where does my research problem come from for module #3?

I’m a little lost on how to begin module 3. Do I need to write a new literature review for this module? Or can I refine a problem statement and research questions etc. and go from there?

The idea behind the course is that you use modules you’ve worked on in future ones, so you are absolutely encouraged to use the problem statement you came up with in Module #1 and the literature review you came up with in Module #2.

Essentially, I’m asking you in Module #3 to come up with a research method for collecting qualitative data to answer a specific research question. Think about the gap you identified for your literature review. What unanswered questions can you identify from that gap? Then think about a way you could collect qualitative data to answer those questions, such as by conducting interviews, focus groups, usability tests, a field study with a specific group of people (i.e. professionals in a particular industry, teachers, students, non-profit staff or volunteers, etc.) and/or collecting specific documents.

That being said, you can pick a different research problem for each module, but yes: you’ll need to repeat the steps from the first two modules: coming up with a research problem and then reviewing literature. These are essential steps for designing a research study, which is what we’re practicing in this class (and what you’ll be asked to do for the final project).

How specific should i be in my research instrument?

In module 3, should I identify a specific organization or is it better to keep this assignment more general? E.g. research participants will be employees of a large organization (more than 5,000 employees), or research participants will be employees of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Either is fine for the purposes of this module, but the more specific you can make it, the better. If you were to really run this study, for example, you would recruit real, live people. So, if you have real, live people in mind, why not mention them?

The Qualities of Good Qualitative Research: Teacher Response to Homework #3

Grades on Canvas

As a qualitative researcher by trade, I can tell you many of the pitfalls of this discipline.


Many people think that “qualitative” is code for not being as rigorous as the quantitative folks. Qualitative research doesn’t allow for regression analysis, interrater reliability, or other measurements of study validity that quantitative researchers use. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be systematic, though.

In this context, being a “systematic” qualitative research means having a study plan that is based on best practices for the type of research design you are using (i.e. ethnographic, interview-based, focus group-based, document-based, usability-based, etc.), and following that study plan.

Conducting a Qualitative Study: How is qualitative research defined?“Qualitative research is defined by the type of data it relies on and by the methods it applies in gathering and analyzing that data” (p. 5-1)

What are the main phases and methods associated with qualitative research? Interviews, focus groups, usability tests, field observations, and document analyses.

How do you attain credibility in qualitative research? Ensure respondents or participants represent the population or occupants of the central idea or hypothesis.

How do you attain transferability? Be able to answer: is it sensible to transfer the results for use in other settings?

How do you attain dependability? The number or amounts of times the researcher engages in the study from the study site (direct access), the depth, expanse, clarity of the study content, the diversity of respondents to ensure fair and multiple perspectives are represented and be sure to connect the qualitative responses – evaluate the narratives and such responses for correlations. Conclude the study using all the elements of dependability. – Gina


Conducting a rigorous study means following protocols for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data. This means having a solid plan for each of these stages, a plan which makes sense, given your research design, and following this plan, or adapting it based on exigencies that arise.

Representative of actual data

Sometimes people call research “qualitative” when they simply don’t have any data. Data in a qualitative study means “pertinent information collected from human beings or human-made artifacts.” You can’t use intuition, your own perceptions, or secondary information in a qualitative study. Just like all forms of research, you need to collect, analyze, and interpret your own data for your study to count as primary research.

Representative of actual participants

Finally, it can be easy to “cherry pick” examples from qualitative data that aren’t representative of your total data sample. The goal of all qualitative research should be to identify representatives of your data, whether these representations are vignettes, or small samples of your data, user profiles, or charts. Here’s where thinking like a quantitative person can help. There’s no harm in showing what percentage of your data set a particular data snippet represents, for example.

Mostly, qualitative researchers handle this problem through “triangulation,” defined as “the comparison of different forms of data to explore different angles of a specific research topic.” You might interview participants, collect documents, and do a follow-up survey, for instance. Or you might compare individual participants to all other participants to triangulate their level of representativeness.

