Process Notes by Wee Zi Jian

This research paper was the capstone of my WCT module, UWC2101D Narrative in Everyday Life. The writing process behind it essentially comprises 3 main parts: formulating an interesting research question, applying the essay writing skills learnt in class, and finally rewriting it based on comments from peers and Prof Vail.

Thinking of an interesting topic to write about was probably the hardest part of the essay. Looking back, I think what helped was the breaking up of the class into groups to brainstorm and choose a common theme to write about. I can’t quite recall how my group chose “embarrassment”, but from here everything somehow fell into place and I became interested in why exactly people tell embarrassing stories of themselves. In the 2 years since WCT, thinking of interesting essay topics has always been the most difficult part, so perhaps writing a good essay requires some luck and inspiration. Once the research question was clear (i.e. why do people tell embarrassing stories of themselves?), I kept going back to it as I wrote the paper, and writing became manageable and interesting.

I found the writing assignments of my WCT module especially useful when crafting this paper, as each assignment honed a specific skill that came in handy. In order of importance, I would say the precis and sentence-level writing exercises were the most critical, as they lay the foundation for clear writing. Throughout the writing process, I found myself evaluating each sentence to see if they could be shortened or rewritten more clearly. Writing in the active voice (he kicked the ball vs the ball was kicked by him) and trimming excess words forced me to scrutinize my arguments closely to see if they made sense.

The literature review assignment was the next most useful exercise, as it helped integrate prior research to substantiate the final essay. Consolidating the works of Goffman, Schiffrin, Bruner etc. helped me formulate the arguments for my essay. For example, if Goffman suggests that embarrassment is a deviation from a coherent sense of self, and Bruner states that we construct a narrative identity for ourselves, then perhaps why we tell embarrassing stories of ourselves is to reconstruct our narrative identity post-embarrassment to restore a coherent self. Analyzing the collected narratives in light of these ideas was then a simpler task, as I had my arguments in mind already.

Finally, this essay owes much credit to my WCT classmates and Prof Vail for their invaluable comments. I think essay writing can often entrap one in a bubble, requiring others to provide insight and new perspectives. In my draft, I had analyzed both narratives similarly, suggesting that both Joe and Sam had constructed benign identities for themselves. However, Prof Vail commented that a sharper point could be made for Sam’s narrative. Sam didn’t just create a benign identity, he had set up the narrative to ensure that a very specific side of him, his ingenuity and skill, was emasculated rather than his romantic side in the embarrassing event. It was insights like these that helped improve the draft to create this final research paper.

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