John J Silvestro
Slippery Rock University
This assignment asks students to develop a more critical and actionable understanding of the concept of writing style through the use of AI text generators. Writing style is a difficult concept to teach given the challenges of concretely presenting it to students. AI text generators offer tools for quickly generating multiple versions of sentences and paragraphs. Students can use multiple versions of a sentence to closely examine individual aspects of their own and others’ writing styles. This assignment enables students to develop and define writing style more concretely.
Original Assignment Context: middle of academic research essay project in a first-year writing course
Timeframe: ~1 week
Many writers have modified their writing approaches to accommodate technological systems like text correctors and text predictors. They continually check their grammar and spelling throughout the writing process because of the ways text correctors immediately scan and mark text and then efficiently provide lists of corrections. In turn, writers have modified their writing style to better accommodate the corrections and predictions of the aforementioned systems. The most advanced technological systems in this lineage, AI text generators like ChatGPT and Sudowrite, offer writers opportunities to expand their writing approaches, particularly their understanding of and applications of writing style.
Writing students in particular could benefit from some of the ways text generators operate to help them extend their approaches to writing style. Writing style can be incredibly difficult to learn as it is a somewhat nebulous concept, unique in certain ways to each writer, and requires close considerations of multiple variants of similar sentences and/or paragraphs to be fully recognized. Text generators offer a tool that enables students to quickly generate multiple variations of the same sentence or paragraph. Students can then use readily-available variations to develop a sense of writing style and to experiment with their own writing style. Text generators thus offer an opportunity to help students better define and enact writing styles(s).
Focusing on Style
The assignment outlined in this chapter proposes using the rhetorical concept of writing style as a framework for critically engaging and incorporating text generators into writing processes. Specifically, this assignment proposes that writing teachers work with their students to first develop in them a deeper sense of their own writing style and how their style shapes the meaning, value, and impact of their texts. From there, writing teachers can use text generators to help students expand their sense of writing style. Text generators can become a quick, readily available reference point for the structure and style of paragraphs that students can use to expand their own writing.
However, writing style is an under-used concept from a pedagogical perspective. Too often, writing style is approached without a critical framework. The teaching of writing style gets reduced to concerns for “flow” or “professional tone” (Aull and Lancaster 98). These simplified perspectives on writing style are particularly useless when applied to the paragraphs produced by text generator technologies. The paragraphs generated by most of these technologies have a coherent-yet-indistinct flow and abstractly professional tone. Writing teachers must work with students to develop in them both a sense of their own writing style and a more advanced concept of the rhetorical theory of writing style.
To enable students to develop a more advanced concept of writing style, this assignment draws from theories of rhetorical imitation and Laura I. Aull and Zak Lancaster's work on writing style as a critical stance. Imitation is a well-established way of introducing writing style: in most approaches to imitation students revise the structures of other writers’ sentences to develop new sentences. Specifically, students keep the various parts of speech in the others’ sentences, incorporating their own nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that work for their writing. For example, students replace the noun from a sentence with a noun relevant to their argument. As a writing activity, imitation offers a useful starting point for developing both an expanded understanding of writing style, as it offers a way to engage with the impact that writing style has on the meaning of writing, and it provides an obvious writing practice that students can apply to any text-generator-produced paragraphs.
Imitation is not enough, though. Students need to be able to do more than just potentially rewrite the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs from text generator-generated paragraphs. They need a framework that enables them to understand why those nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs and the order those parts of speech are in matter. To help students develop a sense of writing style as a framework, I begin by introducing Laura L. Aull and Zak Lancaster’s work on writing style as a stance. They define style as a stance that manifests through a writer’s use of prepositions, adjectives, research, and/or their framing of readers. Put differently, writing style is a stance that writers gradually adopt through their revision process that shapes how they approach their argument, context, and audience. Writing stance offers dual uses for writing students. It offers a set of specific aspects of a text to analyze in their own writing. It also offers a framework for analyzing the style of text-generator-generated text. It focuses students on specific elements of generated paragraphs to engage.
