Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research

Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research

Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research

Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research


For the most part, those who teach writing and administer writing programs do not conduct research on writing. Perhaps more significantly, they do not often read the research done by others because effective reading of articles on empirical research requires special knowledge and abilities. By and large, those responsible for maintaining and improving writing instruction cannot -- without further training -- access work that could help them carry out their responsibilities more effectively. This book is designed as a text in graduate programs that offer instruction in rhetoric and composition. Its primary educational purposes are:

• to provide models and critical methods designed to improve the reading of scientific discourse

• to provide models of effective research designs and projects appropriate to those learning to do empirical research in rhetoric.

Aiming to cultivate new attitudes toward empirical research, this volume encourages an appreciation of the rhetorical tradition that informs the production and critical reading of empirical studies. The book should also reinforce a slowly growing realization in English studies that empirical methods are not inherently alien to the humanities, rather that methods extend the power of humanist researchers trying to solve the problems of their discipline.


This book has been a long time coming. Over a dozen years ago when we (Hayes and Young) first taught the introduction to research in the Rhetoric Program at Carnegie Mellon, we felt a need for it. the course we taught was designed for first-year doctoral students in rhetoric, students who typically have little experience with formal empirical research and less enthusiasm for it. the course was intended both to help students become intelligent readers of the growing body of empirical research in rhetoric and to enable them to plan and carry out relatively simple but useful empirical studies.

By presenting them with examples of this kind of research, often bad examples, we tried to clarify the principles of good design and what can go wrong if the principles are not followed. To our chagrin, we found that many of our students were becoming better critics of research than researchers. They became skillful at identifying flaws in studies but were much less skillful in making use of the studies in their own thinking. Furthermore, they appeared to believe that if a study was not perfect, then it was worthless. But we wanted them to understand that individual studies are rarely, if ever, perfect and that research is a cumulative enterprise which moves closer to adequate answers to questions through the accumulation of evidence from many flawed sources. We certainly wanted students to notice the faults in studies so that they could avoid them in their own work. But it was also important to us that they understand that most progress in research occurs through good studies rather than perfect ones.

We recognized that focussing on very good studies rather than very bad ones might be an effective approach to the problem, but as is often the case, identifying an approach didn't lead to immediate action on it. We ruminated on the problem until the Spring of 1990 when Hayes taught a course that focussed entirely on the analysis of exemplary studies, what the students began to call "neat studies." All four graduate students enrolled in the course, and co-authors of this text--Cochran, Hajduk, Matchett, and McCaffrey-- found the problem interesting; to the best of our recollection, it was Tom Hajduk who first suggested that since they were going to read and evaluate a large number of studies, they should consider using this effort to produce a book. the idea was well received, and the "neat studies book project" was launched. Throughout the Spring semester of 1990, the members of the "neat . . .

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