core 2: research methods for writers, spr ’10

Course Description

Core 2 introduces MA in Writing students to qualitative research that they may use in preparing their thesis or in future descriptive research or nonfiction projects. Fiction writers and poets benefit from learning qualitative research to do the initial fieldwork needed to write strong, plausible prose.

This semester Core 2 will have two themes—Write What You Don’t Know and Share What You Research—and we will be using a variety of contemporary communication technologies in order bring those themes into practice. Through the use of social networking applications we will rethink how and where research is conducted. Our assignments will bring us into libraries and into our local communities. Readings and class discussions will challenge us to think in new ways about texts, objects, and facts. And everything we do in the class will ask us to rethink our traditional ideas about the role of research in the writing process.

Students will not need to know how to do survey research or statistical programming for this class. If you are interested in pursuing quantitative analysis, sign up for Introduction to Communication Research in the Public Relations graduate program.

Brief Descriptions of Assignments

This course consists of a 15-week research project, with the final result being an 8 – 10 page investigative article that could be submitted for publication in a magazine or newspaper. The topic or subject of the investigation is up to the individual student, but grounded in his or her local community. Because writing an extended research-driven article is a process, the assignments we complete will help that process emerge more effectively. The assignments leading up to the article are:

  • a research blog in which the researcher will detail and reflect on each stage of their research process;
  • a research proposal written with a specific audience in mind explaining the need for the investigation;
  • an annotated bibliography of 8 scholarly and 4 creative/journalistic sources relating to your research;
  • a document annotation modeled on those published in Harper’s;
  • a series of interviews conducted in person and on line;
  • and a 5 – 7 page rough draft that must be completed in order to write the final article.

Throughout the process of completing the above assignments, we will interact with members of the Diigo and Twitter communities who are interested in or in some way related to our areas of research. These connections will broaden our research potential, introduce us to new ideas, and provide us with people who we will be able to interview.

Students will also complete the NIH certification process required by the Grants Office and The Graduate School to ensure protection of human subjects in research in case Institutional Review Board paperwork is needed for their thesis.

Discussion Leader
Starting the second week of the course, each week will have at least one discussion leader who will introduce and lead a discussion about the assigned text(s). The leader will make a 10-minute opening statement about the text(s). The presentation must contain at least the following: an overview of the goals of the text(s), an overview of the main points/arguments made by the author(s), a discussion of the theories the author(s) uses to contextualize the arguments made in the text(s), a discussion of some of the places in the text that were particularly challenging, and some questions that you might have about the text. Do not go through the text point-by-point. Rather, pull out the key issues that will help start discussion. Accompanying the presentation will be a handout that lists key terms and ideas the author(s) introduce, as well as their definitions as understood by the presenter. These materials will help ground the discussion.

Some of you have participated in similar activities in other classes with mixed results. Let me explain that I ask for some decorum in our conversations (this decorum is to extend to online spaces, as well). We come to this course with varying levels of expertise and various backgrounds academically. Let us respect all of those positions. No question is stupid if it is related to the readings and all responses should be valid ones. We are to use this element of the course to enrich our understanding of the material.

While there are no stupid questions, there are more effective questions to encourage richer discussions. Please refrain from discussion that will elicit or center on whether or not you liked or disliked the text. It is true that some texts are more attractive than others. Ultimately, however, whether we like the text or not doesn’t matter, and such discussions become rather tiresome. What does matter is how the text furthers the overall goals of the class, asks us to reconsider previous understandings and rethink the other texts we read, and so on. Because we will be discussing the texts on our blog (which you then will have the opportunity to announce on Twitter) our ideas will be open to a discussion by a larger readership, as well. So, be sure that your discussions are grounded in the text and not in your own life.

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