Tag Archives: ENG 5002 Research and Methods

The Practicality of Discourse Analysis

This week’s reading, “When Students Want to Stand Out: Discourse Moves in Online Classroom Discussion That Reflect Students’ Needs for Distinctiveness” by Li-Tang Yu et al., is cementing my appreciation for discourse analysis as a methodology. The study sought to discover how students’ desire to be “unique” affects their participation in online class discussions. The authors describe each student’s contributions in detail, explaining which students initiated discussions, “killed” threads, made social vs. cognitive comments, etc. Ultimately, the researchers found “no relationship between need for uniqueness and amount of contribution to the discussion.” (Yu et al. 9). 

I genuinely enjoyed reading this article. Admittedly, a lot of the academic theories about different types of identity and “uniqueness-seeking needs” went over my head, but after taking and teaching online classes both pre- and mid-pandemic, I definitely understand the dynamics of an online discussion board. The authors demonstrate their understanding of these dynamics through thorough, detailed descriptions of each student’s contributions. 

These descriptions turn the participants into a cast of stereotypical classroom characters that remind me of people I’ve taken classes with previously. I could picture Nelson, whose comments are described as “dogmatic or monologic” (5), as that one guy who takes the class way too seriously and ends up mansplaining things in a pompous and overly academic tone. (I’m not the only one who’s had classes with a Nelson before, right?) I could also picture Dee, who made many “playful” comments and used emoticons, as a bubbly cheerleader who applauds other students’ ideas and boosts their self esteem (8).

Not only do the authors clearly describe all of the unique contributions to the online discussions, but they also analyze the discourse moves in students’ comments. Yu et al. coded the comments into social or cognitive categories, such as “straightforward information exchange,” “discussion of complexity,” and “agreement or appreciation” (5). Honestly, the process of coding all of that data seems like it would be a fun intellectual challenge, and part of me wants to change the methodology for my thesis from phenomenology to discourse analysis so I can meticulously scan my own data line by line to find out what “discourse moves” my participants make. 

Really, the only thing stopping me from pursuing discourse analysis in my own research is that I’m still struggling to understand its practicality for the field of education. At the end of this study, Yu et al. ultimately conclude that “need for uniqueness” doesn’t affect how engaged students are in the discussion or how much they enjoy the course. So, what’s the point? The study didn’t discover anything new. I guess you could argue that negative results are still results because they can disprove assumptions, but I can’t say I ever assumed that “need for uniqueness” would have any effect on student engagement, so I’m not sure why there needed to be a study about it. 

I enjoyed reading this article because, as someone studying English Writing and teaching Spanish, I’m obviously pretty interested in language and discourse. But I can’t see how this study is useful beyond being a sort of interesting read. What could a teacher realistically do with this information in practice? This study (and the methodology in general) feels very academic and far removed from everyday practice to me. I want the practical implications of my own research to be immediately apparent, so as much as I like discourse analysis, I’ll be sticking with phenomenology for my thesis.

Studying Case Study

Donna M. Zucker’s article “How to Do Case Study Research” explains the methodology behind case studies and provides an example of a case study from the medical field. Zucker quotes Bromley to define case study as “a ‘systematic inquiry into an event or a set of related events which aims to describe and explain the phenomenon of interest.’” She breaks down the methodology into three distinct stages: describing experience, describing meaning, and focus of the analysis. In addition, she stresses the importance of rigor in case study, explaining that researchers must ensure their research is authentic, trustworthy, and dependable.

When describing the final write up of the case, Zucker explains that the researcher should use whatever style is appropriate for the context of the research. This might mean giving a straightforward description or taking a “narrative, biography, or autobiographical approach.” I’m really drawn to using the latter method when writing my own research. I originally wanted to use autoethnography as my method because it allows the researcher to be more creative. Conducting a case study instead of an autoethnography would therefore allow me to use a more established, well-regarded method while still employing my creative writing skills. Of course, phenomenology—the method I’m currently leaning towards the most—also has this benefit, as the goal of that methodology is to immerse readers in the participants’ experiences.

