(This post is long...it will take you about 9 minutes and 26 seconds to read.)
Our HOCs and LOCs integrated system for teaching writing is a simple strategic framework that provides important critical-thinking and writing concepts and skills for students and workers of all ages. It seeks to demystify writing, treating it as a systematic skill that can be learned, much as you would learn golf, mountain climbing, cooking, gardening, or photography. We call it THE NEW BASICS....where the reader/customer is always the focus.
The focus of the HOCs and LOCs system is 100% reader-focused writing.
Our HOCs & LOCs system can be used in its simplest form in first grade to teach kids to communicate useful information effectively, but it provides a platform on which writing students can build rhetorically complex documents for any purpose and those in the workplace can make sure their writing always serves their customers.
I have used our HOCs and LOCs system with great success with grammar-school, high-school, college, and graduate students, as well as with adults at agencies and businesses such as the GAO, NASA, the U.S. Departments of Justice, Commerce, State, Defense, Transportation, Labor, Agriculture, at the National Institutes for Health, at the IRS, and Veterans Affairs, at KPMG, at engineering firms, with Catholic Charities, many state legislative and policy offices, and many other venues. In fact, this system has worked for writers from around the world.
Our HOCs and LOCs system is described in my college/grad-school textbook, Mastering Workplace Writing (available on Amazon), and in my 200-page ebook, Mindful Writing at Work (downloadable at QCGwrite.com). This post provides a quick overview of our HOCs & LOCs system.
7 BASIC ASSUMPTIONS SUPPORT THE HOCs & LOCs SYSTEM
1. We understand that writing stretches across a l-o-n-g continuum… *_______________________________________________________*
from practical writing at one end to entertainment writing at the other, from simple texts, emails, and complex, team-generated reports to short stories, novels, creative non-fiction, plays, and poetry.
The HOCs and LOCs (H&L) system focuses on practical writing, writing whose purpose it is to provide useful information for people who need the information. But on the solid foundation of critical-thinking and writing skills the H&L system provides, a writer may build skills for any kind of writing.
2. We believe school and college writing instruction has traditionally focused on correctness, eloquence, and self-expression, not on the practical critical-thinking and writing skills we need to provide real readers with the information they need. Evidently, it’s assumed that practical writing is simple, so by learning correctness, eloquence, and self-expression a student automatically knows how to generate useful, practical writing.
But this is not true. Practical writing has its own grammar (structures), its own way of operating, its own problems to solve in serving the reader.
While an open-ended essay may be a useful assignment for teaching correctness, eloquence, and self-expression, it’s a particularly poor exercise for learning practical writing…because there’s no actual, real reader who needs the information.
3. Practical-writing assignments must always be created with a real person as “the audience.” That person should be involved in grading the assignment. Only when the writer must convey real, practical information to a reader who needs that information can we judge the effectiveness of the writing objectively.
4. We seek to provide objective criteria for writing and reviewing/editing that replace standards of mere personal preference. That is, there’s a way to measure whether content in a document is actually useful, whether organization and document design (UX) are helpful, and whether the style (paragraphs/sentence/word choices/mechanics) conveys information clearly, concisely, and appropriately, just as there are ways to measure whether a golf swing is effective. The H&L system takes writing out of the aesthetic realm and places it squarely in the practical world.
5. We replace the idea of the transmission model of communication (sender-->receiver), with a more practical model of communication—a conversation. We describe a conversation as an exchange of questions and answers. Questions are the manifestation of our interest. When questions end, conversations end.
6. We seek to teach writers to manage both the backstage and the onstage aspects of writing. Student writers are largely aware of “writing” as what we should think of as the "onstage" surface of writing... the words, sentences, paragraphs, and sections. But we claim that practical writing, from the point of view of the reader, is 90% about the content and 10% about the presentation. (We use the analogy of a cargo ship, which we say is 90% about the cargo and only 10% about the ship—but, of course, if the ship sinks, all is lost, so that 10% is extremely important.)
The “backstage” aspects of writing—the planning, methodology, and research sources—determine the “onstage” aspects of writing. The backstage aspects must be included as part of the writing process (invention, organization, style, and delivery). To manage the “backstage” aspects of writing, writers must have strong critical-thinking skills.