Connecting Module 2 to Module 3: Teacher Response to Module #2

Your grades are on Canvas, so check for them there.

I also provide individualized feedback on modules that connect what you individually did to what you need to do in the next module, so be sure to check on that as well.

You’ve identified a gap, now you have to fill it

Once you’ve completed a literature review, and identified a gap in research, a natural step is to design a study to fill that gap.

The most natural way to do this is to think about:

  1. What kinds of studies other researchers have conducted on this topic.
  2. What kinds of data other researchers have collected on this topic.
  3. What kinds of data would be most useful for answering your research question.

TPC needs empirical research, desperately

As you are no doubt noticing, “research” in TPC is a wide-ranging term with few stable definitions. Our readings in this class are specifically designed to push you toward empirical research, but much of what gets published as “research” in TPC would actually fall under the “secondary research” definition in most fields. Literature reviews, theoretical analyses, and other genres of articles in which scholars rely on the data of other researchers, are all secondary. Empirical research is the gold standard of “primary research,” and means that you have collected your own data in an empirical (meaning observational) study.

TPC desperately needs more of this kind of research. Many of our “best practices” are based on reviews of scholarship and other theoretical constructions, ad infinitum. Meaning: much of our understandings of what TPC is are based not on empirical observations of actual communication situations, but on theoretical constructions of these situations.

This has been changing in the last 5-10 years, but there are many topics which go under-researched in our field.

a good definition of a “gap in the literature”

Someone sent this to me. If you’re struggling to understand what I mean by identifying a “gap in the literature,” this is a good source:

The gap, also considered the missing piece or pieces in the research literature, is the area that has not yet been explored or is under-explored. This could be a population or sample (size, type, location, etc.), research method, data collection and/or analysis, or other research variables or conditions.

Via: https://ncu.libguides.com/researchprocess/literaturegap

Final Steps for Module #2: Teacher Response to Drafts

As you work on revising your drafts, keep in mind the following tips.

Your Annotated Entries Should Stand the Test of Time

One function of an annotated bibliography is to record important information from a source. You can’t re-read every source every time you start a new project. Make sure your entries:

  • Define any key concepts you’re working on.
  • Explain everything clearly and simply so when you go back to it you won’t be confused.
  • Provide enough detail about each source that you can build an accurate literature review containing it.

Example of an effective annotated bib entry:

Meloncon, L. K. (2012;2013;2014;). Introduction. In Meloncon L. (Ed.), Rhetorical accessability: At the intersection of technical communication and disability studies. Baywood Pub. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315231501

In the introduction to Rhetorical AccessAbility, Meloncon states that “Although the two fields [disability studies and technical communication] share a common ground, current scholarship in technical communication has not adequately explored these intersections, nor has scholarship in disability studies” (p. 4). Meloncon notes that the collection of essays in the book will help technical communications professionals understand why “disability is a global concern” and disability studies should be a key area of research and practice for technical and professional communication (TPC) (p. 2). While the chapters explore some of the intersections of disability studies and technical communication, more research is needed to inform the work of technical and professional communicators as the world’s population of people with disabilities continues to grow. Meloncon points out that although the Society for Technical Communication has established a special interest group for accessibility, there has not been much research in this area by practitioners. In contrast, there are several studies on teaching accessibility in technical communication.

This introduction helps frame the current knowledge available at the intersection of disability studies and TPC. Similar to Bennett and Hannah’s argument, Meloncon emphasizes a need for collaboration in both research and practice between the fields of disability studies and technical communication.

Consider Including a Few Keywords for Every Annotated Bib Entry

One thing everyone should do is include a few keywords for every bib entry. This will make your entries more searchable in the future, especailly if you decide to store them in a technology like Evernote. Keywords should essentially be specific topic areas covered the the article (e.g. service-learning, usability, technical writing, pedagogy, content strategy, etc.).