Not only do I see some elements of autoethnography and phenomenology in case study, but I also think this methodology is similar to a lot of the other methods we’ve studied. For example, in the first stage of case study—describing experience—the researcher creates broad interview questions, takes field notes, searches for other relevant sources of data, and reviews the literature. As Hugo mentions in his blog, this stage of research sounds like an amalgamation of all of the methods we’ve studied before. The broad, open ended interview questions remind me of both phenomenology and discourse analysis, while the coding and recursive review of literature remind me of grounded theory. 

To better understand what I’m starting to think is a “catchall” method, I tried applying some of its elements to my own research (key word: “tried.” I’m not sure if I understood everything in this article correctly, as the examples given are from the medical field rather than the humanities). Zucker states that in the “describing meaning” portion of case study, the researcher connects the data to relevant theories and finds different levels of theoretical meaning. The “first level” of meaning Zucker describes is a foundational “meaning of signs and symbols.” I think this level of meaning in my own research (which aims to explore the experiences of educators working in hybrid classrooms during the pandemic) would relate to the different definitions of hybrid, remote, asynchronous, and synchronous instruction. 

The second level, or the “meaning of people, things and events in a person’s life,” would likely describe what the experience of working and learning during hybrid instruction has been for teachers, students, parents, etc. Finally, the “macro-level…meaning of life as a whole” would explore what this experience will mean for the education system moving forward—will hybrid instruction, in which educators must simultaneously conduct live lessons for both virtual and in person students, become a staple in future classrooms? How will these new responsibilities affect the nation’s teacher shortages and schools’ poor retention rates? Will this experience have wide-reaching effects on students’ performance, achievement, and/or mental health?

I realize these are big questions that I most likely won’t be able to answer in my own research. Still, I’m really tempted to use case study in my thesis because I want to know about what Zucker describes as the “how and why” of hybrid: How did hybrid learning affect teachers, students, and the education system as a whole? Why did schools decide on this method of simultaneous live instruction when there are so many other ways to have a “blended” classroom (i.e., some days, students learn in person, while on other days, they receive asynchronous assignments)?  

However, exploring these aspects of hybrid may broaden the scope of my research too much. I’m very aware that as a graduate student, I have limited time and resources to complete my research. Although pursuing case study is tempting, I need to be realistic about my limitations. Right now, phenomenology still looks like my best bet if I want to conduct a thorough exploration into hybrid instruction.

I’ve (Maybe) Chosen My Method

Helene Starks and Susan Trinidad’s article “Choose Your Method: A Comparison of Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory” offers a comparison of three different methodologies with the goal of helping novice researchers decide on the best option for their own studies. The authors explain the goals, data collection techniques, and end results of studies conducted using phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. Phenomenology, they explain, is meant to describe a lived experience; discourse analysis examines the influence of language on “cultural, social, and political practices”; and grounded theory explains “basic social practices” and “knowledge of social realities” (1374). Although their goals, audiences, and sample sizes are different, all three methods have similar data collection techniques—namely, “observation, interviews, and close reading” (1375).

 After reading this handy comparison of methodologies, I’m leaning heavily towards phenomenology for my own research. However, I’m intrigued by the other two methods, as well. I find the questions raised through discourse analysis about how language affects culture and society to be fascinating, but I don’t think discourses are relevant to the research questions I have. In my thesis, I want to study the reality teachers experienced (and are still experiencing) during COVID-19, but something about discourse analysis seems very academic and theoretical to me.

As enjoyable as I think it would be to meticulously analyze language, I don’t want my research to just be a fun intellectual exercise; I want my thesis to be practical and useful not just for academics, but also for the people who have been affected by the changes to education during this pandemic. Of course, that’s not to say that discourse analysis isn’t useful or that language doesn’t have practical implications on people’s lives, but I think studying someone’s lived experiences is a much more obvious way to ensure my study has a practical end result. 

