Research Methods in Writing Studies

English 891z: Introduction to Research on Writing

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to research methodologies in composition/rhetoric and literacy studies. One of the challenges of writing research is understanding its moving parts—what these are, how they interact, and how they evolve over time. Therefore, the course is structured as one pass at designing a research project: beginning with problems and questions; moving through design, collection, and analysis; and ending with writing and reflection. Along the way, we will read a wide array of approaches to research, and hear from several guest speakers on these topics, in pursuit of the following goals:

  • identify the pressing issues, questions, and debates that motivate research on writing
  • become familiar with a range of methodological options in the fields of rhetoric, composition, and literacy (visiting some others as well)
  • strengthen your ability to evaluate research and identify areas of intervention
  • engage in the kinds of thinking and inquiry activities required for qualitative research
  • question and critically reflect on what it means to conduct research on writing

Required Texts (Additional articles and chapters posted on course Moodle page)

Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. 3rd Edition. Sage, 2013. By Joseph A. Maxwell (on calendar as Maxwell)

Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies. Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 2012. By Eds. Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan (on calendar as WSRP)


Reading responses (500 words/week), 20%

Reading and preparation writing are absolutely required for this course. Especially because of the smaller course size, everyone is expected to be present, prepared, and participating during every class meeting. You will synthesize each week’s reading by responding to the following prompts:

  • What interesting issues, complexities, or lines of inquiry do these readings raise for you?
  • What do you find yourself responding to most strongly? Where are your skepticisms or concerns?
  • What questions does this work pose in your mind?

This writing is informal and just for you. Bring it to class in whatever form suits you best. You will use it as a basis for your discussion contributions.

Pilot study and critical reflection (2000 words), 30%

This is a two-part project.

  • First, conduct a short exploratory study on a research question that currently interests you. This activity aims primarily to give you hands on experience focusing a research question, planning a study, and experimenting with interviewing, text analysis, observation or other methods. You might approach this as a pilot or preliminary study for a future study.
  • Then, write a 2000-word critical reflection on the study, including a description of the study’s site, participants, and data collection; identification of any themes or patterns for potential analysis; and a reflection on 1) how your study fits into the landscape of writing research’s problems and questions, 2) how you and your participants experienced the study, and 3) what you will change for the next time around.

Evolving research project proposal (4000 words), 50%

This also is a two-part project.

  • Over the course of the semester, you will compose draft sections of an evolving research project proposal, based on your understanding of each week’s reading as well as your own scholarly interests. These sections will include a research problem and questions, conceptual or theoretical framework, methodology, data collection, and data analysis.
  • By the end of the semester, you will be ready to revise these sections into the framework of a research proposal, potentially for a dissertation or other research goal. It is deemed “evolving” in recognition that it will continue to change after this course, primarily with a more substantial literature review than you will be able to accomplish this semester.

Course Calendar

All reading and writing listed on a given day should be completed for discussion on that day.

Week 1 1/25 Mapping Research on Writing

  • Dryer “Tabling the Issues”
  • Nystrand et al. “Where Did Composition Studies Come From?”
  • Prior and Thorne “Research Paradigms”
Week 2 2/1 Problem and Exigency

  • Bazerman “The Disciplined Interdisciplinarity of Writing Studies”
  • Takayoshi et al. “The Construction of Research Problems and Methods”
  • Maxwell chapters 1 and 2

Due: Evolving research problem

Week 3 2/8 Theoretical / Conceptual / Interpretive Frameworks

  • Maxwell chapter 3 “Conceptual Framework: What Do You Think is Going On?”
  • Blair “Triangulating Feminism, Activism, and Tech Literacy” WSRP
  • Cresswell “Philosophical Assumptions and Interpretive Frameworks”
  • Becker “Terrorized by the Literature”
  • Smagorinsky “The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter”
  • Crotty diagrams

