Research Design in Rhetoric and Writing

Research Designs: 45 (3x15)

At three moments in the semester, installments of writing are due in your Google Folder as what we'll call "Research Designs." They are carefully developed, carefully revised pieces of writing, though they can be provisional, tentative, or exploratory in the claims they make or in the intricacies of any particular research design they forward. Research designs are also intended to meet you where you are at in your respective programs of study. Here is what I mean:

Second-year RW PhD: Likely you are looking ahead to the statement of research interests, literature review, and preliminary exams process. Whether wide or narrow, your provisional focus can take priority within the series of three research design installments. Maybe you wish to begin developing possible angles on some event or phenomenon you believe you will be researching in more depth in the dissertation. Perhaps you wish to gain a firmer handle on how literature reviews work, what goes into developing one, and how lit reviews cohere by introducing key concepts and associating those concepts with already-in-progress scholarly conversations, by filling in a chronology of significant sources, or by telling the story of how scholarly sources bear relevance for a research question or problem. You are encouraged to use the research designs as a series of installments that focus on your emerging research trajectory. But you also have the option of dedicating one or more research design to a supplemental or parallel project.

First-year RW PhD: Likely you are getting your bearings on possible directions for your emerging research interests. As such, an approach to the series of research designs might entail more variety and sampling, or playing out "what if" scenarios, then inviting feedback that associates the scenarios with established research or that explores the connections among emerging questions and knowledge-making in the discipline, however you wish to identify it. Getting bearings might also include trying out methods as a way to decide whether they work well for you (or not). Arrange and conduct an interview. Draft a survey and pilot it to get feedback. Plan and carry out a deep map that carefully describes (or documents) rhetorical activity in a specific location. Take steps toward learning a pertinent software application (e.g., Zotero, Scrivener, NVivo, Excel, etc.). For first-year RW PhD students, the research designs may be more mixed. Call it a medley.

MA in English: You are welcome to attempt either of the approaches described above for RW PhD students, but you may instead wish to undertake a series of installments somewhat more like research analysis reports. That is, consider when reading a research article just how the research methods and methodologies are introduced, set up, written about, elaborated, and so on. An installment could focus on a single article or on up to three articles; because they will introduce you to range and variety in published research over the past 45 years, the Braddock-winning articles from College Composition and Communication offer a promising starting place. This interpretive (extractive) approach will key on research designs that are evident through one or more influential scholarly article. It would include discussions of what the article is about, how method or methodology is signaled explicitly or implicitly, and how the article models for you something you find promising, appealing, or significant to your own research and/or teaching practices.

Nineties: 20

Nineties are focused pieces of writing that combine scopic awareness, style, and response to the assigned reading in the form of a question or a connection. The number ninety refers to wordcount; so, a ninety is a 90-word response. But because we don't want to inconvenience ourselves too much with counting, a ninety can be between 85 and 95 words. Below 85, not a ninety. But above 95, and then it must carry to the next mulitple, 180 words (or, more precisely, 175-185 words). The logic of 90s owes to Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart's The Hundreds, a project where they wrote in dialogue with one another while adhering to units of writing that were 100 words or a multiple of 100. For ENGL6364, the goal each week is to write at least one Ninety. The goal for the semester is to write toward 20 nineties, or to aspire to the number of 90s that correspond with any particular grade on the labor-based contract. Some Nineties may be prompted and composed in class. Others may be prompted and written outside of class. Others may be self-sponsored and altogether unprompted. And others still may be convened in dialogue with peers. Other caveats and conditions apply: 1) nineties may be featured in class as focuses for our whole class or small group discussions in any week; 2) if you wish for a ninety not to be considered as an in-class feature, include with it a bracketed note, like this [not for in-class]; and 3) you can pass on writing nineties in two different weeks. Your nineties will be collected in a single document in your Google Folder. You are welcome to post them or collect them anyplace else you choose, but they must be posted each week in your Google Folder no later than 1 p.m. before class on Wednesday. Nineties can also be used as starters for or as smaller pieces of your research designs.

Choice: 1) Practice exam or 2) poster: 25

In the second half of the semester, we will work together to shed light on the RW exam process. This effort will include collecting and revieweing together questions from recent preliminary exams, as well as writing together some practice exam questions. In late March or early April, you will choose between writing a practice exam response or developing a poster based on some emerging focus introduced in or perhaps sustained across your series of research designs. We will discuss together the scope and timing of the preliminary exam response, for all who choose that option. And, in addition, we will coordinate for the poster option, ensuring that those who create posters have opportunities to showcase their work for others in the class on Monday, May 4. If you are following the poster option, the poster must be at least 18x24. Due consideration of typeface legibility, visual elements, spatial arrangement/layout, and quality content applies. We will look at other research posters and discuss in more detail qualities of rhetorically effective and successful research posters. Note that you have the material options of producing the poster digitally and printing it or producing it using a tri-fold backer onto which you position and affix clips and other single sheet elements. Each poster will present at least one question and respond concisely to its "so what?" premises.

Reflection: 10

For this semester's sign-off (due Wednesday, May 11), write a reflection that 1) accounts for an emerging research design and how the course has prepared you to approach it, or 2) identifies selected, specific moments of insight linked with course readings, course activities or conversations, writing and responses you received, or any other self-initiated extension of the course that you consider meaningfully connected to the course goals or to your research trajectory. The first option is more appropriate for second-year PhD students; the second option is more appropriate for first-year PhD and MA students. For both options, let "Generative Questions for Research Projects" (the handout circulated in-class on Jan. 26) guide and organize your writing. This is a semi-formal reflection in that its style and format should adhere to APA 7; if you cite sources, it should include a references page. The reflection should be at least 1500 words but not more than 2400 words.

Additional ungraded, or credit/no credit, items include the following.

At least one check-in meeting to discuss your work

Because individual, informal conversations offer a valuable opportunity for considering researchable questions, as well as for tailoring the course to your emerging interests and priorities, plan to visit office hours or make an appointment to talk with me about your work at least once during the semester. These ten minute meetings function as check-ins about how the class is going and about how your research focuses are coalescing within and independent of ENGL6364. My Shanks 315 office hours are 1-3 on Tuesdays. You are also welcome to suggest other meeting times that better align with your schedule, as needed.

Two notes/annotation snapshots

At two moments during the semester (indicated on the course schedule) upload to your Google Folder a snapshot of your reading notes. These can be Brooke Notes, marginalia, or some other notes system of your choosing.

In-class writing, activities, and heuristics

Several in-class writings, activities, and heuristics constitute an invaluable element of the course. Engaged, attentive participation during class makes a positive difference in the experience of the class for you and for your peers.

Certified Training in Human Subjects Protection from Virginia Tech (online)

During the second half of the semester, everyone will complete Virginia Tech's Human Research Protection Plan (HRPP), which includes the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) certification module. Upload a copy of your CITI certificate (verifying completion) no later than the end of class on Wednesday, April 27.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of the University Writing Program
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2022 Office Hours: T, 1-3
Phone: +1-734-985-0485