Exploratory Writing

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Professional writers usually begin an exploratory writing project with and idea or a question and some sense of their general purpose. For example, in writing an essay on Homer’s lliad you might reflect, “At the beginning of the lliad, Achilles and Agamemnon boast and bait each other in a way that makes me think of adolescent gang leaders challenging each other. I’d like to explore the possible parallels “From that germ of an idea, you could start digging for material, taking notes, drawing comparisons, and working out a thesis.

Because writers don’t know at the outset exactly what they are going to say in exploratory writing. It’s often hard to make a detailed plan or outline ahead of time. They can, however, make copious notes and work out a tentative thesis. For the suggested essay on the lliad, the thesis might read, “In Homer’s lliad the conflict between the Greek chiefs Agamemnon and Achilles stems from the same issues that cause wars between young gang leaders in today’s cities : competition over girls, taunts about cowardice, quarrels over booty, and fear that someone is being dissed. Such a sentence could serve as an anchor for a first draft, but it could change or even disappear as the paper developed.

And exploratory piece is no harder to write than an explanatory piece, but it is harder to plan because it resists a systematic approach. Often it takes longer and requires more drafts. Nevertheless, may writers enjoy the process of discovering ideas through the act of writing. It can be exciting to see suddenly how two ideas connect or to recognize parallels between a current celebrity scandal and novel you’re studying. Many College writing projects are exploratory, particularly in the liberal arts; so are many magazine articles and personal essays. For instance, your writing would be exploratory if you wrote a profile of a political activist on your campus or a reflective essay on the inequities of college entrance exams.

Start your exploratory project by hosing a promising topic; then look at several sources for material, and explore your central idea through brainstorming or talking to people. Choose an audience, but only tentatively – you can’t always know in advance whom you’re writing for and find your focus.

When you finish a substantial draft of an exploratory piece, review it and ask yourself three questions:

  • Is it clear?

  • Is it thoughtful?

  • Is it interesting?

  • If you can say “I think so” to all three, you probably have an effective start.

    Other Pages in This Section :

    Explanatory Writing

    Writing That Explains and Explores

    Successful Writing Index

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