Research ethics: Gender as a variable in NLP

4 Apr

I’ve previously posted on the talk I’m giving today (April 4) at EACL in Valencia. This post provides the slides with the accompanying notes. (If you are reading this before US Eastern bedtime on April 4, it may not be the final version, as I’m editing the slides while watching the earlier presentations during the day.) Here, again, for your reading pleasure, is the abstract of the paper I submitted at EACL, but note that the last couple slides go far afield of the specific paper…

Researchers in natural-language processing (NLP) and related fields should at- tend to ethical principles in study design, ascription of categories/variables to study participants, and reporting of findings or results. This article offers an ethical framework for using gender as a variable in NLP studies and proposes four guidelines for researchers and practitioners. The principles outlined here should guide practitioners, researchers, and peer reviewers, and they may be applicable to other social categories, such as race, applied to human beings connected to NLP research.

Pre-print of the EACL paper also appears on the previous post.

I welcome your thoughts.


Gender as a variable in writing studies–presentations and paper accepted

14 Feb

As I noted back in November, I’m presenting “Gender as a variable in writing studies: Ethics and methodology” at the Writing Research Across Borders IV conference in Bogotá, Columbia, on Thursday, February 16. While preparing for WRAB, I wrote an article that has been accepted to appear in the peer-reviewed conference proceedings of the First Workshop on Ethics in Natural Language Processing in conjunction with the 2017 conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL 2017), in Valencia, Spain. I’m traveling there to give that paper in early April. The article, titled “Gender as a variable in natural-language processing: Ethical considerations,” draws on similar principles as the WRAB presentation, but focuses on research in natural language processing.

Below are my slides and bibliography for the WRAB talk. Underneath that is the abstract and pre-print version for the EACL paper. (I’ll post the link to the official ACL anthology for the final paper when the proceedings are published.)

Slides for WRAB

Bibliography for WRAB

Abstract and pre-print for EACL paper

Researchers in natural-language processing (NLP) and related fields should at- tend to ethical principles in study design, ascription of categories/variables to study participants, and reporting of findings or results. This article offers an ethical framework for using gender as a variable in NLP studies and proposes four guidelines for researchers and practitioners. The principles outlined here should guide practitioners, researchers, and peer reviewers, and they may be applicable to other social categories, such as race, applied to human beings connected to NLP research.

“Gender as a variable in writing studies: Ethics and methodology” at WRAB in Bogotá

27 Nov

Organizers of the Writing Research Across Borders (WRAB) IV conference in Bogotá Colombia in February 2017 accepted my proposal to present a paper. I’ve paid my registration and booked my travel. I intend to have a near-final draft of a journal article ready for the conference; I hope to make a few final edits if I get good feedback there and ship it off the week after I return. I’m also looking forward to a couple days of kicking around with my spouse in Bogotá, which looks like an amazing city.

Here is the abstract for my paper:

Gender as a variable in writing studies: Ethics and methodology

This presentation uses results of a study where participants identified their own genders to illustrate ethical and methodological problems. It makes normative claims about gender as a variable in studies of written communication, including composition studies, technical and computer-mediated communication, and natural language processing.

Theories of gender and communication include early gender-difference/dominance views, social role theory, standpoint theory, and queer theory. Nevertheless, empirical researchers often use gender as a variable without explaining how they ascribe it to participants or what they intend it to mean. For example, Tebeaux and Allen performed studies in technical communication with gender as a variable but without explaining how they assigned this category to participants. Herring and Paolillo assigned author-gender labels using a qualitative heuristic. Yan and Yan and Rao and colleagues used automated heuristics to code author gender.

I argue on ethical grounds that (1) researchers should avoid using gender as a variable in their work unless it is necessary to answer their research questions; (2) researchers using gender as a variable should make explicit their methods for assigning gender categories; and (3) researchers should respect difficulties of research participants when asking them to self-identify for gender.

Works cited

Allen, Jo. “Women and Authority in…Communication Scholarship….” Technical Communication Quarterly 3.3 (1994): 271.

Herring, Susan C., and John C. Paolillo. “Gender and Genre Variation in Weblogs.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 10.4 (2006): 439–459.

Rao, Delip et al. “Classifying Latent User Attributes in Twitter.” Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Search and Mining User-Generated Contents. Toronto, ON, Canada: ACM, 2010. 37–44.

