Professor Karen Lunsford reviews empirical studies

A review of empirical studies about writing since the early 20th century reveals a complex tapestry, capturing scenes from classrooms to global literacy practices. Karen Lunsford, associate professor in the UCSB Writing Program, and Kevin Roozen, an associate professor of Auburn University, co-authored the review of the studies, which dated back to 1912.

The article is included in a special issue of Research in the Teaching of English, published in November. It is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of National Council of Teachers of English. Lunsford and Roozen considered articles in several NCTE journals about college and adult writing. Other teams were assigned elementary school writing and secondary school writing.

Their article is titled " 'One Story of Many to Be Told': Following Empirical Studies of College and Adult Writing through 100 Years of NCTE Journals." The authors note that Writing Studies topics and methodologies have evolved over the years. This evolution, however, has not been a sweeping and linear grand narrative, according to the writers. Instead, it has been interrupted and challenged by various alternative discourses.

These discourses represent significant "fault lines" that challenge some of the quantitative methods used by empirical studies. In some cases, authors used narrative techniques, even satires, to critique "scientific" approaches. For example, one article analyzes word counts in texts from the notorious McCarthy hearings in such detail that the irony might be missed, except for the researcher's "purple prose," according to the authors.

Such alternative discourses demonstrate that "Writing Studies emerged from a complex mixture of disciplinary traditions, and that tensions still to be resolved.have deep historical roots." The authors also trace changes in topics over time, such as in the 1980s, when some research moved from classroom scenes to "the full scope of the undergraduate curriculum and the professional workplace."