I was reading the book and my mind kept going to back to Bunn’s essay, so I figured the connection had to be mentioned. I definitely plan on adding the book to my list of online resources. Besides the content, the writing style really was what amazed me. It’s truly like Bazerman is talking to you as a student.
      I also could see how it could a great a teaching resource too! Use that as the textbook and I could see the teacher’s work load lightened by a lot! I mean, Bazerman already has all the writing assignments a teacher might need! Or what I imagine a teacher might need.

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