Tebeaux, Elizabeth. “Toward an Understanding of Gender Differences in Written Business Communications…” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 4.1 (1990): 25–43.

Yan, Xiang, and Ling Yan. “Gender Classification of Weblog Authors.” AAAI Spring Symposium: Computational Approaches to Analyzing Weblogs. 2006. 228–230.


Use What You Choose, article posted on ACM

18 Nov

ACM has published the Proceedings of the 34th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication (September 2016 SIGDOC ’16), including our article, “Use What You Choose: Applying Computational Methods to Genre Studies in Technical Communication.” My co-authors are William Hart-Davidson, Kenneth C. Walker, Douglas M. Walls, and  Ryan Omizo.

Our article is available for free download here:

#CCCC2017 panel will discuss undergraduate legal writing courses

6 Nov

Updated Nov. 7, with details about Legal Writing and Rhetoric SIG.

I’m pleased to be chairing a panel at the 2017 Conference on College Composition and Communication focusing on undergraduate legal writing courses. It takes place Friday, March 17, 03:30 pm – 04:45 pm
at Oregon Convention Center E142. There are five talented speakers, identified below.

I enjoyed helping with the panel proposal, which Lindsay Head spearheaded, and I’m looking forward to working with them to help draw connections among their presentations. Lindsay also led the effort to apply for a special interest group for this CCCC; the application was accepted, and it will happen 6:30 to 7:30 on the evening of Thursday, March 16th. If you teach a law-related writing course to undergrads or are interested in doing so, I urge you to attend.

Here is the panel proposal:

Creative Collaborations: Cultivating New Voices from the Undergraduate Legal Writing Community

140-character abstract: Emphasizing creativity and collaboration, panelists cultivate a space for legal writing in undergraduate English curricula.

Full proposal: Drawing from diverse backgrounds across disciplinary boundaries, this roundtable highlights the complexity of the undergraduate legal writing course and where it deviates and converges with traditional undergraduate writing pedagogies. Each demonstrating a distinct approach, panelists explore the importance of student collaboration and the recursive nature of writing, the process of initial course design and the implementation of a grading contract, the unique blending of pedagogical writing practices, the necessity for deep-revision strategies, and the specific challenge to equip students in a legal writing course outside the traditional purview of law schools. The panelists cultivate this distinctive discursive space, maintaining that legal writing should occupy a prominent space in our English curricula.

Speaker 1, Lisa Klotz, JD, PhD, Lecturer, University of California, Davis

In “Opening Arguments: Introducing Legal Discourse to Pre-Law Students,” Speaker 1, a former prosecutor and law-and-motion specialist, discusses her Legal Reasoning, Research, and Writing course for pre-law students at her university. Specifically, she aims to prepare undergraduates for their first-year law school legal reasoning and writing course. Speaker 1 adapts materials used when she taught legal writing and advocacy in a law school, and she develops assignments that could be used in first-year legal writing classes. Assignments emphasize rule-based reasoning and reasoning by analogy/distinction. Speaker 1’s approach stresses the recursive nature of writing and the importance of revision and feedback (both oral and written). To that end, she requires students to work collaboratively in groups of four (“law firms”). This collaboration also helps prepare students for the kind of teamwork they’ll do in law school (study groups) and in the practice of law (colleagues).

Speaker 2, Lindsay Head, MA, JD, a PhD student at Louisiana State

In “Initial Implementation: Grading Contracts and Course Design in Undergraduate Legal Writing,” Speaker 2 builds on the foundations laid by scholars such as Ira Shor, Peter Elbow, Jane Danielewicz, and Asao Inoue to implement a grading contract in her undergraduate legal and professional writing course designed for students considering professions both inside and outside the law. Speaker 2 discusses the unique benefits and challenges of grading contracts in an undergraduate legal writing course. Teaching legal writing for the first time at any institutional level, Speaker 2 also reflects on her collaboration with practiced colleagues to develop a sound curriculum, along with teaching the undergraduate legal writing course itself. Ultimately, Speaker 2 emphasizes the importance of working with experienced colleagues when bringing novel approaches to the legal writing classroom.

