Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Traditional Process Studies Had to Omit Procrastination

My study goes against the grain of process pedagogy, I think. You see, procrastination is a process issue, even if no process theorist has ever talked about procrastination in an article. But I'm really studying the written product! I'm not analyzing protocols of the steps the participants went through as they wrote their papers. I'm circling and categorizing errors. Sure, I'm also looking at questionnaires in which the participants gave some information about their writing process, but this isn't how process studies traditionally go.

And that's got to be part of the reason that procrastination wasn't studied during the heyday of process studies. If you're doing the cognitive protocol-based study, you're in a controlled environment watching the participant go through the whole process of writing. And while you can get useful information that way, you're missing a huge part of the picture of writing. The huge part that allows you to procrastinate for hours, days, weeks, or more. Time.

If you take writing out of a laboratory setting, a lot more goes on. You can't very well follow a freshman around for the whole semester to jot down every time she thinks about her term paper out loud. So while technically procrastination is a process issue, it didn't fit into the model for empirical studies that process theorists were using.

This is bad. What it did was allow our profession to have strong feelings about procrastination as an important issue since it apparently represented a dysfunctional writing process without research to support our beliefs. If we're teaching process, we're not going to just let our students wait until the last minute to start working on their papers--they need to be thinking and prewriting and drafting and revising over the course of time. Not just churning something out the night before the paper is due.

But none of this is based on empirical research. There weren't any studies done in our field to suggest that procrastination led to bad writing--and how do we know it's part of a bad process if we don't know it leads to a bad product?


Anonymous said...

You're research into procrastination's actual effects (not merely speculated effects) on the product (in this case grammar, punctuation) looks pretty product-oriented. But since you're actually looking at a process, then you have process as well. The bad grammar, punctuation serves as an epiphenomenon of procrastination. Or does it? That's what your research answers or at least attempts to answer.

At the end of the day, the null hypothesis is that procrastination has no effect on grammar, punct. You want to see if this is the case. 95 percentile is the null. You go outside of that and into 5% you know procrastination has some effect (good or bad). That's what your study can at least show.

Of course your study might need to take into account issues heteroskedasticity (the differences among the samples themselves compared to the differences between procrastinators and non-procrastinators). As many big words English majors like, heteroskedasticity probably isn't one of them. But you have to admit, it would be neat to actually have one thesis out of the English department that has that word in it :)

In the end if your study shows too much problem in it that it's hard to say anything positively about anything (like your curve has no reliable bell curve like shape to give any reliable predictions - obviously if its a little skewed to the right or left you can still make pretty good predictions), it was still worth it and you can definitely spend some time talking about how the data didn't yield anything.

In the end, I think procrastination just comes down to personality type. Something that no one seems to want to deal with. I can understand why since even though there are a variety of personality types, some particular types outweigh others. People think of procrastination as a vice but you'll find that lots of people, including professors themselves, brag about their ability to procrastinate and yet produce a wonderful polished article. And it's true, they do. People like to brag about vices. It begins to make you wonder. Is it really a vice if people seem to benefit from it so well and so does their product?

It also begs the question, what the hell would people do if they did start a paper at the first minute they could and worked on it? Originally they decided not to fight the impulse to go have fun. But if you have to fight the impulse to have fun instead of work on a paper as soon as possible, when you know fully well (and it's strongly burning in your mind) that you can be having fun right at the moment, what kind of paper are you going to produce? Seriously?

Amy said...


I think the personality type issue is worth studying--there's not a lot of research on that. But I have looked at an article about "active" procrastination which suggests that people who procrastinate with purpose don't suffer the same consequences as those who feel like victims of their environment or weak will or whatever.

I definitely agree that the advice to start a paper immediately is not always great. I've tried writing papers when I wasn't motivated, and usually I had to scrap everything I wrote. But you can't wait forever for motivation to hit you over the head!