End of Year Report

Having completed my research project, I am able to reflect on the process to see what I have learned. In terms of research writing, I learned that while it shares some similarities with the typical writing that I do for my undergraduate classes, research writing also has a few unique qualities that make it stand out. For instance, I usually approach writing like I do most things in life, start at the beginning and work my way to the finish. However, when working on this research project I found that it was best to jump around. In fact, the introduction was the last part I wrote. Additionally, I am used to stating my thesis in the first paragraph of whatever I am writing, but for this research, I put this information in my conclusion. Each time I worked on this project I made changes in some way and as a result, I learned that drafting is a crucial element of research writing. I constantly moved things I had written to different areas, changed the examples I was using, and formed different opinions on what I was studying.

In terms of research content, I had unexpected results that taught me a lot about the ways in which writing is thought about in university English departments. For this study, I asked students and faculty to bring in samples of their own writing and then asked them a series of questions about categorizing them, specifically in relation to the terms “academic” and “creative”. In doing so, I hoped to analyze how these terms create a writing binary in order to propose more fluid ways of thinking about writing.

To summarize my results, faculty members used “academic” and “creative” more frequently than students to label their writing. However, they also viewed these terms in a less binary way and saw them as overlapping categories whereas students typically described them as being entirely opposite. Faculty did not hesitate to point out issues with the writing binary, but it was a larger challenge for students to make that leap. Students could understand shared characteristics of creativity and academia, but did not feel comfortable implementing such qualities in their writing assignments because they didn’t feel it fit into the “academic” writing box. If these obstacles are to be overcome, it is important that we continue to analyze ideas about writing as well as make attempts to shed light on the problematic nature of the “academic” and “creative” writing binary. As a result of this study, it is evident that students, myself included, could benefit from a more open-minded approach to writing. Some ways that faculty can help make this a reality are by facilitating more discussions about genre, creating activities that demonstrate atypical examples of categories and labels that can be attributed to writing, and by giving writing assignments that can be fluid and interpreted in many ways like genres are in real life.

Though this study was informative and exciting to carry out, I did hit a few minor obstacles along the way. For example, there were a few cases in which I had to reschedule activities for this project due to Pace University closing in poor weather conditions. As a result, I had some timing issues to meet deadlines during the spring semester because I had to write about data that I hadn’t fully collected and analyzed yet. If I were to do this study again, I would want to give myself more time in between drafts to do research so that I could gather more responses and read through them more carefully. I would do this by conducting my research activities at an earlier point during the academic year.

Nevertheless, these small timing issues were resolved easily with the help of my faculty advisor, Meaghan Brewer. Professor Brewer and I communicated via email on a weekly basis and met each time I had a deadline approaching or had gathered new data for this study. She also accompanied me to conduct the research activities with the group of students and faculty that we used. Working on this project was a challenge as it was my first time carrying out a research project, but Professor Brewer was able to collaborate with me in a way that made obstacles easy to overcome. It took initiative on my end to contact her in order to schedule meetings or ask questions about the research process. I also had to sort through large stacks of data that I collected from the research activities so that I could share my findings with her before we could move forward to the next step. However, I found that my initiative was well-rewarded and that Professor Brewer was more than willing to assist me when I needed it. Because she is extremely educated on writing and genre, she was able to help me find articles and books that I could read to provide me with enough understanding and background to add my own input on the binary between “academic” and “creative” writing.

Blog Post #3, “Exploring the Academic/Creative Writing Binary”

Last month, my faculty mentor Professor Brewer and I received our approval from the IRB to conduct activities with people for the purpose of this research project. In order to do so, we had to provide final drafts of a consent form for participants as well as the questions that we would be asking them. After fulfilling this step, I completed the literature review section of my research as well as outlined my methodology in preparation for my research activities. Together, these sections have totaled roughly 10 pages. I have also developed a complete bibliography of the sources that I used to build my research question. My problem-solving process has been heavily reliant on drafting. I start by writing what I know and including any quotes or references that I know will be useful. From there, I work through any questions by reading and reviewing with my advisor to make improvements. Communicating with Professor Brewer is a crucial component of my research and we have been able to successfully discuss the study and have meetings when necessary which has helped me overcome obstacles that I come across while writing. Additionally, Professor Brewer helped me secure a time where I could sit in on one of her classes and a Pace University English faculty meeting in order to conduct my research activities for this study. The idea for this research project came from a paper that I wrote in Brewer’s class myself last year, so she has been able to give me honest feedback and help me see the progress I have made. As I learn more about writing and the ways it is perceived in schools, I have more initiative to understand how these perceptions came to be so that I can change the binary way some people think about writing.

