Research Project

 ***Adapted from an assignment by Emily Hall***


Here’s your chance to conduct independent research on a topic related to writing and/or tutoring writing that you’re really interested in learning more about.  In the process you will deepen your knowledge about that topic and share what you learn with the rest of us so that we can become even more knowledgeable and effective at what we do!  For this project, which will be done in stages and result in a 10-15-page final paper, you’ll need to identify specific research questions related to writing, design a means to answer those questions, conduct library and original research, figure out your conclusions, draft and substantially revise a paper reporting those results, and share your questions and findings with the whole class through an oral presentation.

This paper is a chance for you to contribute to the field of composition studies and to leave your mark on our Writing Fellows Program.  As you may have noticed, writing Fellow projects (as well as published articles by undergraduate writing tutors at other institutions) are included in our 403 syllabus.  I hope you will view this project as an opportunity for you to do exciting, original work!

Just like good papers, the best research questions don’t often come to us spontaneously; they’re the result of reflection and incubation—time for careful thought, reading, planning, preliminary writing, conversation, rethinking and more reading.  Because you’ll be living with this topic for quite a while and investing many hours in research and writing about it, I urge you not to choose the first topic that comes along; instead, take time and care to discover and define a topic that genuinely interests you.

The Timetable

  • Tuesday, Oct. 3                   Brief research proposal due in Learn@UW dropbox
  • Tue. Oct. 3 –Oct. 10            Conferences with Annika this week
  • Tuesday, Oct. 17                 Longer proposal and bibliography due in dropbox
  • Tuesday, Nov. 14                Draft of research paper due to workshop group
  • Tue. Nov. 14-Nov. 21         Conferences with Annika this week
  • Thursday, Nov. 16th          In-Class Workshop on Research Paper
  • Tuesday, Nov. 21st             In-Class Workshop on Research Paper
  • Thursday, Dec. 7th             Final Research Paper Due

Research Methods

Your research must involve both library research and original (field or hands-on) research about writing or tutoring writing.  Your secondary research will likely involve recently published articles on topics related to your subject rather than whole books.  Your original research may involve interviewing tutors, students, professors, or others; designing and distributing questionnaires to students, Writing Fellows or faculty; analyzing published writing; video- or audio-taping conferences between students and tutors, gathering and analyzing sample writing assignments and more.  In other words, you will be generating your own original facts and data, not just synthesizing what others have found or argued.  We’ll talk in class about research methods, and you may always email me for advice about how to find appropriate library sources for this paper.


Your research paper itself should be organized around a clear thesis, which you announce in your introduction and develop and support in the body of the paper.  This thesis should represent the conclusions you draw from your research; it should be argumentative and debatable; and your paper should anticipate and address counter-arguments.  Although there is no recipe for organizing the paper itself, somehow and somewhere within the paper you need to do the following: introduce your research questions (What questions are you trying to answer in this paper?), establish their significance (Why is it important to answer these questions?), describe your methodology (How did you go about answering your questions?), and present your major findings and argue for your answers (What did you find out?  And why should we accept these answers?  What evidence do you have?).


You are required to meet with me twice during this process – the first will be a check-in regarding your topic, and then later I’ll meet with you about your draft.  You are welcome to try to schedule additional meetings with me, or to visit the Writing Center with your project at any stage.  You will also read and comment on one another’s drafts.

Documenting sources

I’d like you to use the MLA or APA documentation system, whichever you know better and prefer.  Use Writing Center handouts as guides to these systems.  If you’d prefer to use a different documentation system, please talk with me.

Possible Starting Points

What follows are some ideas for topics to get you started thinking about possibilities.  (For a paper of this length, remember that each of these will need to be narrowed and made more specific.)  Please don’t feel limited by this list; if you have a question about writing that you’d like to know more about, I encourage you to pursue it!