7. We show that “writing” is a large system for communication made of seven smaller, independent and inter-dependent systems. These seven systems we call the HOCs and LOCs, which stand for the High Order Concerns and the Low Order Concerns. (Our formulation of the HOCs and LOCs predates and is different from the formulations of HOCs/LOCs found on the Purdue OWL website and elsewhere. That formulation was made for college writing tutors in college writing labs, not specifically for writers of practical writing.)
These seven systems are
We show that any document from a simple text to a long, complex report of any kind is constructed using these seven systems.
The HOCs and LOCs system provides specific critical-thinking and writing concepts and techniques that allow writers to manage each of these 7 systems. While this "systems approach" to writing may sound technical, it's actually a way to make the writing process systematic, much more simple and manageable.
THE HOCs and LOCs INCLUDE 7 INDEPENDENT AND INTER-DEPENDENT SYSTEMS
CONTENT: This system has four main working parts.
· First, there is the ISSUE. We define the ISSUE as the area of shared interest between writer and reader. It’s the writer’s reason for writing and the reader’s reason for reading. If we imagine a Venn diagram where A is all the information in the document and B is all the information the reader needs on the ISSUE in question, we can define “success” as the degree to which A and B intersect.
· Second, there is the set of reader-questions about the ISSUE. We believe it is questions that drive content, not all the information the writer has about the ISSUE. The writer must discover all the reader’s questions about the ISSUE. These questions will scope and focus his research efforts, his information-gathering efforts.
· Third, there are the answers to these reader-questions. The writer uses experience, expertise, and research to find the answers the reader needs.
· Fourth, there is the necessary support for these answers, which are smaller reader questions.
Content, therefore, is best measured in two ways, first by the list of reader-questions and the extent to which they match the questions the REAL reader has, and second by the fit of the answers to the questions.
There are also useful question sets, including the journalist’s 5 Ws and the analyst’s 5Cs. The 5Cs are less well known but foundational for analytical thinking OF ANY KIND. These include CRITERIA, CONDITION, CAUSE, CONSEQUENCES, CORRECTIVE ACTIONS.
ORGANIZATION: This system includes logical order and logical structure.
Logical order is the “outline structure” of any document. The writer must understand how to order using a hierarchical structure, a chronological structure, or a “persuasive” structure (for arguments or other rhetorical purposes). The writer must also understand how decisions about organization, such as what to call each section and sub-section and what order to arrange them in affects CONTENT.
Logical structure is the relationship of the main message to the support. Main messages may come first overall and first in every section (deductive approach) or last (inductive), and a hybrid of the two, depending on the goal of the document.
DOCUMENT DESIGN: This system includes the creation of a visible structure that affects the reader’s level of effort in navigating the information.
Document design is the selection, organization, and arrangement of typographic and graphic elements to create a written document on the screen or printed page. Writers must learn to design a layout to emphasize key messages, to select typography to improve readability, and make choices about line length, line spacing, and justification to improve readability.
PARAGRAPHS: This system involves the anatomy of a topic sentence, the logical shape of a paragraph, unity, coherence, development and length. Writers need to understand how topic sentences, which control the focus of a paragraph, are structured, how they convey the topic and the controlling idea. They also need to understand the main paragraph shapes (deductive, inductive, hybrid) and why each is used. Further, writers need to ensure unity throughout a paragraph, as well as coherence. Coherence is enhanced through the “known/new contract” and by continuous and discontinuous logic markers. Finally, writers need to know how to gauge when a paragraph is adequately developed and how to manage paragraph length.
SENTENCES: This system includes the logical core of a sentence, which our brains are physically wired to seek; subordination and coordination; right-, mid-, and left-branching structures; places of emphasis within a sentence; when to use the passive voice; and managing wordiness, which includes the weak verb syndrome and redundancy.
WORD CHOICES: This system includes the issues of plain English, accuracy, tone, precision, abstract and concrete words, and diplomacy.
MECHANICS: This system includes punctuation and grammar. Acceptable punctuation is an evolving issue. Recently punctuation has been changed by electronic media. Grammar is the specific vocabulary needed to discuss the workings of a sentence. Just as any endeavor—from auto mechanics to medical practice to golf and weaving—has its own specific vocabulary, “grammar” helps explain how sentences function. Functional grammar is relatively simple; a workable collection of grammar terms and functional concepts can be learned in thirty minutes.
I AM GLAD TO HELP YOU INCORPORATE THIS SYSTEMATIC APPROACH INTO YOUR CLASSROOM OR OFFICE
Please email me for more information (Harvey@QCGwrite.com).