Writing can help readers access a text that is challenging to read whether the text is a literary masterpiece, a piece of governmental legalize, or a novel filled with abstract concepts. If we reflect on what we already know about the topic, then it is easier to move into new material. Taking a moment to write what we know about a subject creates a framework in our awareness on which to hang new information.
Say we want to read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and aren’t sure we can understand it, what might we write (to gather our thoughts)? Well, we might start with chronology. Time is linear. It’s divided into periods. We have long periods, like a millennium, but each period is then broken down into smaller segments; millennia become centuries, which become decades, then years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. We could continue to divide the segments until we reach the Planck time scale at 10-44. But wait, just as we’re starting to think we know something about time, we remember that some cultures consider time to be not linear but cyclical, where ages happen over and over. Still, we have begun our dive into understanding the concept of time. We have a framework created from our old understandings into which we can integrate new ideas, so now we can read more complex ideas and consider more abstract relationships related to time.
So, we pick up Hawking’s book and find it more readable than we expected. Bolstered by our own framework of understanding about time, we read with more confidence and learn about his view of time in relation to the Big Bang theory.
To cement our understanding of what we’ve read, we can return after reading once again to reflective writing to firm up what we’ve learned. We can integrate our understanding of Hawking’s theory of time beginning after the Big Bang to our own framework of ideas about time, including the linear and the cyclical models. We emerge from this experience with a comprehensive grasp of what we’ve read because we’ve integrated the new information we just read into the understanding we already held in memory. We reflected on what we already knew about time, using a wandering, unrestricted style of writing and arrived at a solid expansion of our understanding, a larger whole–always our goal.
Reflective writing has pragmatic benefits as well as creative benefits. We can explore old realms of knowledge. We can move into new areas of thoughts. We can follow the integration of old and new knowledge and arrive at an expanded understanding of our topic. With reflective writing, we begin with what we know and let that lead us forward into new vistas of thought.