Speaker 3, Antonio Elefano, MFA, JD, Lecturer, University of Southern California

In “And Justice for All: What Non-Lawyers Can Learn from Legal Writing,” Speaker 3 asks the question: how can an undergraduate legal writing course be informed by rhetoric and composition as well as creative writing pedagogies? Speaker 3—a former corporate litigator, rhet/comp writing fellow, and fiction writer—will discuss how he combined pedagogical practices from law school, legal practice, rhet/comp and creative writing to craft his Advanced Writing for Pre-Law Students course at a large research university. The writing assignments are evaluated under a rhetoric and composition lens (using the university’s writing program rubric), with an emphasis on clear and persuasive prose. Finally, borrowing from creative writing, Speaker 3 employs formal writing workshops, where students comment both orally and in essay form on other students’ assignments to sharpen their critical eyes and to forge a sense of collective responsibility. The result: a glimpse of law school and legal practice for prospective law students as well as a practicum in logic, argumentation, and professional writing for everyone else.

Speaker 4, Phil Mink, JD, Assistant Professor, University of Delaware

In “The Rhetoric of the Law: Teaching Pre-Law Students to Write Like Judges,” Speaker 4, a former communications and antitrust lawyer, asks what is required to transform his pre-law students’ frequently chaotic language into prose that would work in a professional setting. Building upon the work of Joseph Williams, George Gopen, and other scholars, Speaker 4 will demonstrate a deep-revision strategy geared to paragraph structure, perhaps the most problematic area of writing for pre-law students. Most undergraduates write down their ideas not in the most logical order but in the order in which they occurred. Students are then left with the task of rearranging their sentences into coherent patterns, an absolute necessity for legal documents. Most students, however, lack this expertise, so the only way to teach them is to subject their writing to the same detailed revision process that an experienced writer would use. At the end of this challenging exercise, Speaker 4 shows how even those students who are ambivalent about the English language can develop a richer understanding of the rhetorical devices that will serve them well in their professional lives.

Speaker 5, Willie Schatz, JD, Lecturer, University of Maryland

In “Torts and Courts for Undergrads,” Speaker 5 draws from 17 years of teaching Legal Writing at his university and discusses the challenge of introducing prospective law students to the conventions of legal prose, a specialized form of writing that emphasizes logic and persuasion. In his quest to faithfully replicate the legal writing course his students will encounter in law school, he relies on scholars such as Helene Shapo, Richard Neumann, Michael Murray and Deborah Bouchoux. Speaker 5’s students learn how to read and write about cases, how to apply legal principles to factual scenarios, and how to analyze and synthesize the law and the facts. Most importantly, these future law students learn which rhetorical method will most move that audience. Speaker 5’s approach begins with students briefing cases in assault, battery, and false imprisonment. When convinced they understand the concept, students write memorandums based on fact patterns created by Speaker 5 and his colleagues. The students complete their preparation by writing a Memorandum Supporting a Motion for Summary Judgment from a factual scenario. The end to these means? Students become familiar and comfortable with rhetorical and writing techniques that surely scared them on their first day of class. Speaker 5 expounds upon this process through which students leave equipped to handle the (now less) difficult task of writing like the attorneys they hope to become.

Does it matter to the legal profession and pedagogy that men and women didn’t write differently?

3 Nov

I gave a talk this week at a law school regarding my article in Written Communication from October 2016, “Gender/Genre: The lack of gendered register in texts requiring genre knowledge.” The article reports the results of an empirical study, but it does so with reference to theories from corpus linguistics and relevance-theoretic pragmatics, not the sort of thing that most law faculty are interested in. Instead, I wanted to emphasize for them the implications of my study in the legal profession and pedagogy and to situate it within a conversation about gender differences more broadly.

The article is one voice in a cultural and scholarly discussion about gender difference in communication. The conversation about gender differences has a folk component and a scholarly component. My article cites just three news stories—from The Boston Globe, CBS News, and The New Republic—but Google “gender difference” in Google news entries for a plethora.

Despite frequent studies that seem to show gender differences, my study showed that where men and women received similar training for a less than a year and set to a similar writing task in a profession to which they are socializing, their writing was statistically and practically indistinguishable.

This is important because difference discourse enables deficiency discourse. In other words, folks who talk of gender differences often end up talking about how some task may be more suited to men than to women. While there is evidence that women communicate differently than men in some contexts, particularly ones like social media without the constraints of professional conventions, there is not so much about the professional context and even less about professional writing.

Destabilizing folk beliefs about gender differences serves an important purpose in the legal profession, because we don’t want those folk beliefs to affect the confidence placed in female attorneys. In other words, we want to prevent gender discrimination in the legal workplace.

