Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Entering a Community of Writers: The Writing Center, Doctoral Students, and Going Public with Scholarly Writing

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Entering a Community of Writers: The Writing Center, Doctoral Students, and Going Public with Scholarly Writing

Article excerpt


Given the general consensus that graduate student writing deserves greater attention (e.g., Ondrusek, 2012; Rose & McClafferty, 2001; Simpson, Caplan, Cox, & Phillips, 2016), graduate faculty often find themselves in a predicament: how might they design courses in ways that allow them to cover all of the content while also addressing their students' needs for further support with the students' writing? Sara, a co-author and a professor of a doctoral-level qualitative research methods course, is one such faculty member who faced this dilemma; while reviewing her students' work on their major assignment for her course, a research pilot study, Sara observed two particular issues in their writing she felt needed to be addressed.

First, many seemed reluctant to share their writing with others. Sara found that few were willing to schedule voluntary writing consultations with her, many were reluctant to engage in peer feedback, and few had visited a writing center. Their hesitation is consistent with Wellington's (2010) study of doctoral students' challenges with the affective domain of writing. Wellington determined that the process of seeking and receiving feedback is one of the most emotionally daunting portions of the writing process. Additionally, he concluded that "a common inhibitor [of the writing process] is the fear of an audience" (p. 146). Since the very purpose of conducting qualitative (or any) research is to contribute to the body of knowledge about the topic under study, doctoral students need to overcome this reluctance to share their writing. We refer to sharing writing-from asking for formative feedback from instructors, to soliciting peer review, to publishing manuscripts-as "going public." Going public is an act that requires students to leave the relatively small world of the classroom and enter into the larger world as a contributor to a research community.

Second, several of her students seemed to struggle with the same aspect of academic writing: they wrote methods and results from a pilot study in a step-by-step manner that resembled announcers describe each action during a sporting event more than a comprehensive, engaging explanation of scholarship. The resulting products lacked depth and were not engaging to read, even though Sara provided specific strategies to help students create detailed methods sections, using Smagorinsky (2008) as a guide. Smagorinsky recommended that methods sections be the "conceptual epicenter" of qualitative research reports, with clear details that allow readers to ascertain whether the authors' methods were trustworthy. For example, one student wrote, "First I observed; then I came up with 8 codes. Then I made note cards." Without further explanation of how long and in what context the author observed or how they developed codes, the methods section lacked the details needed to determine trustworthiness.

In response, Sara made modifications to her instructional approach for teaching about writing these sections of a pilot study but noted little improvement in their writing. This suggested a need for a systematic effort to improve these students' proficiency with academic writing. Sara sought additional guidance from her former professor Audrey, who has remained a trusted colleague and mentor, and is one of the co-authors of this article. Audrey regularly collaborated with colleagues at the University of Wyoming Writing Center, and she recommended that Sara reach out to the writing center on her campus as well. She did, and together with Melissa, another co-author who works as Director of the Boise State Writing Center, Sara created a systematic process to address the deficiencies in her doctoral students' writing. Through this process, Sara also helped her students begin going public by becoming part of a safe, welcoming relationship with consultants at the Writing Center.

Sara offered her qualitative research a choice between using the Writing Center and a written assignment. …

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