Your Annotated Bib Should Help You Write Your Lit Review

This question has come up a couple times. Essentially: your bib should teach you exactly where the commonalities and gaps are in your literature. If you’re not seeing these, it could be that there are no commonalities, meaning the conversation is too new for commonalities to have emerged. Or there could be no gaps because the conversation is very homogenous.

These are both potential findings, though ;-). Your literature review is simply an empirical view of the state of a sub-topic. Nothing is guaranteed. Simply state what exists.

Your Lit Review Should Build Bridges Not Destroy Them

One thing that people who are new to a field tend to do is to focus on the gaps in a conversation. This is important to do, but at the same time: your goal as a scholar or practitioner should always be to move a conversation forward. You want to avoid saying things like “such and such is under-theorized” or “we have a lack of focus in this conversation.” Focus on describing approaches, differences, and productive possibilities. That’s what a good literature review does.

Here’s an example of an effective lit review that builds bridges while still identifying a gap:

Missing in this collection of literature is research that explores the potential and tangible deliverables that technical communicators could provide for community partners via service learning assignments. Administrators and instructors need specific details and information for “the scope of audiences, document types, rhetorical purposes, content, styles and outcomes” to understand why service learning supports superior professional development for students. (Henson & Sutliff, p. 202) These deliverables obviously evolve with technology and the demands of the nonprofit sector, therefore the research is inherently ongoing. That said, it is information that is of critical importance for robust preparation of the workforce and to understand the impact of the field of TPC at large. (McEachern, p. 222) Technical writers have much to offer the greater good, and with the goal of balancing “social conscience with technical learning” in mind, more research will lead to a better understanding of those offerings. (Crabtree and Sapp, p. 428)

Final Step for Module #2

6) 10/1/21 by Midnight ET >>

Revise all your documents and hand them in:

  • Cover Letter, Annotated Bibliography of 10 or more sources, and a Literature Review are due to Canvas by Midnight ET

Questions about types of sources in tpc

Do our sources need to come from TPC-specific journals, like the examples you provide for our first module? Or can they be articles that are just related to TPC in some way? For example, I have seen interesting articles in the International Journal of Advertising and in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour – would journals like those be suitable as well?​

As long as they relate to TPC, I’m fine with it. TPC is an interdisciplinary field, so citations of research from other fields are common.

Do all sources need to be research articles, or are we also able to use practitioner articles, etc?

TPC is also a field that values practitioner-based inquiry, so it is also common to cite practitioner-based articles as well, including those published in industry-specific journals (e.g. https://boxesandarrows.com/).

I’ve been researching topics related to fundraising; am I better off narrowing that window down (for example, digital fundraising, or corporate fundraising, or fundraising communication), or should I stick with a more broad topic?

So, this is a question regarding how large a small a gap you should be trying to identify. As a rule of thumb, I advise: as small as you can make it. It is always harder to account for a larger gap in research, especially when you’re first getting started. So, focusing on a smaller gap is always advisable. That being said, sometimes there just isn’t that much research done on a certain area. In this case, you still want to focus down as much as you can. Think about focusing on a specific problem or question, such as how a problem is solved in a practitioner space, what a new trend means for the field, or the ever-popular: how to do something. We get a lot of “how to do something” publications in TPC because we value innovation as a field.

The Tedious But Essential Task of Reviewing Literature: Teacher Response to Homework #2

Business Keeping

Grades on Canvas.

On Folks That Don’t Know Their Own Field

When I encounter emerging scholars or practitioners in a field related to TPC (i.e. technical communication, UX, content strategy, digital marketing) who don’t know any of the literature of their own field, I’m not sure how to respond. Two years ago I attended a national-level UX conference, for example, and was excited to receive an invitation from the prestigious UX trade journal Boxes and Arrows to write an article about the importance of academic-industry partnerships.

