An Introduction to the Work (and Play) of Writing Studies Research Methods through Micro Study

Suzan Aiken, Emily J. Beard, David R. E. McClure, Lee Nickoson


This article addresses the benefits and challenges involved with assigning small-scale research projects in one research methods class as means of introducing new(er) researchers to the work and rewards of empirical writing research. The following discussion does not claim to offer examples of cutting-edge methodological work. That is not our goal here; rather, the purpose of this article is to further Rebecca Rickly’s call for increased curricular attention to empirical field research (“Messy Contexts: Research as a Rhetorical Situation”) by offering three case studies—micro studies. Completed as part of a graduate methods class, the studies illustrate the emerging researchers’ research experiences with conducting small-scale, “practice” observational inquiry. Our claim, then, is simple: we tend to forget how thoroughly we have already been enculturated as rhetoric and composition researchers—we tend, that is, to be unaware of the depth and complexity of our own literacies once they become second nature to us. But what may very well seem obvious to established researchers, whether it be the questions posed, the methods used, or the findings reported, are only obvious to those of us who have already had at least one (and likely many) such enculturating experiences. The authors—three student participants and the course instructor of the same graduate methods seminar—narrate critical, self-reflective, self-selected micro studies in order to examine how students of writing researchers came to identify and employ methods and methodologies as a way of “learning and using” writing studies research. The studies, which include a survey of first-year college students on their transition from high school to college; an examination of the actions, sounds, and voices the researcher observed in the hallway of a researcher’s office building in her participant observation of “work in action;” and a textual analysis of Works Cited pages of College Composition and Communication serve as examples of the very real benefits of—and the need for—practical, hands-on experience enacting observational research methods and methodologies.


Writing Studies, Research Methods

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