Major Steps in the Writing in the Wild Research Project
In this assignment you will produce five separate, polished pieces of writing and an oral presentation:
Step One: Identifying your research site and your writer in the wild
Part A: Identify a local workplace where substantial amounts of writing are done as a matter of routine daily practice. This could be a governmental agency, a private enterprise, a school, or even a charity or an arts organization. It would probably be a good idea to pick a site that relates to the career that you are considering. However, you may also use this opportunity to explore a kind of work or organization that you would like to know more about. Identify a worker within this site whose writing you would like to study. Although initially you can do much of this stage of your work on the telephone, or through the internet, final confirmation of your project will take the form of a formal letter. Make sure that the logistics are not too difficult--you will be making several visits to the site, and you want to find a place that is easily accessible. To complete the research for this project, you will need to conduct at least three interviews as well as at least ten hours of observation over the course of the semester. Finally, make certain that your contact as well as any other participants fully understand the scope and purposes of your study.
Part B: Writing tasks associated
with step one: There are two writing tasks associated with successfully
concluding part one. Once you have identified your site and your writer,
you will need to write both a formal letter finalizing your access agreement
with your contact, and a formal two-page proposal for review and grading.
Our first conference of the semester will be devoted to discussion of the
draft letter and to getting your web site up to speed, and a second will
be devoted to your proposal.
Step Two: Observation and Interviews
Part A. Observations of Writing Processes
There are several kinds of observation and note taking you can do, depending on the particular context of your research site. In each case, remember that if at all possible, you need to obtain copies of all documents involved in the writing process. If you are at a meeting to observe a collaborative writing process, for example, you will want to get a copy of the agenda and other relevant documents as well as take notes on your observations. Don't forget to always record the details of the meeting too--who attended, the purposes, etc.--so that you can clearly explain the context in your reports. On the other hand, at least some writing will entail observing the practices of individuals. In this case, you have several choices. You can ask your subject to explain as he or she goes, or you can ask them to explain what they plan to do, observe, and then ask them to summarize at the end. Again, make sure to record all the relevant facts, collect copies of documents, and so on. If you have questions on these methods, talk to me.
Part B. Interviews of Writers
Depending on the progress of your study and the questions you would like to answer, you have several interviewing options. Your subjects might include: each member of a collaborative team; the writer, his or her collaborator, and the principle audience of the text; and/or the writers and their immediate supervisor. Whatever you decide, I recommend that you only do interviews once you have completed some portion of the observations. In this way you can more precisely identify who you wish to interview, thereby helping to insure that you will get information relevant to the emerging data of your study. On the other hand, interviews can also help to direct your observations and guide your reading, so don't wait to do interviews until you have fully completed observations. Your research will be most productive if you move back and forth among research methods: reading, examining documents, interviewing, and observing, letting each shape the purposes of the others.
Part C. Collection and Analysis of Texts
Again, make sure you collect copies of all relevant texts produced by your writer, either solely or in collaboration with others--in fact, you might want to collect just about all the texts you can get your hands on! Remember, this is an ongoing, evolving process, and you never know what might become central to your research concerns. Make sure you also collect all of the relevant information (author, date of composition, etc.) and spend some time looking over them and taking notes as you go.
Part D. Writing Tasks Associated With Step Two
You will also develop an oral presentation
of your research project and a formal written report on your preliminary
findings. The formal (preliminary) report, which will both summarize the
purposes and methods of your research as well as evaluate your findings
thus far, cannot be longer than two pages. Once you have done the
preliminary report and the oral report, you will likely want to return
to your site to do more interviews, observations, collection of texts,
and so on. Note too that you will have to move back and forth among the
tasks associated with parts A, B, C, and D, depending on what you find,
your own interests, the state of the project, and so on.
Step Three: the Final Report and the Concluding Formal Letter
Once you have completed the observations
and the interviews and collected texts, you will complete a formal, analytical
report of your findings and conclusions (2,500 to 3,000 words). Don't worry
about the format; I will provide you with guidelines, and the research
findings will have much to do with how you decide to organize the final
report. Your final report must refer to at least two of our in-class
readings and it must cite at least three sources that we have not discussed
in class. These three additional sources must add intellectual
substance to your writing; we will discuss, gather and use reliable
sources of various sorts throughout the semester, keeping track of them
in an online working bibliography and a set of research links. Finally,
to conclude your research, you will write a formal letter thanking your
contact for his or her participation, summarizing your results, and offering
the URL for your online assignment index and research report.