Writing, as a concept, is an abstract process in which supposed rules have so many exceptions that the most effective way to evaluate it is through what works and what does not work. No matter their expertise, all writers experience some level of conflict. That's why the final step in the constructive planning process is to resolve conflicts.
In "Knowing How to Begin," I discussed the process of navigating abstract goals, thus reframing what many writers refer to as "writer's block." While that touches on conflicts that can occur in the writing process, it doesn't adequately address the full scope. If a writing text falls outside parameters that were set for it, if a writer does not have the necessary topic knowledge, or if there are any gaps or inconsistencies, it's important to have tools with which to work through them. "Planning in Writing," rather than identifying conflicts case by case, divides conflicts in writing into three separate categories.
These are generic mechanical conflicts that operate mainly at the sentence level, but can extend to tone. In this case, "the text is in conflict with some generic set of constraints that would operate in most any text" (Flower et al, 1989). The constraints of the writing task, normally, is present within the requirements of a writing task or is assumed to be implied. Where applicable, it's best to know what the best style guide should be used.
An effective resource that many writers use to mitigate conflicts like these is the Purdue OWL, a detailed and consistently up-to-date guide that encompasses most mechanical and stylistic concepts.
Task-Specific Text Conflicts
While similar to a text-based conflict, this type of conflict is more specific and doesn't encompass as many mechanical constraints as it does with the writer's conception of audience or a writer's goals for the task. More simply, a written piece might not be appropriate for the audience that the administrator of the writing task had in mind. Another possibility is that the writer's unique goals might not be appropriate to the task or that the written piece might not match up with a writer's fully appropriate goals.
Active Goal Conflicts
This type of conflict is more broad and doesn't have as much to do with the text as it does with the goals of the text. These are the types of conflicts that can happen between the goals, the plans, and the parameters of the text. Different goals, while both may be essential, might read as far removed from each other. Plans for how to begin the text might not be compatible with one another. On the other hand, it's possible that a goal might not coincide well with a plan.
Some more concrete examples of this form of conflict could occur when a concept needs to be included in a piece of writing but must not take over it. They could happen if your task is to communicate something to an audience that have anticipated indifference to it. That is to say that this and any kind of conflict is common no matter what planning strategy is used.
While fixing mechanical or stylistic errors may appear more straightforward with resources like style guides, it's important to have different tools in case a conflict requires a more intricate solution. So, the following sections will address different resolution strategies for more common types of conflict. These aren't the only resolution strategies available, but they do offer guidance for more common issues.
Choose and Prioritize Goals
There might be a concept that is appropriate to a writing task, but for some reason, doesn't fit upon execution of the writing task. There might be too many topics covered over a shorter piece of writing. No matter the reason, it's important to be able to know how to choose and prioritize goals.
When it comes to a written text, usually, more can be gleaned from a text that covers fewer subjects. Think of it this way. An encyclopedia can give some background knowledge on a subject, but it cannot be the single resource by which a subject can be mastered. So, as a writer, to encourage mastery on a subject, ensure that the written piece is adequately focused and expands on essential points. It might not be possible to cover everything there is to know on a subject in a single piece, and that should not be the expectation. As such, it is important to be willing to favor some goals and plans over others for the sake of a well-developed and focused writing task.
Replace Text or Sections of Text
This strategy is one of the most commonly employed to address any form of text-based conflicts. When a text is rewritten, the rewrites should ideally take place in sections and with reflection. In these instances, a writer can create a new plan and re-evaluate their text in line with what needs to be revised or rewritten, but this isn't always required or considered necessary.
Make a New Plan
Sometimes, it's not adequate to replace or rewrite text. It might be more productive to take steps to change the plan. Usually, this stage happens after a text or part of a text is written and is compared against a given plan. This has been covered to some degree in "Make Your Structure Sound" in the section on consolidating goals. One of the primary benefits to a writing process that involves careful planning and reflection is that conflicts that require a new approach can be resolved before a significant amount of text has been written.
Consolidate Goals in a New Plan
Building off of the previous strategy which most commonly involves a greater level of prioritization of goals (something that should be done if necessary), it can be important to integrate several goals into one plan. In this case, a writer isn't rearranging or discarding conflicts, but approaching them in a different way.
For example, if a piece of writing is supposed to be purely informational and becomes abstract or polarizing, it's less that it will achieve more concrete goals. So, to resolve this, a writer can reform the plan so that the method of presentation is clarified within the given goals. It's more likely that goals and subgoals will be addressed this way. If a writing task doesn't allow for prioritization of goals as much or if prioritization of goals isn't effective, this strategy might be the most helpful.
Resolving conflict is the final step in the constructive planning process which began in "The Building Blocks." Sometimes, writing tasks are not easily understood or, in general, are difficult to fully define for a multitude of reasons. Constructive planning has the capacity to, then, resolve a lot of common concerns prior to beginning the text itself. While all parts of the constructive planning process can be taken together, it's also possible to turn to components of the constructive planning process instead.
Using constructive planning, writers utilize strategies that are exploratory and reflective and [most importantly] they are goal-focused. This encourages a more focused, integrated, and discursive text. Furthermore, using this method, it's easier to reframe a task as a problem or set of problems to be solved.
As extensive, involved, and highly personalized as this planning process is, it's not the only method that is available to writers. It might not be the most appropriate for every writing task. The final post on "Planning in Writing" will focus on five strategies that can be implemented for writers who are interested in constructing a method of planning of their own. The next series of articles, which I am excited to release, is on post-process theory and will delve deeper into how and why writing as a concept is something that cannot be bound by a singular generalized theory.
As always, thank you all for your comments and engagement with my posts!
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Flower, L. (1989). Planning in Writing: The Cognition of a Constructive Process. Technical Report No. 34.
Purdue OWL. (n.d.). Purdue Writing Lab. https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/purdue_owl.html
Tapia, A. (2019, August 27). How to Pick the Best Style Guide for Your Writing. The Balance Small Business. https://www.thebalancesmb.com/which-style-guide-should-i-use-1360722