Intro to empirical research

We’re kicking off CCR 635 with articles and book sections that provide invigorating overviews of empirical research, the methods section, and a review of recent texts in comp/rhet that attempt to capture the field’s seminal research. They are:

Anson, Chris. “Review Essay: A Field at Sixty-Something.” College Composition and Communication. 62.1 (2010): 216-228. Print.

Smagorinsky, Peter. “The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter in Constructing Social Science Research Reports.” Written Communication. 25.3 (2008): 389-411. 23 Jan. 2012.

Young, Richard E. “Reading Research Papers.” Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research. Ed. Richard E. Young et al. Routledge, 1992. 11-40. Print.

Anson reviews the following tomes that were published in the latter half of the aughts based on their “historical reach,” “(inter)disciplinary breadth,” “international research,” and their ability to “take stock” of the field through reflective practice/observation:

Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text
Charles Bazerman, editor New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008. 652 pp.

Handbook of Writing Research
Charles A. MacArthur, Steve Graham, and Jill Fitzgerald, editors New York: Guilford, 2006. 468 pp.

The Norton Book of Composition Studies
Susan Miller, editor New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 1,760 pp.

Research on Composition: Multiple Perspectives on Two Decades of Change
Peter Smagorinsky, editor New York: Teachers College Press, 2006. 308 pp.

I know this sounds sophomoric, but I can’t help it: as I skimmed Anson’s review I was impressed at both the sheer amount of reading/refreshing he had to do to write such a short review and the disciplinary knowledge required to begin.

But the more practical pieces we read this week were Hayes, et al’s introduction (“Reading Research Reports”) to the terms and taxonomies of empirical studies and Smagorinsky’s argument for a more careful consideration of the methods section. Hayes et al breaks up their chapter into four handy sections:

  1. the format for the research report (abstract, intro, methods, results, discussion),
  2. types of empirical studies: hypothesis-testing studies (correlational and experimental) v descriptive studies (case study analysis, participant observation, and protocol analysis)
  3. modes of thought and argument in empirical research (including “common sources of alternative interpretations” re: stability, bias, researcher/participant effects, confounding factors, and faulty inferences)
  4. commonly used empirical measures (central tendency, variability, and correlation).

Because this chapter is rigid and loaded with relational terms (a rarity in a a theoretical program!), I’d really like to sketch these ideas and terms visually with bubbl.us sometime this week and repost.

Smagorinsky’s article, a wonderfully accessible essay which I had been hearing about for quite some time from J Lew, argues that greater care should be put toward the Method section of social science research (especially w/r/t the fields of literacy, education and comp/rhet). It should be essential to not only the product of the scholarship (in the sense that it would be publishable, replicable, or persuasive to its peers) but also its production (the process of its making). Smagorinsky, as former editor of RTE and and reviewer for nearly 30 different journals, finds a “lack of alignment” throughout most papers submitted to him to review. That is, the paper’s major sections — theory/literature, results, discussion — don’t add up. The Method section is the best place to start when it comes to research writing, argues Smagorinsky, because it is “the vehicle through which alignment” can be “systematically attempted” (405). “In particular,” he argues, “the outline of the analytic approach — for me, usually the articulation of a coding system — sets the terms for what I need to talk about means elsewhere in the manuscript” (406).