I used Biber’s involved/informational dimension[1] to identify variables to look for in a corpus of nearly 200 law-student papers. Several studies of gender differences in writing have used the involved—informational dimension. (See the article for discussion and citations. I won’t repeat that discussion here.)

The involved end of the dimension is frequently associated with women’s writing and the informational end with mens’. For example, Biber and colleagues examined a 123,000-word corpus of letters written by men (n = 187) and women (n = 51) between the 17th and 20th centuries.[2] Using the involved–informational dimension, they concluded that letters women wrote showed higher prevalence of involved characteristics than those men wrote. They also concluded that letters women wrote to other women were more involved than those they wrote to men, and letters men wrote to men were more informational than those they wrote to women (pp. 219-220).

Note that this suggests there is a sensitivity in the writers to the gender, and perhaps the discursive expectations of the audience. Thus, though men wrote more informationally than women, they did so to a lesser extent when writing TO women.

So, I wondered if men and women would abandon habitual, gendered communication practices when they wrote for an audience with more specific expectations for the writing in question. I collected students’ responses and final writing projects from their first-year legal writing course at two law schools in the Midwest. There were 197 participants of whom 193 indicated their gender. I asked students to indicate their gender in a free-form field, for reasons set out in the article and in some forthcoming work of mine. Based on their responses, I classed them into two gender categories, Gender M and Gender F.

None of the informational features varied significantly (p<0.05) with the gender of the author. Three of the involved features varied statistically significantly, but even they did not confirm an association between Gender F writers and the involved style, as the gender using these three involved features more frequently was Gender M, which tends to disconfirm a correlation between involved register and female authors in this sample.

Here, all three significant differences also had small effect sizes. (See the article for a discussion of this concept.) Two other features had small effect sizes, and all the rest had negligible effect sizes (none with r>.10). In short, it would be nearly impossible for a human reader to detect any differences based on author gender, consciously or unconsciously.

So in this study, linguistic register did not vary with gender where novice legal writers, after receiving less than a year of professional training, wrote in a form they understood to be convention-bound.

So what? The article makes its own arguments about its theoretical significance. What about significance to the legal profession and pedagogy?

The significance of my findings for the legal profession is simple: Law firms should expect men and women to communicate similarly, at least in writing. My study is one piece of evidence that women adapt to one genre of legal communication very similarly to men. Further research may reveal others.

None of this, however, means that judges or law-firm hiring partners, even female ones, are judging female associates according to the same standards as male ones. For example, in another recent voice in the scholarly debate, Professor Michael Higdon discussed the public distress over the use by women of “vocal fry,” a low tone of the voice that results in a gravelly sort of sound.[3] Apparently, it’s commonly used by the Kardashians, and many folks consider it an abomination in women’s speech. But I noted in a recent review of prize-winning Three-Minute Thesis presentations that male presenters make frequent use of vocal fry. I don’t know if anyone was complaining, but the speakers did after all win prizes for their performances.[4]

The bind, of course, is that women are told they should lower their voices to sound more authoritative. Their different—i.e., non-masculine—voices are seen as deficient, and the remedy is to make them sound more masculine. But they have to be careful not to go too far. This is similar to the bind where women, told to be more assertive like male counterparts are judged when they do so to be bossy or bitchy.

The significance of the conversation for legal educators is more complex. It fits into a broader conversation about women, communication, and the law. My study showed that men and women did not communicate distinguishably on the involved/informational dimension in first-year legal writing. I suspect that other characteristics, like vocal fry, are plenty common among men and disfavored mostly when women use them. With such characteristics, we need to let our female students know when they are doing it and that some folks find it annoying. The choice whether to use it or not must be theirs, and we should respect that choice.

We need to let ALL our students know first that many folk beliefs about gender differences in communication are ungrounded, and even some studies that purport to measure them are flawed (because, for example, they look at texts where men and women are not writing for the same purposes or with the same training); and second that some judgments are applied disproportionately to women.

Finally, we need to model the kind of leadership for them that we expect them to take up in the profession. When they become the hiring partners and judges of the future, they should not assume that a woman using vocal fry is a “valley girl” or “Kardashian wannabe”—in other words, they should withhold judgment about the person based on this superficial characteristic. But as good mentors, they may want to alert a female colleague to the rhetorical implications of her speech patterns, just as we as good teachers might do.