Thus, this assignment presents a week-long project that seeks to introduce students to a more complex critical framework for writing style, writing style as stance (Lancaster and Aull 100), then to use that framework to investigate their own writing style as well as the writing style of text generator technologies. A key part of this project is using text generator technologies to quickly generate versions of students’ own paragraphs. Rapidly generated paragraphs offer students a clearer sense of other ways they could have worded and structured their sentences and paragraphs. Text generator technologies then offer a mirror of sorts that students can use to reflect their writing back at themselves, or at least alternative versions of their own writing. Once students gain a sense of their own writing style, they investigate the writing style of text- generator- produced writing. In examining text-generator-produced writing through a writing style lens, students can develop a more critical perspective on the writing generated by the technologies and gain a clearer sense of how they will likely want to rewrite and rework any text-generator-produced writing they decided to use.
If writing teachers provide students with critical frameworks for writing style, they can help students expand their writing processes so that they can productively incorporate text generator technologies. By deepening students' understanding of writing style, teachers can enable students to situate text generator technologies as resources, much like the spell-checker algorithm. If students can develop an expanded understanding of their own writing style and of writing style in general, they can more productively engage text generator technologies; they can maintain a sense of agency over their writing as they grapple with the streams of coherent, bland, semi-professional, culturally-specific paragraphs that these technologies generate.
Any course engaging writing
Three as of publication
(Should be taught when students are revising a writing project)
Out-of-Class Assignment #1
*Should be assigned when students are deep into the draft of a longer piece of writing.
Explanation for students: You have reached a point in your draft where you should have a solid sense of what you are trying to do, what point(s) you are making, the argument you are articulating, and/or what you want to critically engage. This means that you have reached a point in your writing process where you should start to focus on how you are articulating those ideas. You should start to think about the words, phrases, and sentence structures you are using to manifest and shape your ideas. You should start thinking about your writing style.
With this in mind, you will read “The Evolution of Imitation: Building Your Own Style” by Craig A. Meyer. This essay presents a series of tools that you can use – imitation tools – that can help you examine, rework, and/or broaden your writing style. The essay presents a few ways to alter your writing style.
After you finish the reading, you will enact one of the approaches from the essay on one of the paragraphs from your current draft. You will use the essay to revise your paragraph. You will rewrite your paragraph so that it is either a structural imitation or a contextual imitation. If you decide to do a structural imitation, you will need to find another paragraph, written by someone else, and then copy the structure of the paragraph. You are welcome to select any paragraph you want. The only requirement is that someone else authored the paragraph.
In-Class Lesson Plan #1
*Should follow Out-of-Class Assignment #1
Opening Mini-Lecture: teachers discuss writing style and reading. They talk briefly about how writing style is something distinct and that plays an equally important role in the expression of the meaning and value of an idea, point, or argument.
Discussion: students are asked to review their revised paragraph and identify the most noteworthy or interesting change they made in the revised paragraph. Students then share their examples and discuss the changes they made. Discussion centers around drawing out ideas about how writing style is constructed – through prepositions, adjectives, use of research/information, and the framing of the reader.
Mini-Lecture: teacher introduces the concept of “writing style stance.” This concept forwarded by Laura A. Aull and Zak Lancaster presents writing style as a distinct stance that a writer takes toward their ideas as well as their readers. (Teachers can assign sections from Aull and Lancaster’s work if helpful. Otherwise, teachers will need to familiarize themselves with this approach and be prepared to introduce it to students). The teacher should focus on how stance is expressed, through prepositions, adjectives, use of research/information, and the framing of the reader. They should also focus on how writing style stance shapes the ideas, points, and/or arguments that a writer makes.
End-of-class: teacher should introduce Out-of-Class Assignment #2. They should quickly demonstrate how to use ChatGPT to students.
Out-of-Class Assignment #2
*Should be the work assigned after In-Class Lesson Plan #1
Explanation for students: Now that you have experience with writing style as an imitation practice as well as a stance that a writer adopts, we want to continue exploring your writing style. We want to start identifying what your writing style is. We also want to think about the stance you are taking.
To help you start examining your writing style, you will do a few things. First, you will write a brief one-to-two sentence summary of the paragraph that you revised for our previous class period. You want to have a clear understanding of what you are doing with the paragraph.
Second, you will go to ChatGPT (link). You will input the one-to-two sentence paragraph summary that you wrote. You will then ask ChatGPT to generate a paragraph on those points for you.
Third, you will copy-and-paste the paragraph that ChatGPT generates into a document. You want to save the paragraph that ChatGPT generates so that you can compare it to your own paragraph.
