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Is your writing process chaotic? Good!! July 13, 2006

Posted by Ron in Language.
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Writing is often an odd juggling process, where you’re attempting to put across a set of ideas in logical order while still obeying low-level rules about grammar and sentence composition. The process can often feel frustratingly unstructured, even for experienced writers, which is why many — including me — often turn to other conceptual tools such as outlines and mind-maps.

An article in this month’s Monitor on Psychology suggests that we might be better off simply getting used to the chaos. Students who were asked to compose an essay using an outline-based technique scored significantly lower than those who were taught to use an “all-at-once” technique where they would plan, write, and revise at the same time.

Why did the all-at-once students do better? There are two possibilities. First, because writing involves obeying both high and low-level constraints, an opportunistic all-at-once approach may simply allow small problems to be resolved as they are encountered. Second, it is possible that the all-at-once approach may have encouraged greater self-monitoring during the writing process.

How did I write this entry? All-at-once, of course.

Kanzi July 9, 2006

Posted by Ron in Animal cognition, Language.
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Some of the most interesting work on primate language research is being done right here in Atlanta. Kanzi (who you read about for this week) is a bonobo chimpanzee trained by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh,a professor of biology at Georgia State. Savage-Rumbaugh has a unique take on the language problem. Since language is socially-driven (both in humans and from an evolutionary perspective) Savage-Rumbaugh has worked hard to provide a social context for the primates she trains. Kanzi isn’t simply giving a symbol for a stimulus, he’s placed in a social context with friends and activities, which provides the motivation for the use of language.

NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday just broadcast an extended interview with Prof. Savage-Rumbaugh and (of course!) Kanzi himself. It’s a fascinating story and a must-hear.