One professor in my audience noted that the first half of my pedagogical treatment puts a special burden on female students. Telling them that vocal fry represents a rhetorical danger requires them to add another thing to their checklist of things to do or not do based on gender. I acknowledge that is true. But until the second half of my pedagogical treatment is widely practiced and a new generation of decision-makers takes power in the profession, women will be subject to these kinds of judgments, and they deserve to know the risks so they can make their own choices.

[1] Douglas Biber, Variation across speech and writing 105 (1988).

[2] Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad & Randi Reppen, Corpus linguistics: Investigating language structure and use (1998).

[3] Michael J. Higdon, Oral Advocacy and Vocal Fry: The Unseemly, Sexist Side of Nonverbal Persuasion, 13 Legal Comm’n & Rhetoric: JALWD 1 (2015).

[4] I’m grateful to have taken part in a Facebook discussion of Prof. Higdon’s work hosted by JALWD on October 18. It helped me refine my thoughts on pedagogy relating to this topic.

Hahn: The Stactive Style

3 Oct

I enjoyed getting to know Dr. Ed Hahn during our time in Minnesota’s PhD program in Rhetoric and Scientific and Technical Communication. He always struck me as a very smart and thoughtful guy. In the most recent issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly, he demonstrated that amply with this essay:

Hahn, E. (2016). The Stactive Style: Whiteness and the Rhetoric of History. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 46(4), 331–350.

In it, Hahn identifies a stylistic symptom of a challenge that justice-oriented scholars with commitments in postmodern philosophy must face. On the one hand, they need to document historical instances of injustice, for example by showing patterns of racism, in order to argue in a rhetorically effective way to remedy that injustice. On the other hand, they carry with them the postmodern skepticism toward historical narratives (grand or otherwise).

The symptom, according to Hahn, is the “stactive” sentence style. I’m normally not fond of portmanteau words, and stactive is one. Its parents are “stative,” referring to sentences (often constructed with the copula) that “express states of being rather than action” (e.g., “I am hungry.”); and “active,” referring to sentences where a change in state is described (e.g., “I ate lunch.”). Hahn argues stactive sentences have aspects of both parents, that they suggest a historicity and change while concealing any details (dates, agents, etc.) about the process. In short, they serve a stative function using active verbs.

Hahn gives numerous examples of writers who nod to the necessity of historical processes resulting in present-day statuses but obscure actors, objects, dates, and details of the process stylistically. In an essay in Rhetoric Review (2005), Kennedy, Middleton, and Ratcliffe write that “‘the logic of white supremacy,’ for instance, ‘emerged to justify the existence of slavery as well as the oppression of slaves, Chinese immigrants, American Indians, Jewish people, etc.'” (emphasis by Hahn; Hahn at p. 337, qtng. Kennedy, Middleton, and Ratcliffe).  Here, Hahn argues that “emerged” conceals the processes and any detailed account of how white supremacy emerged, despite the authors’ call for a ‘historicization’ of whiteness.

My gloss on this: Accepting postmodernism in this sense deprives us of confidence in tools (like critically rational discourse and empirical evidence) that rhetoric tells us we need to actually solve problems in the world. I agree.

Two additional thoughts:

  1. In my mind, this connects with work in cognitive linguistics showing that people who hear a story told with indirect verbs (passives, middle voice, nominalizations) tend to attribute less culpability to the human actors in the story. (See Fausey, C. M., & Boroditsky, L. (2010). Subtle linguistic cues influence perceived blame and financial liability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(5), 644–650.)
  2. This makes me think of the concept in linguistics of the ‘middle voice,’ which comes somewhere between the ‘active’ and ‘passive’ voices. For example, if y0u say, “The coffee brewed,” the coffee is the subject of the verb, but it is not really an agent or a patient in this construction. The agent is removed. (I’m veering into stuff I don’t remember that well from linguistics, so take it with a grain of salt.) Middle voice also appears in English with reflexive pronouns. E.g., “He laid himself down,” or “She got herself out of there.” In some languages it is (or was) very common. (I remember a lot of it in Old Norse class.)

My Written Communication article has dropped…

24 Sep

My article in Written Communication is now available online. (The print version comes out next month.) You can read it on the journal’s website only if you have a subscription to the journal. You can read the version I submitted here (not formatted as it appears in the journal, but same content other than a few typo corrections):

Gender/Genre: The lack of gendered register in texts requiring genre knowledge

You can also contact me directly for a copy of the PDF from the journal (with the official page numbers).

