Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation

Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation

Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation

Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation


There are writing centers at almost every college and university in the United States, and there is an emerging body of professional discourse, research, and writing about them. The goal of this book is to open, formalize, and further the dialogue about research in and about writing centers. The original essays in this volume, all written by writing center researchers, directly address current concerns in several ways: they encourage studies, data collection, and publication by offering detailed, reflective accounts of research; they encourage a diversity of approaches by demonstrating a range of methodologies (e.g., ethnography, longitudinal case study; rhetorical analysis, teacher research) available to both veteran and novice writing center professionals; they advance an ongoing conversation about writing center research by explicitly addressing epistemological and ethical issues. The book aims to encourage and guide other researchers, while at the same time offering new knowledge that has resulted from the studies it analyzes.


This project had its beginnings in 1994, at the first conference of the National Writing Centers Association. In a room filled with windows through which we could see the warm spring sunshine of New Orleans, a group of us attended a session on writing center research, chaired by Nancy Grimm. Presenters gave brief overviews of their research projects, and then the large group split up into smaller discussion clusters. Lady Falls Brown and Paula Gillespie sat in the same group, agreeing that they wanted to know more about research projects. Lady and Paula agreed that they would begin a book project, calling for articles on research. Later in the process, they asked Byron Stay and Alice Gillam to join them as editors.

Lady wanted a book that would explain research methodology used in composition studies. Because her formal training was in literature, she wanted a book to provide a framework of research choices and show methodologies at work. She wanted a book that would help inexperienced writing center staffers know how to begin a research project.

Paula came to this project with a bias about research, one based on her undergraduate major in psychology. Her experiences with rats at the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin—Madison convinced her to add a major in English and change her professional goals, but she retained her interest in the rigors of scientifically based empirical research and the statistical interpretations of data. She wanted to integrate that rigor into the research projects she would take on, although writing centers and its theories had begun to make her more interested in qualitative than in quantitative studies, in case studies rather than rat studies. She wanted to learn more about the research that others had undertaken.

Alice was interested in the theoretical dimensions of research and in our discourse about research. What counts as research in the writing center community? How has this changed over time? What kind of knowledge is . . .

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