Have you ever considered conducting your own WR research? It’s being done by other faculty in various disciplines, and there are forums for such research. For example, three faculty members from the University of Minnesota (UM), Twin Cities, recently presented the results of their WR research at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (March 27-30), held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, their research formed the basis of a workshop, “Assigning and Researching Writing Across the Curriculum,” facilitated by the staff of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing (CISW) at UM and led by Lillian Bridwell-Bowles, CISW director.
The first presenter, Dr. Gerald
D. Rinehart, of the UM Carlson School of Management, conducted two surveys
on the importance of writing in such fields as Sales, Marketing, Finance,
and Accountancy. The first survey targeted 1,500 Carlson alumni; 487 responded
(30%). Results indicated that
both the amount and importance of writing increased as alumni progressed in their careers, and
writing proficiency was extremely important in terms of job performance and evaluation.
The second survey elicited responses
from 72 faculty currently teaching undergraduate business courses at UM
(30 responded). Among other things, Rinehart found that
75% of all business courses required some kind of individual or group writing, and written projects accounted for about 30% of the course grade,
70% of faculty thought that more writing would help students learn course concepts, and
83% thought more writing would help them learn writing skills needed in the workplace.
Interestingly, the survey reflected a lack of teacher feedback on student writing and indicated that none of the teachers used informal writing (i.e., workaday writing) in the classroom (which might have satisfied the respondents’ desire to increase their students’ level of content knowledge). Consequently, Rinehart is organizing faculty workshops on how to include more writing-to-learn techniques in the classroom.
The second presenter, Dr. Maria Gini, of the Department of Computer Science, studied student documentation reports of a computer program. She and her colleagues assessed the reports of 190 students, focusing on the clarity and organization of 28 randomly selected texts.
Gini referred to her results in terms of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” In terms of “the good,” a few reports were well written, using either a narrative format to describe the steps taken to write the program, or a highly structured summary that expanded on the algorithms used. As for the “bad and the ugly,” most reports exhibited numerous punctuation errors and non-standard grammar and usage, as well as problems with paragraph cohesion and coherence, subject/verb agreement, and organization.
Gini and her colleagues subsequently developed a “Documentation Sample” that students study as a model for their own reports. The sample seems to be helping students write better reports, but Gini plans a follow-up study to determine if this is really the case.
The final presenter, Dr. Roger
Martin, of the Department of Landscape Architecture, studied the effects
of “writing-to-learn” techniques on
observation and problem definition,
creative idea-making, and
Twenty-nine students enrolled in landscape design courses participated in the study during the 1989-90 fall and winter quarters.
Writing was integrated into the courses primarily through journals and three writing workshops. Journals combined both visual and verbal notes (i.e., drawings and written explanations / descriptions), as well as post-project reflections. The writing workshops included such writing activities as “Place Description,” “Metaphors about Place,” and “Manipulative Verbs.”
In addition to relying on his own observations, Martin evaluated writing-to-learn by examining the students’ journals, soliciting the instructors’ observations, and reviewing the comments on final projects made by guest reviewers and clients. According to Martin, writing-to-learn techniques not only helped students design better projects by enhancing the targeted skills, but students also seemed to like using writing as part of their design process and many planned to use the techniques in future design projects. Instructors and clients seemed most pleased with the effects of the workshop activities, especially those that required students to focus on audience (i.e., client) needs.
The WR research of these three faculty has been published by CISW, which has also published the research of faculty in several other departments at UM, including Mathematics, Journalism, and Mass Communications. These research monographs and technical reports are available from CISW for a nominal fee.