Here’s the abstract:

Some studies have found characteristics of written texts that vary with author gender, echoing popular beliefs about essential gender differences that are reinforced in popular works of some scholarly authors. This article reports a study examining texts (N = 193) written in the same genre—a legal memorandum—by women and men with similar training in production of this type of discourse— the first year of U.S. law school—and finds no difference between them on the involved–informational dimension of linguistic register developed by Biber. These findings provide quantitative data opposing essentialist narratives of gender difference in communication. This essay considers relevance theory as a framework for understanding the interaction, exhibited in this and previous studies, of genre knowledge and gendered communicative performances.

Use what you choose presentation at SIGDOC ’16

23 Sep

I’m presenting the paper below at SIGDOC ’16 in Silver Spring, Maryland today. The paper is the outgrowth of an RSA workshop that Bill Hart-Davidson and Ryan Omizo led in Madison, WI, in 2015. Here’s the abstract:

This paper reports on the results of an intensive application development workshop held in the summer of 2015 during which a group of thirteen researchers came together to explore the use of machine-learning algorithms in technical communication. To do this we analyzed consumer electronic product customer reviews to reevaluate a central concept in North American Genre Theory: stable genre structures arise from recurring social actions. We discovered evidence of genre hybridity in the signals of instructional genres embedded into customer reviews. Our paper discusses the creation of a prototype web application, “Use What You Choose” (UWYC), which sorts the natural language text of Amazon reviews into two categories: instructionally-weighed reviews (e.g., reviews that contain operational information about products) and non-instructionally-weighed reviews (those that evaluate the quality of the product). Our results contribute to rhetorical genre theory and offer ideas on applying genre theory to inform application design for users of information services.

Here is the full paper:

And here are my slides from today, along with my speaker notes:

Empirical research into legal comm’n & professional status of LRW faculty

20 Jul

I was delighted to finagle an invitation to speak on a panel at the Legal Writing Institute in Portland on July 12, during the meeting of the LWI Professional Status Committee. The committee met in a plenary session with a larger audience and conducted its business, and then we panelists were asked to comment in short form (two minutes each) on an angle or issue relating to the professional status of legal research and writing faculty. (For readers outside the legal academy, teachers of communication in that field face status challenges similar to those faced by teachers of writing in the broader academy 25 or even 40 years ago.)

Kirsten Davis at Stetson Law (also on the panel) has talked about posting our comments, and I think that’s a grand idea. The others on the panel were Ken ChestekMary Beth Beazley, and Ruth Anne Robbins.

My comments (as I prepared them, possibly slightly different than those I delivered):

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts today! I received my PhD training as an empirical researcher in rhetoric and composition. Though I’m teaching rhetoric and technical communication outside the legal academy in a tenure-track position at Georgia Tech, I did previously teach legal writing for eight years at University of Minnesota.

I want to share two thoughts–one a recommendation and one a caution–about the role of research for legal communication faculty.

My first thought is that legal communication faculty should engage in empirical research into legal communication. Here, I’m speaking of the professional communication practices of lawyers, judges, and others outside the classroom. Your should engage in this research for at least two reasons.

First, quality teaching in any field is motivated by systematic empirical and theoretical consideration of what is being taught. We cannot rely only on our own practical experiences, though they are very valuable. Our individual experience is limited in scope, and our years in the classroom can insulate us from knowledge of new developments. We must systematically examine what is being done in the field in order to prepare our students for it.

Second, the professionalization of legal communication faculty demands that they make the subject of their instruction the object of their research. The professionalization of writing professors in English (and other) departments and the broader academy accompanied the focus those professors put on research into writing: moving away from the old model where writing teachers published articles and books on Shakespeare and the Romantics, for example–literary research–toward a model where writing teachers publish research on writing processes, contexts, and products.

But my second thought is a caution about my first. In these other departments, the focus on research that examines communication outside the classroom (and the ‘professionalization’ of those researchers) has resulted in a devaluing of classroom and pedagogy research. I have been warned by mentors not to do classroom research, that it will harm my job prospects and tenure and promotion case. I’m continuing to do that kind of research anyway, but it’s less of a focus for me.

So, even if you take my recommendation to research outside the classroom, I hope you resist the temptation to devalue pedagogical research.


(I elaborated on some of this in my presentation on qualitative research the next day)