I’m also feeling really torn between phenomenology and grounded theory because I’m really not sure where I want my research to take me. I’m wondering if there’s a way to use some elements of grounded theory in my study while still keeping the overall methodology closer to phenomenology because I want to start the research process with an open mind and allow the new information I encounter to guide my further studies. The constant re-evaluation of the data in grounded theory would come easily to me because it reminds me of the way I teach, but I don’t think I’m looking to formulate a new theory about “basic social processes” (1374). I just want to explain how people experienced a phenomenon. In addition, I’m very aware that while writing my thesis, I’ll have limited time and resources, so the small sample size needed for phenomenology is a big plus.

I’m also drawn to phenomenology because the end product is filled with “anecdotes or thematic stories” that immerse the reader in the lived experiences of the study’s participants. Before reading about phenomenology, I originally wanted to conduct an autoethnography because I really love how creative and story-like that methodology is, but I was a little wary of the ethical concerns that would inevitably arise if I chose to write about my own life and to include information about the people I have personal relationships with.

Phenomenology seems to make those ethical issues clearer because all of the participants are willingly giving interviews; they can choose what information to include or omit. With autoethnography, on the other hand, you as the researcher are the one deciding who and what to include in your story, and it’s a lot harder to keep important figures anonymous. Overall, Starks and Trinidad’s article really helped me get a clearer picture of the goals and techniques of grounded theory, phenomenology, and discourse analysis, and I now have a much better idea of the methodologies that will be best suited for my own research question.

Serial Killers and Second Languages: Exploring Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis has me thinking about serial killers. Before I can explain why I’m mentioning violent murderers, though, I have to explain discourse analysis. Tatyana Bondarouk and Huub Ruel’s article “Discourse Analysis: Making Complex Methodology Simple” describes discourse analysis as a methodology with origins in hermeneutics. They outline the hermeneutical belief that “interpretations give a meaning to a text within a framework of the interpreter’s experiences” (which reminds me a lot of reader response theory) and explain the “hermeneutic circle [which] is continually open for re-interpretation” (which reminds me of grounded theory).

In addition to explaining the theoretical roots of discourse analysis, the authors also include detailed descriptions of each step of their process, complete with tables and charts. Admittedly, I had to reread some of the charts a few times before I could make sense of them, but I did appreciate having some concrete examples of how exactly discourse analysis could be applied to research. 

As they explain their research process, the authors describe conducting informal interviews in which the interviewer is an active participant. Here’s where I started to think about serial killers. There’s this great show on Netflix called Mindhunter about two FBI agents who interview notorious serial killers during the 1970s. As they attempt to perfect and streamline the interview process, the agents clash with a psychologist who wants them to be the “speaking questionnaires” that Bondarouk and Ruel describe. 

The FBI agents, however, are more active in the interview process—they use the same “snowballing technique” as Bondarouk and Ruel by asking new questions based on what they’ve learned from previous killers; they use informal language to get the killers more comfortable; and they ask “provocative questions” to elicit authentic, unfiltered responses. They even perform rudimentary “member checks” by re-visiting specific killers and asking for clarification on certain topics. 

If you like dark, dramatic thrillers based on true events, I highly recommend you check out Mindhunter!

In these interviews, the FBI agents engage in what James Gee describes as “Discourses, with a capital ‘D.’” In his article “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics,” Gee describes Discourse as not just language use, but as “ways of being in the world” (526). The way the FBI agents in Mindhunter speak and act when they return to the conservative Bureau sharply contrasts the casual, offensive, and violent language they use to connect with serial killers; they utilize different Discourses in different contexts. 

Gee explains that these different Discourses are ways of communicating that, like a foreign language, cannot be learned in a classroom, but must be acquired through experience. His discussion of the conflict and tension that arises as people attempt to balance their “primary Discourse”—or their “original and home-based sense of identity”—with their “secondary Discourses”—i.e., the ways of communicating they learn in the “public sphere” (Gee 527)—reminds me of the literature I analyzed for my undergraduate thesis; I studied texts by Latino authors that use code-switching to reveal the challenges of balancing two different cultural identities. One of the works I explicated was “Bilingual Blues” by Gustavo Pérez Firmat, which is a short poem that clearly articulates the speaker’s struggles to balance his primary Discourse as a Cuban with his secondary Discourse as an immigrant in the United States. 

