core 2: research methods for writers, spr ’13

Course Description

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets

Stories lie buried under our feet, painted over on the facades of our cities and towns, silenced under the barrage of everyday noise, forgotten or lost by death, erased from the public memory, but the writer can find them-and bring to life the personalities of the dramatic players, the sights and sounds and images that resonate with the meaningfulness of their lives, the language in which they acted out their hopes and loves and losses. Their stories lie dormant in objects, on musty pages of records and diaries scrawled with ink, in a riddle etched in a slab of granite marking a felon’s grave. To discover them, all that is required is imaginative research.
Philip Gerard, “The Art of Creative Research”

This semester Core 2 will have two themes that have until quite recently been seen as antithetical to being a successful published writer—Write What You Don’t Know and Share What You Research. We will be engaging those themes by completing a semester-long research project that will challenge us to consider the various roles that research plays in the composing process.

Your research is not going to be the usual look online, grab a few books, and write a paper that attempts to “prove” a point (as if a point can be proven in a 5 page paper), though you will certainly conduct library research. Rather, you will be going out into your local and online communities to explore a topic of your own choice about which you know virtually nothing but about which have always curious to learn more. The keys, as suggested by the Eliot and Gerard quotes above, are exploration, discovery, resourcefulness, and imagination. When you begin you will have no preconceived notions and no end-point in sight; your only goal will be to see where your (re)search takes you and to learn as much as you can along the way. And through this process you will not only learn quite a bit about your topic, you will also learn quite a bit about what it means for a (creative) writer to conduct research and how that research informs the resulting writing (results that we will record online so others can learn from our experiences).

Through your research process you will be conducting in-person and online interviews with people familiar with your area of research. You will be analyzing various documents associated with your research subject and will be taking detailed fieldnotes that record experiences, observations, and conversations that happen in the spaces (virtual and real-life) you enter. And in the end, you will consider what you have learned, and you will compose a new piece of writing in a genre of your choosing that is directly informed by what you have learned.

To facilitate the research process you will be leveraging contemporary communication technologies (namely blogging with Worpress, Twitter, and, as time permits (and I encourage you to explore,) the social library site, Zotero) and as a result will rethink how and where research is conducted. You will learn about qualitative research methods and how to conduct ethical research. You will learn how to compose the query letters necessary for sending out your writing for publication and will have the option of send out one piece of writing, an Annotation, to Harper’s. 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 ultimate result being a final piece of writing in a genre of your choice that is geared for a specific publication. The topic or subject of the investigation is up to the individual student, but grounded in his or her local community. Because writing a research-driven piece is a process, the assignments we complete will help that process emerge more effectively. The assignments leading up to your final piece are:

  • a research blog in which the researcher will detail and reflect on each stage of their research process;
  • a research proposal written with specific publications in mind explaining the potential value of the investigation;
  • a business card that describes you professionally as a writer;
  • an annotated bibliography of 12 sources relating to your research;
  • a document annotation modeled on those published in Harper’s (e.g. Keyword: Evil) accompanied by a query letter;
  • a series of interviews conducted in person and on line and reflections on those interviews;
  • a collection of detailed fieldnotes that have been digitized and reflected upon.
  • rough and final drafts of your writing project in a genre of your own choosing that will be accompanied by a query letter written for a specific publication as well as a critical reflection of the final product and your research process.

Throughout the process of completing the above assignments, we will interact with members of the Twitter community 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 Master’s Project.

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