Make Your Structure Sound: Six Strategies for Integrating Goals

Updated: Apr 29, 2021


In "The Building Blocks" I introduced the constructive writing process as it is elaborated on in "Planning in Writing" and the first two steps of a constructive writing process. These involve a deeper understanding of the writing task at hand and developing some kind of visual network of goals. Educators might recognize facets of these steps as they appeal to different styles of learning, the main four being visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic.


Educators might also know that while using different styles as a guideline, there is not one singular universal learning strategy that works for everyone. Even if an educator were to appeal to all learning styles, trying to center on one that would best determine how a student learns, there's no guarantee that this method would determine the student's learning style in all subjects. More simply, there are no guarantees. The same goes for writing and writing planning.


The constructive planning method is very involved and contains a multitude of steps so that the writer can determine, through experimentation, how to use it to their advantage. This steps given in this article are meant to make use of the goal network developed in "The Building Blocks."


Even if a goal network is perfectly organized in its conception, goal integration can provide further assurance that all goals are appropriate to the task. For other writers, a goal network might be more extensive to the point where it's difficult to know what to prioritize, and while it's good to have several ideas, this creates problems that necessitate strategies for further integration.


First, Explore Goals that Might Link to One Another


While this may read as self-explanatory and it might be obvious that goals tie to one another even if it's solely by virtue of connecting with the central task, themes, or ideas, it might be useful to posit a thought experiment. You might not have to do this with all goals in your goal network as this might be extensive, but begin by isolating two or three of your goals. Why do these goals exist in the same place? What ideas, statements, or questions can link them together?


If, for example, you were writing an essay on the resurgence of the Twilight franchise in popular media, goals might be a broader understanding of the discourse surrounding the original Dracula, the meanings behind Stephanie Meyer writing a new novel that changes the genders of all characters, what it means for literature to contain vampiric characters and what vampiric qualities in an individual can illustrate.


Goal integration might then look like using the discourse of Dracula and Meyer's decision to gender bend her characters to explore the trajectory of presentation of gender in vampiric fiction. So, let's begin with the following question. What are the expectations for a vampiric fiction? One expectation could be a concrete power dynamic between characters or groups of characters, another might be an element of control. How does that exist, criticism of the narratives suppressed, in Dracula as opposed to more modern vampiric texts and does gender play a role in that? If so, how? What do the conclusions gained from this have to do with the resurgence if anything?


This explorative stage is often shut down at some point by either a positive or a negative evaluation of a goal in which a writer determines merit, but not on the basis of research, discussion, or even simple questions. The example I used might read as humorous, and if that is the case, it further illustrates my point. I wanted to give an example that would be easy to dismiss. In that case, this might be a little more interesting: "Gender studies is a broad, interdisciplinary subject that encompasses literature, history, sociology, law, public health, and much more. It also encourages a critical approach to identifying problems, intellectual curiosity, and open and creative thinking that's essential for innovation and progress" (Murphy, 2019). So, understanding how different cultures have communicated regarding the subject of gender throughout history might be a good angle to take in the process of goal integration for this writing task. This would help the audience of this essay to understand why certain language is being used and where it comes from.


Second, Create Subgoals


In the act of exploring how different goals connect to one another, it's possible that this process has already started, though possibly not in a more hierarchical top-down manner. Following a more explorative discussion about how goals connect to one another, the next step would be to be concise about the findings. Subgoals can be defined as goals that help to carry out a larger goal.


Adding subgoals would ideally add new sets of criteria to be achieved and, of course, they would branch off of the main goals. It's important to, then, evaluate the revised goal network at large with its primary goals and subgoals. Are there any possible constraints that could be suggested? What can we infer from accessible information and what can't we prove? What might possibly lead to logical fallacies if pursued? If that's the case, how do you as the writer negotiate that?


Third, Monitor the Progress of Goals


Having goals and meeting goals are both positive, but very different from one another. What I'm recommending is to continuously question the given plan for the purpose of remaining focused, coherent, and on task. Primarily, this step is meant to consider the extent to which the information gained in the exploratory phase and in the consolidation of that discussion into subgoals has helped to maintain progress towards meeting the goals and, in turn, meeting the expectations of the writing task.


It might help to go back to earlier stages of planning and to reflect on what that process looked like. Are there possible goals that were overlooked? There could be a new type of insight recently gained that might link to previous goals. This is an important step to return to throughout the writing process, especially when the planning stage is over and the text is being produced.


At this point you might notice that this process doesn't often involve goals at the sentence level, but this step demonstrates how goals at the sentence level and at the overall conceptual level have a working relationship. How an idea is presented has as much of a bearing on whether goals at this stage have been met as what ideas are presented. In addition, the better a writer understands what ideas should be presented and re-conceptualizes it, the better they will get at determining how it is best presented.