Not only does straddling these different Discourses cause personal and emotional strife, but, as Gee explains, it can also affect a person’s social status. The author compares “dominant Discourses,” which are considered mainstream and prestigious, to “nondominant Discourses,” and he explains that it’s difficult for those engaged in nondominant Discourses to gain prestige and power because it’s impossible to learn a new Discourse unless you’ve experienced it. This discussion of gatekeeping in dominant Discourses reminds me of Patrick Hartwell’s article “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar” (on which I gave a presentation last semester). Hartwell’s article explains how grammar is a Discourse that can’t be taught through explicit instruction, so it’s one of many barriers keeping marginalized people from opening the gates to the world of wealth, prestige, and power.

Flexibility and Discovery in Grounded Theory

Grounded theory feels like a research methodology that was designed with indecisive procrastinators like me in mind. According to “Grounded Theory Methodology”—which gives a detailed overview of the history, purpose, and key elements of grounded theory—in this methodology, theory emerges from the data. The researcher continually evaluates the collected data, comparing and analyzing it so that it can be grouped into categories in a process called “coding.” These categories are used to refine the research question, promote further data collection, and discover data-driven theories. 

After reading this article, I still had some practical questions about how to implement grounded theory, but Todd Migliaccio and Dan Melzer’s “Using Grounded Theory in Writing Assessment” provides specific examples of each step of the process, which cleared up a lot of the questions I had. The authors describe how they used grounded theory to review the writing of sociology students and determine which issues in the students’ writing needed to be addressed by the department. The researchers analyzed faculty’s comments on student papers to determine which criteria were essential for evaluating these sociology papers, which allowed the sociology department to mold their writing rubrics to fit their needs. 

I liked this article for a lot of reasons: first, it answered a lot of my questions about how to apply grounded theory to research by providing a detailed example of a study that used this methodology in relation to writing instruction (a topic I’m obviously interested in and somewhat familiar with as an English Writing graduate student). In addition, I like the idea of taking the time to really analyze student writing in order to address the specific concerns of a department instead of just using a generic rubric and assuming it will work for all disciplines.

I liked reading both of these articles because I’m really intrigued by the methodology of grounded theory. It seems like this method would be perfect for me because I’m not much of a planner—I sort of just go with the flow, both in my personal and professional lives. A big reason for this (besides the fact that I’m a chronic procrastinator, and planning implies not waiting till the last minute for everything) is that when I’m teaching, I need to be flexible. I could spend hours crafting the perfect lesson only for it to go up in smoke because the kids aren’t getting it, or they are getting it so well that they breeze through it in half the time I thought it would take, or it gets interrupted by a surprise fire drill. 

Instead of trying to create learning activities based on what should theoretically be a successful lesson, I need to continually evaluate my students’ behaviors, progress, interests, etc., in order to restructure my plans to match my students’ needs. Although I don’t go through a rigorous data collection process to do this (in fact, I often do it on the fly, mid-lesson), I think this flexible mindset relates to the basic premise of grounded theory. Just like my lesson plans emerge from observations of my students’ needs, in grounded theory, the theory emerges from the data. 

Another reason I love grounded theory is because there aren’t assumptions being made in the research question. The goal is to make discoveries based on the data, so the question should be open ended enough to allow a full discovery process. I especially like this concept because it means I don’t need to have a definitive research question set in stone; I can start collecting data to determine which areas of my topic warrant more exploration, and then I can continue to refine my research questions or develop sub-questions based on those discoveries.

I’m having a really tough time narrowing down what exactly I want to ask, so using grounded theory would allow me to ask a broader question and then begin narrowing it down as I start collecting data. Grounded theory is a method that won’t punish my inability to make a decision because this method encourages flexibility and reflexivity rather than immutable plans.

Feelings, Freewriting, and Phenomenology

Phenomenology is an approach to research that focuses on describing people’s lived experiences. “Phenomenology Research Overview” and Thomas Groenewald’s “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated” offer in depth looks at the research process when using this method; both articles suggest interviewing a small number of people to discover how they experienced a specific event or phenomenon. In addition, they suggest that the researchers should practice “bracketing” by carefully sealing away their own biases so as not to taint their interpretation of the data. 

