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How Students Navigate the Writing Process

‘- We like to imagine that a lucky few are naturally eloquent, artful and facile writers, but for the vast majority of us, expressing our thoughts and ideas in cohesive written form is no easy undertaking. This is particularly true during our college years, when we are charged with writing multiple papers each semester in an effort to prove to our professors we are conversant with the subject matter. But how exactly does the average student handle this process? Are there any behavioral patterns or common methodologies at play?

An online survey conducted in Fall 2011 set out with three goals: 1. Discover how students conceive of and navigate the writing process in terms of time spent in each stage; 2. Gauge the level of confidence that students hold in their own writing ability; 3. Determine any correlation between the two.

Survey Demographics*167 Pomona College students

  • Largely sophomores (44%) followed by freshmen (32%)
  • Females 70%, males 28%, other/don’t identify 2%
  • Major/minor: Social Science 35%, Science 24%, Other Humanities 20%, English 11%, Other 10%

Results: Process in time and allotment to each stage

  • Most respondents show a propensity to begin working on an assignment 2-3 days before the due date, and most would ideally start 7 days ahead of time.
  • Most respondents take either two, three, or five breaks during the writing process, averaging at 4.17.
  • Length of time spent on a five-page paper:
    • Average: 6.28 hours in reality, 5.78 in ideal conditions.
    • Most indicate they spend from 1-10 hours writing a five-page paper.
    • Most hope to spend 5-6 hours, but ended up spending 6-7 hours on average. In other words, they spend approximately 20% more time writing a paper than they originally estimated, yet allow only 35% of what they believe to be the ideal window of time in which to do it!
  • Length of time spent on a ten-page paper:
    • Average: 12.8 hours in reality, 11.69 in ideal conditions.
    • Most students tend to spend roughly 9-12 hours on a ten-page essay
  • Dividing the overall time spent on any given assignment into stages by percentages:
    • The average student spends 10-20% prewriting, 60% drafting, 10-20% revision, and 10% proofreading.
    • Students generally spend most of their time drafting and revising vs. conceptualizing or proofreading, and the respective times spent in each of these two stages change slightly as they move from freshman to upperclassmen.

Results: Confidence

  • Most respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoy writing and consider themselves good writers.
  • Approximately 60% of respondents admitted frustration when writing; just over 50% said that they experienced writer’s block.
  • An overwhelming number of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they would improve with time and effort, and they find value in taking breaks from writing.
  • Most respondents agree that discussing their writing assignment with others is useful, but there is neutrality and even disagreement as to whether the Writing Center is an important part of their writing process.

Conclusions While there is no such thing as a “typical Pomona College student writer”, the results of this survey demonstrate certain patterns of common and somewhat definitive compositional behavior. The subjective nature of both the survey and the creative process may limit our ability to extrapolate these trends, but in a general sense they give us a glimpse into the average student writing mindset, and the methodologies they employ.

  • These students generally exhibit a high level of confidence in their writing ability, and though one might presume this self-assurance from the proven achievers at our highly selective college, close analysis of their compositional habits reveals a number of disconcerting trends usually associated with less competent writers. For example, procrastination is rampant when they begin their written assignments, which might be explained by the high number of students who admit frustration with the writing process and the need for frequent breaks.
  • One unfortunate corollary finding: although students see real value in discussing their written work with others, not enough consider the Pomona Writing Center a valuable source of inspiration or guidance. Whether due to lack of awareness or a bad experience at the Center, we should proactively address this lost opportunity for both parties.
  • The more students know about their idiosyncrasies and the benefits of exploring each stage of the writing process, the better we can help discover the ideal method for themselves. Judging from the results of this survey, simply encouraging them to begin their projects sooner and visit us more often would be solid first steps toward more expansive, enjoyable and successful writing experien-‘