Low Stakes Writing
Low-stakes writing is typically informal writing that often focuses on the student's thought processes as he/she learns new content. This kind of writing includes free writes, letters, think pieces, personal responses, notebooks, reading logs, journals, and diaries. While low-stakes writing may be briefly reviewed, and is often required in both Writing Enhanced and Writing Intensive courses, it is not generally evaluated in the same way that a formal paper might be graded. Low-stakes writing helps students think and learn about the course content, and stay engaged on a day-to-day basis.
Middle Stakes Writing
Middle-stakes writing occupies a middle ground between low- and high-stakes writing. The goal of these assignments is to help students make a transition to more formal writing by encouraging them to focus their thinking and to take care in presentation. Typically, middle-stakes assignments are responses to readings. Short essays, summaries, and critical responses to readings are all examples of middle-stakes writing. They take more time to complete, are often completed as homework, and it is generally good practice to submit them in typewritten (word processed) form. Middle-stakes assignments are frequently connected to more formal, high-stakes paper assignments.
High Stakes Writing
High-stakes writing is the writing most familiar to students. It includes the classic formal paper based on readings and/or a research topic, essay exams, or research projects. This kind of writing is called “high-stakes” because grades are tied to it. The goal of high-stakes writing is to measure students’ progress, learning, or mastery of a subject. For many instructors, low-stakes and middle-stakes writing assignments are carefully designed to help prepare students for high-stakes, formal paper assignments. For this reason, students often find that serious attention to low- and middle-stakes assignments helps prepare them for their formal papers.
Writing Intensive (WI) is a formal designation for courses at York College. Courses with a WI designation are approved by the WAC Curriculum Committee on the basis of formal paper assignments, a drafting process, and a set of classroom practices that help students develop writing competence within particular disciplines. A typical WI course will couple high-stakes writing to the low- and middle-stakes writing common in General Education courses designated as Writing Enhanced. Almost all York College students must take at least three (3) WI courses to fulfill graduation requirements. English 125 and Writing 301/302/303 are not designated as writing intensive.
All General Education courses at York College are designated as writing enhanced. This means the courses use informal (low-stakes) and semi-formal (middle-stakes) writing activities aimed at engaging students actively in learning course material. These low- and middle-stakes writing assignments also aim at developing the overlapping competencies of critical reading, critical thinking, and fluent writing.
Many instructors require students to keep a writing journal, reading journal, or course diary of some sort. A journal or diary in general is a place for an individual to reflect on issues. Typically, a writing journal is a place where one generates ideas for writing. A reading journal is closely connected to this conception of a writing journal, although it is generally tied in some way to the readings.
Instructors have varying goals for their students' journals. Consequently, their expectations for journal writing will vary. For some, a "reading journal" is a place to include reading summaries, critical reflection on readings, and ideas for writing. Others might want reading reflections in a document they call a "writing journal" or diary. For some instructors, journal writing as a kind of low-stakes writing; for others it is definitely middle-stakes writing. While some instructors assign reading/writing questions for inclusion in a journal, others want their students to generate (and respond to) their own questions. It is a very good idea to ask your instructor to be specific about what he or she wants in a journal (or diary). Many instructors use journals to help discover where they need to focus greater attention on course material.
A reading log is a term some instructors use to refer to a reading journal. A reading log is generally a student's place to respond to specific reading questions. An instructor assigning a reading log of this nature usually wants students to use writing to understand course material, to reflect on that material, and to demonstrate (in informal or semi-formal writing) reading comprehension and critical thinking.
Free writing is a term that refers to unstructured writing students may be asked to do at the start of class, or at any other time during a class. Some instructors invite students to "free write" in their journals or class diaries. It generally falls under the heading of low-stakes writing.
Drafting is the process writers use to compose formal papers. While one often hears of "rough" and "final" drafts, a very rough draft is often a kind of pre-writing that helps a writer begin to discover what he or she has to say. It is often best to think in terms of first, second, and final drafts when asked to produce a "draft" in the context of English 125, a Writing 300 course, or a Writing Intensive (WI) course in a discipline. Think of the first draft as "the best first effort at responding to the writing assignment." When conceived this way, the first draft will really be a revision of a "rough" version of the first draft. When students hand in first drafts that really are solid, relatively polished papers, instructors are in a good position to suggest revisions that create opportunities for students to really improve between a first and a final draft.
The word "revise" means to see again, and this is how one should approach any revision to a paper. In a revision, the goal is to consider key ideas under development, to revisit those ideas. Are these ideas really the ones you want to develop in the paper? Do you have the evidence for claims in the right places? Are they organized in a reasonably coherent fashion? Have you effectively connected the individual ideas to each other?
Many experienced writers rightly see revision as the place to locate and strengthen their own positions (arguments/theses) in a paper. Revision is your opportunity to take advantage of the ways your draft has helped you discover what you really have to say in a paper. Unfortunately, many students mistake editing or proofreading for revision. Editing and proofreading have to do with the cosmetic appearance of a paper; revision is always substantive.
The editing process is one in which the writer (or editor) looks at the way ideas are articulated on paper. If we think of revision as a consideration of the substance of a draft, editing refers to a consideration of appearance and readability. Do you vary sentence structures to hold the reader's interest? Do you introduce quotations using a variety of signal-phrase techniques? Are their effective transitions between paragraphs?
In editing, you are looking to strengthen the presentation of your ideas. While the editing process generally follows the production of a draft, or a revision of a draft, many writers find themselves editing throughout the entire writing process. They edit sentence structures, relationships between sentences and paragraphs, and signal phrases as they write a first draft, as they revise a draft, and even as they proofread what they think is a finished product.
Proofreading is the process of carefully reading through a paper draft (or any piece of formal writing) with an eye on typos, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word usage, quotation and citation, and the myriad other relatively small errors that will distract the reader and take away from the force of your ideas and their development in the paper.
Many of us implicitly proofread as we write, as we re-read what we've already written, as we revise, and as we edit. Still, any formal writing always requires a final "proofread" before being submitted. Since our tendency is to "skim" when we're reading text on a computer monitor (think of websites you visit), a careful proofreader always prints a document on paper for the final proofread. Experienced writers often find that a final proofreading of a draft leads them to editorial changes that further strengthen the paper.
Peer review is the process through which "peers" read and critically evaluate each other's writing. For students, peer review is an opportunity to have peers respond to your writing. Are your ideas clearly articulated? Where might your draft benefit from the inclusion of more evidence for a claim? Are your points organized in a way that makes it easy to follow your ideas? As a developing writer, this kind of feedback is invaluable; as a developing critical reader, participating in peer review helps you learn to identify opportunities for revision.
Peer review is not just for students. Accomplished scholars regularly engage in peer review. For scholars (professors, scientists, and others), peer review is a tool to help ensure that research is legitimate, significant, and worth publishing. Journal editors routinely send papers out to relevant experts in the field for review and critical commentary. Peer review is essential because it enables them to ensure that published papers really do represent significant scholarship on their subject.