Both of these articles were incredibly helpful in understanding the process of phenomenology. I particularly appreciated Groenewald’s step by step explanation of his own research process and the examples of data he collected, such as interviews, field notes, and essays. He even gives helpful tips about recording audio, storing data, and interpreting field notes and interviews, all of which I’m keeping in the back of my mind for when I begin my own research.

After reading both of those articles, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the structure of phenomenology: you choose a phenomenon to research, interview a few people, make detailed field notes, and then set your own biases aside so you can interpret the data you’ve collected. But then, I read Peter Elbow’s “Toward a Phenomenology of Freewriting,” and suddenly, I felt a lot more confused. Even though he uses the term “phenomenology” in the title, I couldn’t quite see how the same method Groenewald so meticulously describes is present in Elbow’s piece. 

Part of me thinks his article reads more like an autoethnography because he’s using his own personal artifacts—such as journals, feedback to students, etc.—as data, but he’s not really making any statements about culture, which rules out the “ethno” part of autoethnography. He also doesn’t conduct any interviews to find out other people’s experiences with freewriting, nor does he interpret any texts other than his own, which makes me question whether his research can really be considered phenomenology. 

Elbow focuses a lot on his “feelings” rather than on any concrete data. I’m not sure whether that’s just Elbow being Elbow, or whether an emphasis on personal feelings is an integral part of the phenomenological research process. Although I agree (as usual) with pretty much everything Elbow says about the benefits of freewriting, I couldn’t really see how his article could even be considered research; it reads more like a personal reflection on his own writing process and a testament to how well freewriting has worked for him (and only him). 

Of course, just because I’m not convinced Elbow’s article is real research, doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s valuable. After reading his article, I’m feeling inspired to do some freewriting myself to attempt to narrow down my research question. His article also makes me wonder whether there’s a way to combine autoethnography with phenomenology in order to explore the cultural implications of a phenomenon that the researcher has personally experienced. I love the creative aspects of autoethnography and the way the method shines a light on a broader cultural experience, but I also love the in depth personal interviews and meticulous interpretation of data that characterize phenomenology.

The Allure of Autoethnography

The three readings this week turned me into autoethnography’s biggest fan. First, there’s “Autoethnography: An Overview” by Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams, and Arthur P. Bochner; the authors explain autoethnography, defining it as a mixture between autobiography and ethnography in which the researchers use their own personal experiences within a culture to understand and analyze that culture. This article also outlines the common criticisms of the method, and it provides examples of different categories of autoethnography. “Whose Story Is It? An Autoethnography Concerning Narrative Identity” by Alec J. Grant and Laetitia Zeeman shows an example of an autoethnography in which Grant uses his memories and reviews his school magazines to explore the culture of the small town he grew up in. He and Zeeman finish the article with a dialogue about the cultural and metaphorical meanings of the short story.  Finally, in “An Autoethnography on Learning About Autoethnography,” Sarah Wall describes the criticisms of autoethnography, explains its roots in postmodernism, and highlights various examples of other researchers who have put this method into practice.

After reading these articles, I feel drawn to use autoethnography for my own research purposes. I like this method because it feels accessible both for researchers and readers, and it seems like it could lessen the gatekeeping that’s found in traditional academia. When describing postmodernism—the philosophy in which autoethnography is rooted—Wall writes, “many ways of knowing and inquiring are legitimate and…no one should be privileged” (147). There’s a lot of privilege hidden in traditional academia; for example, not everyone has the time, money, energy, resources, power, etc., to conduct research. Autoethnography validates your personal experience as being worthy of inclusion in a study, even if your experience doesn’t align with “traditional” scholarly theories (many of which were posited by white men in positions of power and privilege).  

