PART 7B: SUBSTANTIVE WRITING: WHAT HABITS DO CRITICAL THINKERS USE WHEN READING AND WRITING? – CRITICAL THINKING SERIES

Disclaimer: Good Day, Readers.  WealthBuildingPowers blog is a financial literacy/competency blog and does not provide specific investment recommendations.  

STYRON’S INTRODUCTION

Today we celebrate the birth of my hero, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was a critical thinker who used logic, reason, and evidence to support his civil rights and equality arguments. He was a remarkable communicator, using powerful rhetoric and persuasive language in his speeches and writings to advance the Civil Rights Movement. Speeches such as “I Have a Dream” are considered masterpieces and have profoundly impacted American society. His ability to think critically and communicate effectively was critical to his success as a civil rights leader.

CRITICAL THINKING SERIES

Jim Leemann, Ph.D.

PART 7B: WHAT HABITS DO CRITICAL THINKERS USE WHEN READING AND WRITING? SUBSTANTIVE WRITING

In this column, we will explore the elements of Substantive Writing.  Drs. Paul and Elder point out in their Critical Thinking – Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use that “one cannot be educated without being able to ‘test’ and communicate one’s ideas by putting them in written form.”  So much of our so-called writing today is limited to 280 characters or less.  Writing is difficult and requires a great deal of practice.  Most of us have learned to write through trial and error.  Rarely does anyone take a writing course.  Hopefully, the following will provide you with several fresh ideas to enhance your writing skills.

Substantive Writing

Before you decide to write something that you think is worth reading, ask yourself two questions: Do I have a topic or idea worth writing about? and Do I have something of significance to say about this topic or idea?  Answering these questions in the affirmative leads you to draw upon the writing tools and skills to develop your written manuscript.

Write with a Purpose in Mind

Skilled writers do not write haphazardly, they always have a purpose, agenda, goal, or objective in mind.  Whenever we write, it involves conveying our inner thoughts into public words and requires analysis, evaluation, and creativity.  Although many think they have mastered the ability to communicate intended meaning through writing to an audience of readers, few have demonstrated such skills.

Write Reflectively

As with reflective reading, the reflective writer seeks meaning, monitors what is being written, draws a clear distinction between the writers thinking and the thinking of the audience.  Writing reflectively involves integrating ideas with ideas the writer already commands, assessing writing for its clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness.  When writing, create an inner dialogue with yourself, assessing what you are writing as you are writing.  Ask yourself:

  1. Have I stated my point clearly?
  2. Have I explained my main point adequately? 
  3. Have I given my readers examples from my own experiences that connect important ideas to their experiences?
  4. Have I included metaphors or analogies that illustrate what I am saying?

Writing a Sentence

Drs. Paul and Elder point out that every sentence should stand in clear relationship to other sentences.  Each sentence should support the purpose of the written piece.  Critical to substantive writing is connecting sentences to their broader context and making it clear to the reader how they fit within the whole.  As you write and review your written piece ask yourself these questions:

  • How does this sentence connect with the other sentences in the paragraph?
  • How does this sentence relate to the organizing idea of this text as a whole?

Writing to Learn

Writing is an excellent way to learn; especially when you reach that point in your writing that you are teaching yourself the meaning of your writing and importantly conveying the meaning to others.  Taking core ideas and working them into our way of thinking by developing them on paper often leads to our being able to productively use these ideas in our daily lives.

Writing Within Disciplines

Drs. Paul and Elder state “when writing within a discipline, recognize that it is a system of thought, which is often is a system of systems.  For example, regarding scientific thinking, which covers are large-scale system of thought, science contains many subsystems, such as physics, chemistry, biology, etc.  Therefore, science is a system of systems.

Being an effective writer within a discipline calls for you to determine whether the discipline is best understood as a system of supporting systems (e.g., math and science) or a system of conflicting systems (e.g., philosophy, sociology, psychology, economics).  

Thinking in a system-harmonious discipline like math or science, your task is to understand how the systems within it support one another, according to Drs. Paul and Elder.  When thinking in a system-conflicting discipline, your challenge is to master how and why the systems within it conflict.  Sorting through this dichotomy of harmonious and conflicting systems is the basis for learning through understanding how they diverge and overlap.

