Entry 2: Kim B. Lovejoy, “The Gricean Model: A Revising Rubric”

Lovejoy opens her article with a statement about the recursive (rather than linear) nature of writing and revision, and cites several studies of student revision processes. She follows up on Nancy Sommers’ studies about student revision primarily focusing on word choice and sentence-level revisions rather than big picture modifications. Lovejoy summarizes earlier research as follows: “The consensus, then, is that students tend to make surface changes and ignore content or meaning changes. Their conception of revision parallels what we normally think of as editing. If we are to teach our students how to revise, we need to communicate to them what writers do when they revise” (9).

Lovejoy utilizes H.P. Grice’s theory of conversation to create a revising strategy for composition courses. She notes that Grice’s theory is based on speech-act theory, but he “modifies the system worked out by Austin and Searle and offers a more general approach to an understanding of language use” (10). Grice formulated the Cooperative Principle, which seeks to grasp the rules of conversational exchange. Grice describes four conversational maxims: quantity (speech should be as informative as the situation requires), quality (speech should be “true” and should not include claims based on inadequate evidence), relation (speech should be relevant to the person you’re addressing), and manner (speech should not confuse with lengthy, ambiguous, disordered, or obscure expressions) (10). Following earlier speech-act theorists, Grice focuses on the intentionality of language and the speech-acts that take place between author and reader.

Lovejoy argues that Grice’s model is especially useful for composition students because “it helps students to understand that writing, like speaking, is a cooperative effort” (12). When students understand that they are participating in a conversation with their reader, they will become more conscious of the clarity of their utterances. Lovejoy sees Grice’s model as a useful tool to help students envision “a center of gravity” for their writing; this center involves a dual focus on audience and a purposeful and focused thesis. Lovejoy offers a chart/heuristic that introduces students to Grice’s four maxims, illustrating the ineffective quality of writing that does not conform to the four goals (14). Lovejoy sees her rubric as particularly useful for students writing research papers because the Gricean rubric helps students decide what supporting information is valuable and what is unnecessary.

Lovejoy acknowledges that her Gricean rubric does not introduce students to new techniques or information, but she continues to argue for its clarity and simplicity: “The value of the Gricean model is not that it asks new questions relating to revision; its value is that it makes the standard questions clearer, more comprehensible, and more forceful by providing the student with an organizational scheme that does not sacrifice its heuristic power for simplicity” (15). At first, I was concerned that Lovejoy’s model would be too restrictive of student writing, but she does suggest that teachers can teach advanced students to flout the maxims in a purposeful and effective way (17).

Kim B. Lovejoy, “The Gricean Model: A Revising Rubric,” Journal of Teaching Writing 6.1 (Spring 1987): 9-18.

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