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Summary of "A Case for Cases"


Our new-found awareness of writing as process has unfortunately not yet extended to a parallel awareness that any act of communication is a response to a situation. . . . It is this principle — language use as a response to a situation — which should govern our lives as teachers of writing. . . . as we teach, writing has most unfortunate consequences. First, it forces us to unusual lengths to provide methods of invention and audience analysis for our students; second, it leads to a tendency . . . they were artifacts unearthed by a team of archeologists, and to giving writing assignments which are themselves artifacts . . . ; third, it gives much of our writing a sterile, cut-of-from-it-all feeling.

[In writing an informative paper to an imagined friend.] First, the students must find a subject to write about [topic brainstorming]. Second, once students have discovered what they are to write about, students must marshal arguments [this includes facts and other information to develop their paper.] Third, poor students must visualize to imagine an audience for this information. Finally, students are ready to begin expressing [to start writing the informative paper.] When students have completed this long process, they are graded from their invention to grammar. It is a two-step process [normally to express in writing.] First, a situation arises which needs a written reply to resolve it. Second, we create texts which will answer the demands of the situations. How the bank or teacher reacts how well the writer has accomplished the rhetorical purpose generated by the situation determines success in such a situation.

The situation is typically real as possible, with sometimes several pages of supporting information. . . . the audience, the problem, the data are all carefully laid out as they would be if the students were actually involved. The students’ grade on this [the] assignment is based on the effectiveness of the response to it [the situation and supporting information.] In other words, writers can quit spending time on material unique to composition classes and can get to the heart of composition — arranging information in the best possible order for a particular purpose as they would in a normal, real world, rhetorical question. The students must receive the information in enough time to assimilate and understand it to become familiar with the situation and the problem [of the case and supporting information]. Teachers who have used the approach like cases because they make heuristic and discovery procedures part of the writing process, not an antecedent to it.

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