I also like that autoethnography is actually readable. So many of the scholarly articles I’ve read are filled with impossible to decipher academic jargon describing complex academic theories, but autoethnography tempers those complicated theories by using more literary and “evocative” language (Ellis et al.). “Whose Story Is It?”  illustrates this perfectly; Grant’s short story—which uses the literary conventions of a memoir—is engaging and clear, but his academic dialogue with Zeeman is much denser and more challenging to comprehend. 

It seems counterintuitive to keep your research hidden behind nomenclature so confusing that the real people the research affects can barely understand it. The purpose of research shouldn’t be just to discover new information and share it with like-minded academics, but it should also be to use that information to improve people’s lives in a practical, tangible way. Ellis et al. explain how autoethnography views research as a political and socially just act. I imagine that because researchers employing autoethnography are using their actual lived experiences within a culture, their research will result in more practical, useful, and socially just theories because they’ve lived those theories.

However, the problem with using your lived experience in your research is that the people you live with become part of the study, too. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the ethical implications of autoethnography for this reason. Ellis et al. state that to ensure they’re being ethical, researchers can show their work to anyone mentioned in the narrative in order to gain their approval, or the writer can alter names, locations, and other identifying characteristics to protect the privacy of all involved. But I still have questions about the practicalities of those strategies. For example, how prevalent does a character have to be to warrant showing that person the finished narrative (i.e., if you mention someone once or twice, and they’re not central to the narrative, should you still show them your work)? Do you still need to show them the final draft if you’ve already changed their identifying information? And how much can you alter the story before you compromise the integrity of your results? I’m hoping I can find some way to navigate these ethical concerns, because I’d really love to use autoethnography for my own research.

Questions about My Research Question

Jane Agee’s “Developing qualitative research questions: a reflective process” provides a general overview of how to shape a focused and answerable research question. Agee frames the question-forming process as one of exploration and discovery, emphasizing that researchers must be reflective and flexible enough to allow their questions to evolve and change as the study progresses. She demonstrates how a good question guides a study by providing a specific focus, set of goals, and connection to a theory. In addition, Agee explores the ethical considerations researchers must make as they develop such in-depth inquiries into participants’ lives. 

While reading this article, I was relieved to learn that the research process is ever-evolving. At this point, I feel a bit like Sylvia Plath sitting under a fig tree whose boughs branch out into endless fascinating research questions. I don’t know whether I should ask about digital writing tools, asynchronous learning, hybrid instruction, or something else entirely. It’s good to know that once I choose a topic, the other questions I have won’t wither away like fallen figs; as I begin researching to answer one question, I can discover new avenues to explore that will help me refine and evolve my original inquiry. In other words, Agee helped me realize that the research question I develop isn’t set in stone, and that makes the process of forming my initial inquiry a lot less daunting.  

I also appreciate that Agee provides real examples of research questions and analyzes their effectiveness. Not only did this help me understand how to form a good question, but it also helped me solidify what I don’t want my research question to look like. For example, she cites a study on actors that asks the question, “What does contextual knowledge of working life represent under conditions in which the social setting at the place of work is regarded as a subculture in which norms, traditions, and rituals are created?” (436). Maybe I’m just an uncultured, poorly educated plebeian, but this question reads like unintelligible academic jargon to me. I think the purpose of research should be to ask a useful question whose answer will impact the world in some way. I don’t want to study something just for the sake of sounding smart and scholarly; I want to produce knowledge that enhances my field of study and has practical applications for professionals in the discipline. 

Sometimes, though, it’s easy to get caught up in exploring academic theories and obtaining new, interesting information and to forget about the human impact all qualitative research has. Agee reminds us that as a research question develops, the researcher must consistently reflect on the ethical implications of the study. Since I’m interested in studying something within the field of education, I’ll definitely need to consider how my position as a public school teacher will impact my interactions with participants, whether they be students, colleagues, parents, etc.

Agee’s article gives me a lot to consider as I begin developing my own research question, and it raises a lot of questions about the process, too. For example, she mentions that “selecting a theoretical framework…shapes the questions…[and] connects the research to a particular field” (437). If I’m being totally honest, I have no idea how to go about choosing the correct theory to drive my research. I’m also not sure how to strike a balance between a question that’s so narrow it limits my findings and a question that’s too broad to be answered in a single study. Agee writes that a research question that’s “too focused can lead to ‘tunnel vision,’” (434), but she also warns against “questions that are overly broad and that lack reference to a specific context” (442). Right now, I’m struggling to find the happy medium where my perfect research question can develop.

