Intellectual Openness refers to a cluster of personality traits related to curiosity, to experimenting with new experiences, and to being willing to change one’s opinion in the face of evidence and reasoning.
Realize your potential by openning yourself to
Writing, a process of thinking on the page (or computer terminal!), is fueled by intellectual openness.
Sometimes you won’t know what you want to say before you write. Sometimes your research will undercover results that emphatically contradict your thesis or hypothesis. Sometimes you’ll be working in groups and find your colleagues are all charging off in different directions.
Writing can be challenging, particularly when tasks you are deeply committed to are rebuked by your readers. Almost inevitably, there will be instances when you have to open yourself to critique, whether it’s self-critique and the critique of others. On occasion, this can be painful. Because there will be times, given the generative nature of language, that you discover what you want to say only at the end. And that discovery may require a complete rewrite. Plus, you have to push yourself out of habits in order to learn if other intellectual strategies can lead to more productive results.
Intellectual Openness & The Writing Process
Collaborating with co-authors and teams requires writers to experiment with new roles, listening and responding to diverse views and critical feedback. Almost inevitably, there will be instances when you have to open yourself to critique, whether it’s self-critique and the critique of others.
Another obstacle to writing well, what Richard Graves once called The Reader Over Your Shoulder, is the necessity to be open to diverse, alternative readings of your text. We often first write for ourselves, what Linda Flower once called “writer-based prose.” But to successfully communicate, you need to write “reader-based prose.” This requires that you go beyond your own perspective and empathize with your audience, even when they have contradictory attitudes, experiences, and knowledge.
Mastery of different genres and research methods requires openness to new writing tools, communicating channels, and writing tools. Conflict resolution is impossible without embracing the perspectives of all the disputants. Rhetoric requires getting beyond your own perspective and writing instead with a sense of audience.
Information Literacy is the epitome of openness. Well, it’s true that hacks and intellectual frauds ignore disconfirming information and look only for confirming information. Still, at least in theory, writers are opening themselves to learning and thinking when gathering and evaluating information, understanding how information is produced and valued, being aware of ethical and legal issues regarding information use, weaving sources into your texts without losing your voice and focus, and citing sources.
Invention and Revision: Writing well requires being open to chaos & ambiguity. Sometimes you won’t know what you want to say before you write. Sometimes your research will undercover results that emphatically contradict your thesis or hypothesis.
In summary, in the face of failure, negative feedback or self reflection, you may need to re-assess how you compose. Sometimes you have to push yourself out of habits in order to learn if other habits can be more productive.
At Writing Commons, we are eager to publish research and theory as well as pedagogical exercises that help students embrace Intellectual Openness. Please see Contribute to learn about how you can collaborate with us and help students along the way.