Double-Entry Response Format

The double-entry format is a useful technique to help you extend your thinking about a source or to critique an rhetor’s text.

One very effective technique for avoiding note-bound prose is to respond to powerful quotations in what  Ann Berthoff calls the double-entry notebook form. The double-entry form shows the direct quotation on the left side of the page and your response to it on the right. There are two advantages to this technique:

  • it helps you think about your subject;
  • it helps you step away from your sources and discover your own approach and voice.

Double-Entry Example: Extending Thinking

They [i.e., creative ideas] may indeed occur at times of relaxation, or in fantasy, or at other times when we alternate play with work. But what is entirely clear is that they pertain to those areas in which the person consciously has worked laboriously and with dedication. Purpose in the human being is a much more complex phenomenon than what used to be called will power. Purpose involves all levels of experience. We cannot will to have insights. We cannot will creativity. But we can will to give ourselves to the encounter with intensity of dedication and commitment. The deeper aspects of awareness are activated to the extent that the person is committed to the encounter.
(Rollo May, The Courage to Create, 46)
I’m absolutely certain that Rollo May is right: Total involvement in the “encounter” of the creative process is crucial for the emergence of the Eureka moment.

Unfortunately, I think, too many people are too uncomfortable about the intrusion of the disruptive “right brain” or “unconscious.” They dislike the creative process because of the fear of chaos and of failure.

How, then, can we encourage people to “submerge” themselves, to lose themselves in an idea or feeling, long enough to experience the Gestalt, the felt sense, the joy, the bliss, the jouissance? If students could only experience this passion for the creative process, they would learn that writing is not a boring, mechanical process of filling in completed thoughts into pre-established modes of discourse.

Double-Entry Example: Critique a Passage

Below is an example of how a double-entry format can be used to critique a document. When reading the following excerpt on the greenhouse effect, what questions do you believe a skilled reader would raise?

The greenhouse effect is likely to change rainfall patterns, raise sea levels 4 to 7 feet by the year 2100, and increase the world’s mean temperature 2.7 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2050 (Brown and Flavin 6, 16). Everyone will suffer as irrigation and drainage systems become useless and agriculture faces its first changes in a “global climatic regime” that has changed little since farming began (Brown annd Flavin 16). Some places will cease to be productive, such as the North American heartland and the Soviet Union’s grain belt (Brown and Flavin 17). Although some areas, previously unproductive, will suddenly become good farmland, scientists say these climate shifts could occur so abruptly that agricultural losses would be hard to readily adjust for (Brown and Flavin 16). On what evidence is this information based?

According to the Works Cited section, this information appears in the following source: Brown, Lester R., and Christopher Flavin. “The Earth’s Vital Signs.” State of the World (1988): 5-7, 16-17. Critical readers would probably question the reliability of this source because the claims are so controversial and because they are not familiar with the journal.

The credibility of this information could be significantly improved by “power quoting.”

Brown and Flavin may be correct in their dire predictions. However, chances are that critical readers such as your instructors would be more likely to believe these predictions if additional information about the authors and their research were provided or if the authors could “power quote”—that is, cite numerous other studies that reached similar conclusions.