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Looping Activities

Below are brief descriptions of activities Peter Elbow in his book Writing With Power calls loop writing.  These activities can be helpful to clarify your thinking before you begin a paper or in the middle of a paper when you are stuck for ideas.  It can help before you begin researching a topic or to help you sort through an avalanche of research.  For examples and more elaborate explanations see the book. (Peter Elbow, Writing With Power.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.)

1. First Thoughts is essentially a focused freewrite on your topic.  It is an opportunity to gather all your thoughts, questions, stories, facts and theories and find what you have and what you need to know.

2.  Prejudices are the biases, assumptions and tendencies we have that influence us to want to see things in a certain way.  They are the point of view we start from and the answers that may feel most satisfying to us although they may not be accurate.  Knowing your prejudices can help you see the issues more clearly.

3.  An Instant Version is the paper you would write if it was due in forty-five minutes.  It is more formed and focused than the Instant Thoughts, more like an in-class essay with a thesis and paragraphs of support and a conclusion.  

4.  Dialogues - Think of two (or three) different people who represent different sides of your issue and get them talking.  Record the conversation.  These “people” may come from a real dialogue you were involved in or witnessed or they may be different sides of yourself.  It doesn’t matter; what matters is that you use the dialogue to explore the various sides of the issue.

5.  Narrative Thinking - “If your thinking is confusing to you - if for example you find your mind shifting from one thought to another or one point of view to another without any sense of which thought or point of view makes more sense - then simply write the story of your thinking.  ‘I thought this, then I thought that.’ and so on.  This process can help untangle bad snarls in your mind.  It is especially useful if you are having trouble writing about something very complicated.” (p. 68)

6.  Stories - What stories and incidents come to mind when you think about your issue.  make a list of them and choose one or two that illustrates the complexities or various sides of your issue.

7.  Scenes are moments or stories that illustrate the issues of you topic.  Scenes tend to be more brief and/or more unresolved than stories.

8.  Portraits are lists or descriptions of the people who come to mind when you think about your topic.


9.  Varying the Audience can clarify your thinking and lead to new insights.  It often leads you to notice aspects of your issue that you would not have noticed if only addressing your target audience.

10.  Varying the Writer may be a consequence of varying the audience.  Together with a change in audience or on its own, it can lead to new insights.

11.  Varying the Time - Elbow suggests you “write as though you are living in the past or the future” as a way to generate ideas when “you can’t think of anything to say about your topic” (p. 72).  This can help you become aware of the assumptions you are making about a topic that are a product of current fashion or current thinking.

12.  Errors - “Write down things that are almost true or trying to be true; things that you are tempted to think or that others think but you know are false; dangerous mistakes.”  (p. 72)

13.  Lies - “Write down quickly all the odd or crazy things you can come up with” (p. 72) about your topic.  You may “discover some important preoccupations and assumptions that relate to your topic.” (p. 73.)