PAB Entry 4: Theories & Methods

Driscoll, D., & Perdue, S. (2012). Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in The Writing Center Journal, 1980-20091. Writing Center Journal, 32(2), 11-39.

Uneven scale with the caption "qualitative" on the side hanging low and the caption "quantitative" on the other
Driscoll and Perdue’s research demonstrates a clear preference for qualitative work and a hesitancy to engage in quantitative work in writing center studies.

Driscoll and Perdue examined 270 articles published in issues of The Writing Center Journal from 1980-2009 to examine trends in writing center scholarship. Specifically, they were analyzing articles using Haswell’s (2005) paradigm of replicable, aggregable, and data-supported (RAD) research. They were trying to determine the degree to which the journal has demonstrated evidence-based practice in the form of RAD research. The authors analyzed each article individually, coding it using a RAD research rubric that they devised. The authors first distinguish between research articles, defined as those that use “human subjects, data support, and/or other examination of external data sources” (p. 18). Research could be qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods. Driscoll and Perdue found that research accounted for a total of 34% of published articles in The Writing Center Journal in the period examined, with the other 66% consisting of theoretical articles. 6% of the total articles could be classified as RAD research.

One reason they offer for this low number is an “education gap,” claiming, “Historically, many writing center program administrators (WPAs) and writing faculty (particularly in higher education) have been trained in humanistic inquiry with research concepts and methods that differ from those outlined in our Rad Research Rubric” (p. 29). They suggest their is an over reliance on lore in writing center studies.  The authors also looked at trends over time and determined that RAD research has increased significantly over time, however. They also note that research using quantitative data or both quantitative and qualitative data received a significantly higher RAD score using their coding rubric. They conclude that while the increase in RAD research is encouraging, they urge the field to embrace this type of research to “validate our practices, to secure external credibility and funding, and to develop evidence-based practices” (p. 29).

Liggett, S., Jordan, K., & Price, S. (2011). Mapping Knowledge-Making in Writing Center Research: A Taxonomy of Methodologies. Writing Center Journal, 31(2), 50-88.

Ying Yang symbol with "quantitative research" written on one side and "qualitative research" written on the other.
Though Liggett, Jordan, and Price similarly note a smaller percentage of quantitative work in writing center studies, their taxonomy doesn’t privilege any methodologies over another and specifically calls for mixed-method approaches

In this article, the authors focus on the subject of research in writing center studies, not to “rehash why the writing center community needs such activity” (p. 50), but instead to provide a taxonomy of methodologies used in current scholarship “to understand how knowledge is–and can be–made in the complex context of writing centers” (p. 51). Liggett, Jordan, and Price break writing center research down into three broad categories: Practitioner Inquiry, Conceptual Inquiry, and Empirical Inquiry. Each of these categories has specific methodologies. For Practitioner Inquiry, the authors identify two methodologies: narrative inquiry and pragmatic inquiry. Narrative Inquiry “employs story telling as primary means of exploring and interpreting experiences to create knowledge through insight” (p. 59), and is described as the “home base” (p. 59) of writing center research. Since writing centers exist in everyday practice, stories of practice have been foundational for other research in the field. Similarly, Pragmatic Inquiry looks at local practice and prompts the practitioner to conduct research that will have local implications. Liggett, Jordan, and Price do not dispute the value of Practitioner Inquiry, but claim practitioners “overstep methodological boundaries if they attach global implications to their findings” (p. 64). Conceptual Inquiry examines texts to interpret what happens in writing centers. These texts could be alphabetic, visual or oral. The examination of these texts could be historical, critical, or theoretical. The authors note that this is one of the most popular types of research in writing center studies, because it contains “familiar methodologies to researchers trained in literary studies” (p. 64).

Ligget, Jordan, and Price break Empirical Inquiry into two categories: Descriptive Inquiry and Experimental Inquiry. Descriptive Inquiry may use surveys, textual analysis, case study and ethnography. I found it interesting that though the authors note that texts could be written, visual, or oral communication, and briefly mentioned discourse analysis, this methodology wasn’t explored in much depth. This was a bit frustrating for me since this was the methodology I wanted to hear the most about. Experimental Inquiry involves true or quasi-experiments. The authors note that these are not common methodologies in the field, perhaps because of the one-on-one nature of writing center work, but perhaps also, like Driscoll and Perdue suggest and education gap, claiming, “That the writing center community seldom conducts such studies may say more about our lack of training as quantitative researchers than the value of such studies” (p. 72). Ligget, Jordan, and Price suggest their taxonomy does not privilege some methodologies over others, but instead, suggests the various methodologies researchers have available to them, and go on to call for mixed-method approaches to answer research questions.

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