  • What are student conferences with Writing Fellows really like?  How does the reality compare with the ideal?
  • What are student conferences with Writing Fellows really like?  How does the reality compare with the ideal?
  • What do student writers want from Writing Fellows?
  • How do Writing Fellows negotiate their institutional authority?
  • How might different social issues and identities influence the tutoring of writing (i.e. gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, etc.)
  • How do/should Writing tutors handle conflicts with students?  (Conflicts can be defined in many ways—offensive papers, resistant students, etc.)
  • Choose and explore an ethical issue related to tutoring (i.e. should tutors be friends with their students?).
  • How do tutors deploy humor in conferences?
  • How does body language enhance or hinder a writing conference?
  • Examine the conventions of writing in your discipline or major.  How would you characterize these conventions?  How did they develop?
  • How does our curricular-based writing tutoring program compare with writing center peer tutoring?
  • How do students interpret Writing Fellows written comments?
  • How do students respond to praise? How do they interpret praise?  Do the importance and effects of praise vary by level, confidence, or past success of writers?
  • How do Writing Fellows work with ESL writers?  What more should WFs know about working with second-language writers?
  • Examine how one of the theorists we’ve read (Sommers and Saltz, Bruffee, Muriel Harris, etc.) has influenced the teaching or tutoring of writing.
  • Does generalist tutoring work?  What happens when Fellows tutor across disciplines? What about when Fellows tutor within their major disciplines?
  • How do WFs work with basic or inexperienced writers?  What more should WFs know about working with basic writers?
  • Compare various supplemental ways of teaching writing at UW.  How do workshop groups (in English 100) compare with one-to-one tutoring in the Writing Center or on-line tutoring writing?
  • Examine cover sheets—how do they work?  How do Fellows use them?  What are students’ perceptions of their value?

There are hundreds of possibilities!  You are encouraged to go beyond this list, but your project must be relevant to the teaching or tutoring of writing.

Brief Research Proposals

Your brief proposal should be uploaded to Canvas on Tuesday, October 3rd, by class time.

The proposal itself should be informal but typed, double-spaced.  In the proposal I’d like you to identify three possible topics you might like to focus on for your research project.  Please feel free to do some preliminary library or original research as you are working on this proposal.

For each topic please answer all of the questions below—write a minimum of ½ page for each topic.

  • What’s your main research question? Make this as specific as you can at this early stage
  • Why are you interested in doing research on this topic?
  • What original research (collecting and analyzing ___________, field work, interviews, questionnaires . . . ) will you be doing to try to answer your research questions?
  • Pros and Cons of choosing this topic?
  • What is the audience for this topic? What field of study will your results be part of?  If you gave a talk on this paper, who would come?  (Could be writing teachers/tutors/tutoring program administrators, etc. etc. but needs to be more than just your 403 class or our WFP)
  • Why does this topic matter? In other words, how would research on this topic help us improve as teachers and tutors of writing?

Please also include a brief introduction and conclusion to introduce your interests and previous experiences with academic research papers, and a conclusion which indicates which topic you are currently leaning towards.

Library Sources for Your Research Paper

Campus Libraries

For this research paper, the libraries you’ll need the most are Memorial and the CICM (Center for Instructional Materials and Computing), which is the School of Education’s library, in the Teacher Education Building, 225 N. Mills St.

Bibliographical Tools

Ask reference librarians for help in finding sources.  Ask me. Ask Emily.  Ask Brad (he’s very knowledgeable).  Ask your classmates.  Find and ask experts on the subject of your research.

Bibliographical tracings from the articles we’ve read this semester—use Madcat

ERIC: bibliography produced by the Educational Research Information Center, available on-line via UW Library system’s web page.  In general, stick with published materials you find from this bibliography; it can be hard to obtain conference presentations.

CCCC [Conference on College Composition and Communication] Bibliography of Composition and Rhetoric.  Southern Illinois U Press.  PE 1404 C22.  1987-1994.  Memorial Library Reference Room 262.

CompPile is an online inventory of publications in writing studies.

Some Major Journals for this Research

(Most are available online through ProQuest and/or JSTOR via the UW Libraries home page)

CCC [College Composition and Communication]

College English

Journal of Advanced Composition

Journal of Basic Writing

Research in the Teaching of English

Rhetoric Review

Writing Center Journal 

Writing Lab Newsletter

Written Communication


Literacy in Composition Studies

Composition Forum

Computers and Composition: An International journal

Computers and Composition Online