Fourth, Create Goal Families


Previous steps have mostly been concerned with how goals link to one another, but this step has to do with how goals are also distinct entities. It's just as important to be able to separate goals into its parts as it is to be able to connect them to one another. So, there is a task, possibly a primary goal, and then a network of separate goals that are joined together. The exploratory process has proven that these goals can be connected to one another using different means. This step ensures that they still remain distinct sets of both active plans and, possibly, alternate plans.


In order to establish these distinct plans and elaborate on them, it's important to bring in the aforementioned question of "how." It's important to include how the criteria for each goal and subgoal is to be met with respect to what is known as the "lexical schema." Are there any words or phrases that will hold a different meaning in the subject you're tackling that would hold a different meaning in another subject? If that's the case, use this step to define those things. A lot of words will have a full network of meanings and associations all their own. The Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED), while some versions require a subscription, is a great resource for tracing the way a word or set of words have been used over time in different subjects. There are other methods for doing so, but this is one of the most comprehensive accounts.


Fifth, Set Intentions


"Intentions," in this case, are goals that haven't yet been fully specified or fleshed out yet. This puts the writer to the task of finding the most appropriate information to use and putting forth the specifications necessary for finding that information. One easy way to set these intentions is to communicate your plan to others and get feedback. Another way is to simply dive deeper into the discourse of the given topic to make certain that all paths of reasoning are clear and comprehensive. Setting intentions and following through with them can help to establish connections that weren't fully realized at previous stages of this process, perhaps connections between goals that appear distant from each other.


If all of the previous strategies have been used, the writer will still have an open-ended and very generative plan that is open to constant interpretation and revision. A constant, through these entries, has been that plans can and might have to change throughout the writing process. Intentions and following through with those intentions at an earlier time can help because it can feel more difficult to change plans after the production of a part of a text.


Sixth, Consolidate


"Planning in Writing" defines consolidation as "the mental act of pulling selected plans, goals, and ideas into attention as a freshly integrated whole" (Flower et al, 1989). Now that we have all of these different connected and consistently revised goals, plans, and intentions that are networked together, it's time to determine how to best pull all of these together to best suit the plan. There are a lot of different forms of consolidation that can be used together or separately, but I will describe three of them.


The first of these forms is one of the most familiar as an offshoot of an "elevator pitch." This is the translation to a more complex set of ideas into one general "gist." What might be helpful, provided there are multiple goals or plans, is to create multiple "gists" and then summarize all of those into about one or two sentences. If that summary connects effectively with the goals necessary to complete the writing task, that shows a successful plan.


Another form is to create another plan using a goal network or schema. Some writers choose to produce a text based on what they've planned so far (perhaps a page or two), compare it with the set of goals, and to construct a new plan based on what has been written based on how the produced text fulfills the goals that were set for it. Reviewing goals and previous plans for the text alongside what has been written can help resolve contradictions or conflicts, allowing for learning as you write while still keeping the plan coherent and maintaining progress.


Another method is to selectively review the goals that are most relevant to the task at hand and to, again, re-evaluate their effectiveness. What is it that makes these goals more relevant or effective and others less so? Writers might choose to focus on fewer goals than they had originally set out to fulfill simply because they are most relevant to the task and that relevance determines their hierarchy, not necessarily in the discourse itself, but in this particular task.


It is the process of integration that sets constructive planning apart from schema-driven or knowledge-driven planning, though it maintains aspects of each. Constructive planning becomes more useful as a task becomes more abstract and as a task contains more steps in which more decisions need to be made. Through this method, a planning process can be more easily seen as a set of decisions as opposed to a problem that needs to be solved. In addition to that, reviewing plans multiple times will help the writer to catch elements of planning that contradict one another and [instead of eliminating one of those elements] questioning themselves as to why that's the case and turning that contradiction into intention.


This isn't to say that all planning must be constructive, but that there are situations where constructive planning or elements thereof might be helpful to include for the sake of fulfilling a task.


Thank you again to all of those who have been faithful readers, to those who have asked me questions, and to those who have engaged with my work in some capacity. If any of you are not yet members of the Purposeful Prose community, signing up will allow you to interact with my posts directly and let me know what writing tools I can further research and provide for you. I have received a lot of excellent feedback and I'm always looking for more!


Sources:


Flower, L. (1989). Planning in Writing: The Cognition of a Constructive Process. Technical Report No. 34.


Murphy, A. (2019, June 1). Why Study Gender Studies? Keystone Bachelor Studies. https://www.bachelorstudies.com/article/why-study-gender-studies/


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