The Limitations of Liminal Spaces

“Liminal Spaces and Research Identity” by James P. Purdy and Joyce R. Walker explores how first year composition (FYC) courses are transitional spaces in which students begin to form their research identities. The authors argue that many FYC textbooks and professors push a narrow view of the academic research process as a set of linear steps while telling students to leave behind their prior research strategies. Instead of ignoring these nonacademic research practices, the article suggests that students should be encouraged to build upon and adapt them. 

Despite never having taken a FYC course myself, I still think I’ve been indoctrinated into following a prescribed model for academic research in which I scour the library databases for scholarly articles while ignoring all other avenues. Purdy and Walker state that many FYC textbooks imply that if students don’t start their research at the library, “they are not good researchers” (17). I think I’ve internalized this message; last semester, when researching Reconstructing Mayakovsky for my elit class presentation, I remember panicking because I couldn’t find any useful information in Kean’s library databases. It felt wrong to just Google something for an academic paper, even though in both my personal and professional lives, Googling things is my go-to research method. 

According to Purdy and Walker, this false belief that research, instead of being “messy, complicated, and thoughtful,” must follow a linear set of steps “creates an entirely new transitional space…for which [students] will be unprepared” (30). I feel like I’m in that new transitional space now, and it’s kind of overwhelming. Conducting actual academic research without a prescribed set of guidelines feels like uncharted territory. That’s why I liked reading “Swales & the CARS Model”; it gave me a starting point and a logical progression of how my own research might develop. 

However, despite wanting some guidance through the daunting research process, I can also see the value of using strategies that don’t fit into a traditional academic mold. The discourse about academic vs. nonacademic research methods has me thinking about the story of the fourteen year old girl who proved a history professor wrong with a Google search. The professor claimed that “No Irish Need Apply” signs were a fabricated myth meant to perpetuate Irish-Americans’ victimhood, but the teenage girl did some Googling and found dozens of examples of job advertisements and storefronts displaying the signs. (She and the professor even had some back and forth dialogue regarding their respective research, similar to how Schallert and Lee responded to Bamford and Day.) This story is a great example of how digital natives have a toolbox of valuable research strategies that shouldn’t be ignored because, in some cases, these nonacademic approaches outperform the traditional methods. 

Although I agree in general that students’ existing research practices shouldn’t be completely discarded in favor of a strictly academic approach, I still have a few questions about some of Purdy and Walker’s conclusions. For example, they claim that by using a definite article in titles such as “The Research Process” or “The Seven Steps,” textbooks are implying that their research processes are the only ones worth following. This seems like a bit of a stretch. “The Research Process” is probably just an easier phrase to fit into a textbook title than “One Possible Research Process That Might Work for You Depending on the Situation, Your Field of Study, and Other Factors.”

The authors also suggest that many citizens may struggle with using technology to access and analyze accurate information because of “the approach to research taken by instructional texts like those we examined” (31). The authors use a lot of modal verbs in this section, suggesting that these claims are just conjecture. Claims like these ones that feel subjective and unproven make me wonder: How definitive do conclusions have to be when conducting research? Can you make assumptions, or should you only include claims that are thoroughly proven by the data?

I also wonder about the practical implications of the claims Purdy and Walker make. They state that “we must develop pedagogies that ask students to carefully map and examine their search behaviors…and…articulate the methods and strategies they use for evaluating the efficacy of their search practices” (33). While this is a great idea in theory, the article isn’t very specific about what it might look like in practice. As an educator, I often find myself frustrated by theoretical articles that ignore the realities and limitations of the classroom, so I was a bit disappointed in the article’s lack of concrete teaching methods. Perhaps that’s just one of the limitations of research that I’ll have to be prepared for; I imagine thoroughly testing different pedagogies must be a lot more work than simply suggesting possible theories.