Fourth and finally, you will write a short comparison of your original, revised paragraph to the paragraph generated by ChatGPT. You want to focus on the aspects of writing-style-as-a-stance that we discussed during our previous class. You want to focus on how ChatGPT uses prepositions, adjectives and adverbs, how it uses information, and how it frames its readers (aka you). You want to think about what you are doing and how that differs from what ChatGPT does.
In-Class Lesson Plan #2
*Should follow Out-of-Class Assignment #2
Opening Discussion: students share their experiences using ChatGPT and the differences and similarities between their writing and the paragraph generated by the auto-writer. The teacher should keep a running list on the board or in a shared online writing document of all the points students make about the things that the auto-writer does.
Activity: students are then asked to define “writing style.” They individually write two-to-three sentence definitions of the rhetorical theory of writing style. The teacher then works with the students to develop a collective, negotiated definition of writing style.
End-of-class: teacher should introduce Out-of-Class Assignment #3.
Out-of-Class Assignment #3
*Should be the work assigned after In-Class Lesson Plan #2
Explanation for students: Hopefully, you now have an understanding of writing style and how it plays a co-facilitator role in writing. The writing style one uses influences their message, points, and/or arguments. The ultimate goal is for you to develop a sense of your own writing style. For you to be able to define what you want to do and why you want to do it.
However, before you can do that, you should learn to identify elements of a text’s writing style. You should learn to analyze and understand others’ writing styles. With that in mind, you will do two things for our next class period. First, you will select one of the paragraphs below. These paragraphs all provided different and distinct writing styles. You will select one paragraph that you feel is well written and that has elements that you want to copy. Following this, you will write a short summary of the paragraph, turning it into a prompt. You will enter that prompt into ChatGPT to have it generate its own version of the paragraph. We are using ChatGPT to quickly get a quick sense of how else this paragraph could be written.
Finally, you will write a brief analysis of the writing style of each paragraph. For the comparison, you will explore the writing style of each individual paragraph. As part of this exploration, you will reference the other paragraph, using it as a point of comparison for the paragraph you are exploring. First,you will examine the writing style of the paragraph you selected. You will pay attention to how the paragraph uses prepositions, adjectives, research/information, and framing of the reader. As part of this, you will consider how the paragraph’s writing style differs from the style ChatGPT generated for its paragraph. Following the first comparison, you will do the exact same analysis for the paragraph generated by ChatGPT. You want to analyze the style of the auto-generated paragraph and how it differs from the paragraph you selected.
We will then use these paragraphs to talk about how writing style is actualized. Following this, you will develop an outline of your own writing style which you will use to write your current essay.
In-Class Lesson Plan #3 Option A
*Should follow Out-of-Class Assignment #3
Opening Activity: As a class, students vote on a two of the writers from (Out-of-class Assignment #3) that they found the most interesting. Next, students vote on two random things they want to have written about - could be the cancellation of class, reactions to a recent event, or thoughts on a particular individual. Following these votes, the teacher generates four different paragraphs. They generate two paragraphs for each “random thing” and each of the paragraphs is in the style of one of the two writers.
Discussion: students using the opening activity and their own out-of-class writing to share their ideas about writing style. They then explain the writing style that the paragraph generated. They also explain their understanding of writing style.
Activity: students go through their own writing and start to generate an understanding of their own writing style. (Teacher circulates around the room to help students).
Activity: students start revising their current essay draft to be more in their “own” writing style
End-of-class: teacher sets up follow-up work which will focus on revising essays to be in the students’ own writing style
Aull, Laura. L. Bandarage, Dineth, and Richardson Miller, Meredith. “Generality in Student and Expert Epistemic Stance: A Corpus Analysis of First-Year, Upper-Level and Published Academic Writing.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 26 (2017): 29-41.
Aull, Laura L. and Lancaster, Zak. “Stance as Style: Toward a Framework for Analyzing Academic Language.” Style: and the Future of Composition Studies. Eds. Paul Butler, Brian Ray, and Star Medzerian Vanguri. U P of Colorado, 2020. 98-113.
Lancaster, Zak. “Expressing Stance in Undergraduate Writing: Discipline Specific and General Qualities.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 23 (2016): 16-30.
Meyer, Craig. A. “The Evolution of Imitation: Building Your Own Style.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing vol 3. https://writingspaces.org/past-volumes/the-evolution-of-imitation-building-your-style/.