Truth in Society

Tuesday, Sept. 27, 1994

Prompt #15

Using the Reader Groups' Reports . . .

As you know, this morning everyone read and responded to the drafts of the overviews. Nine "Reader Groups" took on the responsibility of collecting the responses, arranging and sorting them, and adding their own comments, suggestions and questions. All of this information they "cooked up" into reports.

In front of you now are the reports of the three Reader Groups who responded to your group's draft. Carefully consider these. Discuss their contents with the members of your group. Think of how best to deal with each point. You may conclude that some of the problems raised have come up because readers misunderstood what you were trying to say; if that's the case, do what you can to clarify your meaning. Some questions may be requests for further information: discuss what you should do on the basis of your judgement of how important you think the missing information is, and how easily it might be acquired.

Take all the comments seriously. Do whatever you can to address your colleagues' concerns. At the same time realize that you may not be able to deal with each and every question or suggestion. Sometimes you'll conclude that the requests being made would necessitate more research than you have time to do right now. Or you may decide that the issue being raised is not sufficiently important or central to warrant further investigation -- indeed, you may worry that pursuing it might confuse more than enlighten.

Keep in mind that you are writing for your colleagues in the other groups, helping them to "see the forest for the trees" concerning your episode. So even when you decide not to act on a specific comment, or to incorporate some suggestion, you may still need to think about revising your original text in a way that will reduce the chances of misunderstanding or confusion about what is central, and what is of secondary importance. Often this means doing something that most writers find exceedingly difficult -- trimming down certain passages, or getting rid of them altogether. (The Canadian writer and broadcaster Peter Gzowski tells of the advice given him by one of his early editors, to "kill your little darlings," to scrap passages that you are particularly fond of, but which are superfluous, and which obscure the main story you are trying to tell.)

The overview you are in the middle of preparing will be a very important document, setting the stage for the development of recommendations, and ultimately the decisions concerning which episodes to use for the remainder of the term. Therefore, the overview must be as clearly written and tightly organized as you can make it. Avoid the temptation to simply "tack on" answers to the new questions at the end of your text. Think about where the additional material belongs. And don't just plunk it down. Understand that any change -- even one that seems quite minor -- may necessitate a number of adjustments, re-wordings and cut-and-paste operations throughout the entire text.

One method that we have found useful when working together on a collaboratively produced draft is for one person to slowly and carefully read passages out loud. Try this in your group. Often awkward wording, or a jumbled argument, will not be readily apparent to us as authors. After all, we've done the research, and so we know how to "fill in" a lot about how the different aspects of the case are connected. Our readers are not so fortunate. Hearing our own words spoken makes it easier for us to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience, bringing to our attention problems that we might otherwise miss.

While we are emphasizing that the final version of your overview should be crafted with care, we all should recognize that it will not be the definitive statement concerning your episode. Essentially what we need is an overview that conveys a basic understanding, one that pulls together the key players, the main situations and the most significant events in an orderly and meaningful narrative (or story). (It will be interesting to revisit the overviews in December, after we have had the chance to do thorough investigations. Undoubtedly things will look different to us then. But we'd better not worry about that right now.)

Remember that the purpose of your overview is to inform colleagues about an episode, not to persuade them that this instance should or should not be selected. We'll move to the process of arguing the pros and cons of each choices soon enough (starting on Thursday -- more about that in a minute).

The final version of your overview must be wordprocessed. At this point almost everyone has achieved a basic competence is using the keyboard and sending and reading electronic mail. Soon everyone will become proficient using the WordPerfect program. Some members of your group may have had more experience with computers, and so will be able to coach the rest of you. Make sure you obtain a copy of the prompt (available by this afternoon) titled "Truth / about Wordprocessing / in Society" which will explain the essentials of creating and editing a file using WordPerfect 5.1.

When the final version has been typed into the computer, print off a "hard copy." Make sure that the file is saved on your diskette. If you can, the best way to get it to us is to attach the file containing the overview to an electronic message addressed to TRUTHFAC. (This too will be explained in the WordPerfect prompt.) If that gives you problems, you can give one of us the diskette for copying. That way we'll be able to format and print the overview on the laser printer. Have the hard copy on hand in case we need it in a hurry.

When should this be done? Given that the overview need not be (and cannot be) a perfect document, it's probably realistic to expect that you will have a final version ready for Thursday morning. Thursday we'll be attending the "When Rights Collide" conference. Make sure that we get the file early in the day. That will allow us to do the necessary photocopying over the noon hour. At our closing meeting on Thursday, everyone will receive a copy of each of the six overviews.

Further information about the "When Rights Collide" conference will be provided during today's closing meeting, scheduled for 4:30 in EC 120.

Previous prompt

Next prompt