Reading and Writing Recursively

When I write, I often spend most of my time rewriting sentences that are already on the page.  I will write a few sentences very quickly and then go back over them, changing around the sentence construction and the word choice, adding, removing, and substituting, searching for the perfect words in the perfect order that will express exactly what I want to say.  It’s a grueling process that makes me want to rip my hair out.  However, it is worth it.  Though I rarely achieve perfection (if ever), I finish with a product that aims to effectively express what’s in my head.  The words are never quite right the first time around.  Thus, I instinctively use this recursive process to accomplish my main purpose in any writing piece: clear communication.

When reading, I have a different primary purpose.  I must try to understand what the author is trying to communicate to me as the reader.  However, I use a similar sort of recursive process to understand the text at hand.  Depending on the difficulty of the reading, I will read a few sentences, a paragraph, or a page and then read back over parts to help my comprehension.  I may go over a certain sentence many times in attempt to achieve a “perfect” understanding of it.  I close read an important passage in the same way that I close read my own writing.  I dissect it, word-by-word, trying to connect it to what I have already read and predict what comes next.  Sometimes, I decide to read on and revisit a section after a break in the chapter.  In the same way, I may continue writing and revisit an earlier section after I have finished the paragraph.

In both reading and writing, I use the strategy of questioning to help accomplish my purpose.  As I write and rewrite, I ask myself questions such as Who is my audience?, What is my purpose?, What am I trying to say here?, Why doesn’t this sentence sound right?, Did I develop this idea enough?, etc…  Similarly, when reading, I am asking myself questions about the text including What is the author trying to say?, Why is he saying it?, How does this section connect to what I’ve already read?, etc…  Questioning encourages this recursive process, where I revisit earlier sections to enhance understanding.  I believe that the key ingredient to being a successful reader or writer is to view each process as an active one.  I am either actively seeking to communicate effectively as a writer or actively seeking to comprehend as a reader.  Though it may be a more arduous task, both reading and writing in a recursive manner has helped me tremendously in my academic endeavors.


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  • Julie Candio Sekel says:

    Heather, I really enjoyed reading your post. You truly emphasize how reading and writing are interrelated and that you can use the same strategy to approach both, which is a very useful tip for writers. You offer a number of useful questions for both reading and writing and, perhaps most importantly, articulate how essential it is to view the reading/writing processes as “active.”

  • Nicole Wittenburg says:

    That’s interesting to think of reading as a recursive process, but it really is. You can’t get everything on a first try, ESPECIALLY if you need to write about it. You really need to know it. Do you think it differs by the genre you are reading? Is this process reserved for solely academic reading?


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