My largest challenge and concern with this study so far is that my scheduled research activities were recently delayed. Originally, I had planned to visit a session of Professor Brewer’s ENG 201 class on Monday, March 4 in order to conduct a portion of my study. However, campus was closed on that day due to poor weather conditions, so I was unable to go through with it. We rescheduled for March 11, but I was hoping to have more time to review the results from that activity so that I would be better prepared to ask questions and take notes at the English faculty meeting I am attending on March 27. However, I am confident that these steps will get done and provide me with a lot of great information that I can use to build research findings and a conclusion for this study. I have already learned a lot from this project so far such as how different definitions of genres can change a student’s attitude toward writing by providing different guidelines to follow. Additionally, I have been reading research on the writing binary from the 1980s which taught me that scholars have been debating these writing trends for decades, and with each study there is a new perspective introduced. One thing that stood out to me most in going through my sources for this project was how many students are reluctant to take risks in their writing. The strict rubrics and policies in place for college writing assignments have caused many students to limit themselves in their writing due to the belief that certain assignments can only be done one way or only have one purpose. In my research, I hope to explore this further and encourage less rigid ways of thinking in college writing classrooms.

Blog Post #2, “Exploring the Academic/Creative Writing Binary” Mid-Year Blog

So far, I have completed my IRB application for approval to conduct research on people as a component of my undergraduate research study. Professor Brewer and I are working on creating a consent form for participants to fill out prior to their involvement in the study. Our sample will be derived from Pace University faculty and students. The Director of Composition, Professor Kristen di Gennaro, has already agreed to allow us to use one of the Composition Faculty Meetings next spring for this study. Additionally, Professor Brewer has arranged for me to attend a session of her composition course next semester. Collaborating with her has provided me with numerous opportunities to carry out my research and complete related tasks.

With the help of Professor Brewer, I have also started to gather articles and read existing research on my topic. In doing so, I have discovered that my perceptions about academic and creative writing might be reversed. Though I started off thinking that creative writing wasn’t receiving enough recognition, much of my research implies that academic writing is actually less valued than creative writing. Going forward, I will be paying more attention to how perceptions of writing change when they are observed outside of the academic sphere. For instance, my research has shown me that academic writing may be more valued in English departments, but creative work is more likely to be appreciated at home or hung on a family fridge.  I was skeptical of these ideas at first, but the reading I have done thus far has opened my mind to the possibility that writing classifications are more complex than they originally seem.

Blog Post 1, “Exploring the Academic/Creative Writing Binary”

The title of my undergraduate research project is “Exploring the Academic/Creative Writing Binary.” The purpose of this study is to investigate faculty and undergraduate students’ perceptions of “academic writing” and “creative writing” in the context of an English Department. Historically, English departments have been divided among experts who produce creative writing and those who produce academic writing (Mayers). However, recent work by scholars across English studies has challenged the academic/creative binary (Gere et al; Goldblatt; Hesse; Mayers). In conducting this research, my thesis advisor and I hope to redefine and illustrate potential overlaps between these categories (academic and creative writing) or to propose new (perhaps more fluid or capacious) ways of labeling and conveying the kind of writing students and faculty produce. Specifically, Professor Brewer and I are going to explore whether these are terms or categories that either groups use, or whether faculty and students’ perceptions of academic and creative writing challenge these categories.

We intend to explore these concepts through a qualitative study. After obtaining IRB approval, we would devote one class of Meaghan Brewer’s English 302 to a workshop where students in the class bring in samples of their own writing and then put them into categories and create labels. Students would fill out a form giving a rationale for how they labeled different kinds of writing before we opened up to a class discussion. We would repeat the same activity in a composition faculty meeting in the English department. These activities are modeled on activities described in research by composition scholar Anne Ruggles Gere.

We have already consulted with the Director of Composition, Dr. Kristen di Gennaro, on using one of the composition faculty meetings to collect data. With the help of Professor Brewer, I have also started to collect and read existing articles on my topic in order to start forming the foundation of my literary criticism portion of this study. Additionally, I have started to fill out the IRB application and intend to have it submitted within the next two weeks. ​