Looking back at her own undergraduate years, Writing Program Lecturer Gina Vallis recalls with gratitude the “inquiry-based” writing and research challenges she experienced. There were no mind-numbing “prompts” or formulaic essay structures provided. Instead, writing was presented as a means of figuring things out through a careful process of reasoning and researching. Those demanding expectations helped inspire her to author Reason to Write: Applying Critical Thinking to Academic Writing (Kona Publishing, 2010). Vallis wanted her own students to approach writing as an exciting process grounded in critical thinking.
The activity should start not with a particular mind-set or a pre-formed organizing principle, Vallis maintains, but rather arise from a critical question worth pursuing. This commitment to critical inquiry, to the discoveries to be made with and through writing, lies at the heart of her recent publication. Writing the book was its own act of discovery and clarification, for it “forced me to translate and communicate practical instruction that offered an alternative” to more formula-driven texts on academic writing.
Her book is filled with reasoning steps the students can pursue in order both to avoid what Vallis calls thinking “traps” and to bring their provisional questions into increasingly sharper focus. “The best questions,” she believes, “arise from conflict.” And they are not adequately represented through any mechanical approach to writing (for example, the five-paragraph essay or even the thesis-first criterion); instead, meaning, and further questions, come into being through students’ intellectual curiosity and by means of an evolving composing process.
Reason to Write offers a systematic approach to nurturing both critical thinking and successful writing. The book includes, for example, sections addressing “What is Critical Thinking Anyway?”, “question map” assignments, differentiations among “Opinions, Facts, and Analysis,” and a guide to “Types of Organizing Principles.” The central effort is to illuminate many of the reasoning and questioning stages that students can apply to a host of writing tasks and genres, while “reinforcing the main purpose of writing as an essential agent of open inquiry.”