Writing is Hard Work

Drs. Paul and Elder note that “writing requires understanding what intellectual work is and how it relates to writing. This is where most students fall short.  Many students and employees undertake their writing as a fundamentally passive activity.  Too often they start writing whatever happens to come to mind until they have reached the required word count for the assignment and then they stop.

Substantive writing is a highly selective activity that involves at least five intellectual acts for developing substance in your writing:

  • Choosing a subject or idea of Importance.
  • Deciding on something important to say about it.
  • Explaining or elaborating on your basic meaning.
  • Constructing examples that will help the reader connect what you are saying to events and experiences in their lives.
  • Constructing one or more analogies or metaphors that will help readers connect what you are writing about with something similar in their lives.

In closing, Drs. Paul and Elder provide great advice on accomplishing substantive writing through the model of active dialogue with oneself using the following questions as they are writing.  These questions are meant to surface understanding, evaluate what is being written, and introduce important ideas into your thinking.  Here are some questions good writers ask themselves while writing.

  1. Why am I writing this?  What is my purpose?  What do I want the reader to come away with?
  2. Is there some part of what I have written that I don’t really understand?  Perhaps I am repeating what I have heard people say without ever having thought through exactly what it means.
  3. If something I have written is vague, how can I make it clearer or more precise?
  4. Do I understand the meaning of the key words I have used, or do I need to look them up in a dictionary?
  5. Am I using any words in special or unusual ways?  Have I explained special meanings to the reader?
  6. Am I sure that what I have said is accurate?  Do I need to qualify anything?
  7. Am I clear about my main point and why I think it is important?
  8. Do I know what question my paragraph answers?
  9. Do I need to spend more time investigating my topic or issue?  Do I need more information?

Writing in a substantive manner can be assessed for clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance, and fairness as opposed to a rhetorical style and flourish.  Substantive writing enables the author to take ownership of ideas worth understanding.

For a deeper understanding of Critical Thinking, I invite you to explore the following reference sources by Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD:

  • Critical Thinking – Learn the Tools the Best Thinkers Use (Concise Edition)
  • The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking – Concepts and Tools.
  • The Foundation for Critical Thinking https://www.criticalthinking.org/

Bio: Jim Leemann, Ph.D.

Dr. Leemann has had a 45-year career that has included being in the forefront of the safety, occupational health, and environmental fields in both the private and public sector. In addition, for 22 of those years, Dr. Leemann was an adjunct assistant professor teaching a variety of environmental and public health courses in the country’s oldest school of public health. In addition to holding a bachelor’s degree in microbiology master’s degrees in industrial hygiene and environmental engineering, his doctorate is in systemic management, which he has used to apply systems thinking methods to address organizational management problems.  

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I am a proud nerd (as my beautiful wife and daughter have told me) investment and finance blogger with an N.C.  State, Chemical Engineering, University Rutgers, MBA and Harvard University, Advanced Management education.

I left a corporate career because I desired to make a difference as a speaker and writer.  I was blessed to be coached and mentored by strong women and men in my family and professional life.  It is my time to serve and give back.

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I started my first business at ~13 years of age (a small but brilliantly created plant nursery). I am a successful investor in stocks, options, real estate and am happy to share my finance and investment lessons.  I am NOT a licensed financial advisor.  Please do not construe my suggestions on this blog as recommendations for your situation.  As an investor, you must establish your risk/loss tolerance.  Investment in any asset involves risk, including complete loss. 

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Powers Investments Management, LLC

This blog will provide, information and simple strategies, that will assist you to achieve YOUR financial objectives and long term targets. For over 30 years, I solved multi-million dollar problems, for Fortune 10-250, companies. My formal education includes: Business, Finance and Chemical Engineering {Problem Solving} at: Harvard, Rutgers and North Carolina State. And an additional 30+ years, managing my family’s investment decisions. I currently manage/advise people with net-worths ranging from the tens of thousands to several million dollars.

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