Due: Evolving theoretical framework

Week 4 2/15 Questions and Design

  • Maxwell chapter 4 “Research Questions: What Do You Want to Understand?”
  • Broad “Strategies and Passions in Empirical Qualitative Research WSRP
  • Cresswell excerpts from “Designing a Qualitative Study”
  • Bazerman “Research in the Middle Range”
  • Haswell “NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship”

Due: Evolving research questions

Week 5 2/22 Methodology

  • Sheridan “Making Ethnography Our Own” WSRP
  • Grabill “CBR and the Importance of a Research Stance” WSRP
  • Cresswell excerpts from “Five Qualitative Approaches to Inquiry”
  • Lillis “Ethnography as Method, Methodology, and Deep Theorizing”

Due: Evolving methodology

Week 6 3/1 Ethics: Site / Participants / IRB

  • McKee and Porter “The Ethics of Conducting Writing Research on the Internet” WSRP
  • Pavia “Ethical Methods for Studying Writing in Religious Contexts”
  • Haas “Ethical Dilemmas and Methodological Decision-Making” (Dartmouth)
  • Anderson et al. “Guidelines for the Ethical Treatment of Students and Student Writing in Composition Studies”
  • Seidman “Interviewing as a Relationship”

Due: CITI training certificate (to begin IRB approval)

Week 7 3/8 Methods: Data Collection

  • Maxwell chapter 5 “Methods: What Will You Actually Do?”
  • Cresswell excerpts from “Data Collection”
  • Hull and Katz “Case Studies in Digital Storytelling”
  • Prior “A Case Study of Response, Revision, and Disciplinary Enculturation”
  • Nowacek excerpt

Due: Pilot Study Plan

Guest: Rebecca Nowacek

3/15 No Class – Spring Break
Week 8 3/22 Methods: Data Collection

  • Seidman “A Structure for In-Depth, Phenomenological Interviewing”
  • Fontana and Frey “The Interview: From Neutral Stance to Political Involvement”
  • Lang and Baehr “Data Mining: A Hybrid Methodology for Complex and Dynamic Research”
  • Glenn and Enoch “Drama in the Archives: Rereading Methods, Rewriting History”
  • Wan “The Writing Classroom and the Promise of Citizenship”

Due: Evolving data collection

Guest: Amy Wan

Week 9 3/29 Methods: Data Analysis

  • Haas et al. “Analytic Strategies, Competent Inquiries, and Methodological Tensions in the Study of Writing” WSRP
  • Cresswell excerpts from “Data Analysis and Representation”
  •  Farkas and Haas “A Grounded Theory Approach for Studying Writing and Literacy”
  • Brandt excerpt from Rise of Writing
  • Rounsaville “Genre Repertoires from Below”

Due: Evolving data analysis

Guest: Angela Rounsaville

Week 10 4/5 Methods: Data Analysis

  • Huckin et al. “Critical Discourse Analysis and Rhetoric and Composition”
  • Barton “Linguistic Discourse Analysis”
  • Trainor “Understanding White Talk About Race”
  • Olson “U.S. National Rhetorics and the Figure of Latin America”

Due: Pilot Study Critical Reflection Draft

Guest: Christa Olson

Week 11 4/12 Ethics and Reflection

  • Maxwell chapter 6 “Validity: How Might You Be Wrong?”
  • Powell and Takayoshi “Intro: Revealing Methodology”
  • Solberg “Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History”
  • Alcoff “The Problem of Speaking for Others”
  • Alvarez excerpts

Due: Pilot Study Critical Reflection

Guest: Steven Alvarez

Week 12 4/19 Writing Research

  • Maxwell chapter 7 “Research Proposals: Presenting and Justifying a Qualitative Study”
  • Cresswell excerpts from “Writing a Qualitative Study”
  • Haas “Writing to be Read”
  • Vieira “Fieldwork with a Five Year Old”

Guest: Kate Vieira

Week 13 4/26 Research Presentations
5/8 Evolving Dissertation Proposal Due