We seek answers to questions about teaching, tutoring, and learning about writing. In our research, we analyze text(s). We ask: what is writing? How does writing work?
Because writing is a feature of academic work across disciplines, writing studies research is inherently interdisciplinary and multi-modal. Theories guiding writing research draw from areas such as cognitive science, linguistics, and composition and rhetoric.
Our faculty’s research projects bring together a range of disciplinary knowledge and often combine qualitative and quantitative methods.
Katherine Schaefer, PhD
I am interested in how students come to understand the underlying ways of making and transmitting knowledge within their majors or disciplines, and how this plays out in their use of disciplinary genres. My focus of research in this area is on genre pedagogy. The following is an abstract of a nearly complete project, followed by ongoing areas of research.
Genre pedagogy helps students investigate connections between community needs and textual choices within community genres. While the benefits and limitations of this approach at the masters’ and early PhD level are well-investigated, less is known about how it works in undergraduate students who have committed to a discipline. At a R1 university, these undergraduates may have had more disciplinary research experience than many masters’ students, making them in some ways closer to early PhD students; however, institutional factors may make them very different. This project explored how undergraduate biology majors experienced genre-based instruction, using a mixed-methods approach combining the perspectives of the instructor, students, and disciplinary experts, and focusing on both the writing process and the quality of the end product. All students reported a greater ability to read effectively, and articulated increased awareness of disciplinary patterns of reasoning and how those influenced writing choices. In addition, all said they were now able to produce first drafts meeting basic expectations, allowing their limited time with disciplinary experts to be spent discussing nuances, rather than the mechanics of writing, an evaluation disciplinary experts shared. However, most students noted difficulties in aligning the genre they were required to use for departmental reasons with the limited scope of their research, and traced many of their writing challenges to this issue. Strikingly, the features of the writing that the disciplinary experts thought varied most from their expectations were the same as the ones that students identified as linked to limitations of their research situation, underscoring the importance of aligning departmental writing requirements to the realities of undergraduate experiences.
Ongoing work: I am currently in the process of expanding this investigation to investigate how students’ responses to genre pedagogy change in different situations: when students committed to particular disciplines are combined within one course, when they have dual majors, and when they are all from the same discipline, but focus on subtle sub-disciplinary community differences.