Upon returning to the group of designers I’d been schmoozing with before discussing my potential article with an editor of the journal, I announced excitedly: “I just got invited to submit something to Boxes and Arrow!

“Ooh!” Designer 1 exclaimed instantly.

“What’s that?” Designer 2 asked, confused?

Designer 2 was a professional who was probably being paid at least 1.5x my own salary to deliver cutting-edge user experiences for a major company. And he had no idea what one of the flagship journals in his own field was.

To say that I was shocked is putting it mildly. More so, however, it made me wonder: what exactly was this major company paying him to do when he clearly had no idea where to find best practices in his own field?

A literature review is a summary of any previous research on a specified topic that a researcher takes on in order to identify what other researchers have already done on that topic. In the research process, its purpose is to make sure that the prospective researcher understands what research came before them in order to help them figure out what new areas they’d like to explore and study that have not been studied before. Without a literature review, it’s possible a researcher would not be able to determine if their work would be new or a duplication of previous work, nor they be able to ascertain where their particular topic connects with others or where it fills in gaps.It’s useful to consider how a literature review can also help people other than yourself as the researcher. Keeping in mind that some of your readers will not have the background knowledge that you do means that you may want to write the literature review knowing that the audience may be hearing this information for the first time – something that may change the way you approach it. I had also never considered how a literature review could add credibility to your work (or, perhaps, that the lack of a literature review could make you look less credible) – it’s also useful to consider how to use the literature review to intentionally establish this credibility. Finally, the most useful tip was simply the list of ways to find sources: specific bibliographies, libraries, and websites that I had never heard of, but will definitely investigate for use going forward. – Margaret

Building a Relationship with Field Literature

If you’re not aware of current trends in your field, whether you’re a scholar or a practitioner or somewhere in-between, then you are out of alignment with best practices. Thought leaders in every field are constantly pushing the boundaries of methods, knowledge-making practices, and techniques.

What is a thought leader? Someone who is considered a leader in a given field.

What is a best practice? Something that is agreed upon by qualified professionals to be the best way to approach a problem.

Notice that these definitions are relational and problematic: “considered a leader.” “Agreed upon by…”

Literature in a field represents an ongoing conversation. If you’re not at least aware of that conversation, then you’re stabbing in the dark. How can you know that what you do each day at work is effective if you have no definition for what is and isn’t effective?

An annotated bibliography is a document that cites multiple relevant sources to a particular research topic and provides a brief summary and analysis of each source. According to the article, an annotated bibliographyis used as a research aid torecall the source’s content, compare/contrast the sources, measure the importance of the source to the research topic, and draw from the research conducted in these sources to strengthen newresearch.

The tip in this article that I found the most helpful were stating the ability to reproduce theauthor’s abstract (and giving clear instructions on how to do so) in the bibliography. This can be a major time saver when the purpose of the annotations is simply to record the overview of the source for reference on the source’s credibility and relevance to the newresearch. Secondly, the article’s breakdown of how to write your own abstract for the works was very helpful as I personally do not have a lot of experience with creating annotated bibliographies or abstracts for research works. Lastly, Ifoundthe tip to read the works being annotated in chronological order to determine which research is original vs. derivativeof previous works to be very insightful. Doing so could benefit research when comparing/contrasting sources and explaining where specificideas originated from, as well as which works may have disproved the researchof others. – Gabriella

Being a Literature Pack Rat With Evernote

The answer to this problem is to hoard valuable literature like there is no tomorrow. My favorite tool for doing so is Evernote.

A screenshot of my Evernote dashboard

Evernote allows you to create notes that you can tag for keywords and place in customized notebooks. This allows you to annotate sources quickly and efficiently and to save all your annotations in one place. Evernote also works across all platforms, meaning you can access all your notes on your desktop, tablet, or mobile device, or even online from a public computer. Also: IT’S FREE.

As you can tell: I think Evernote is just about the greatest invention known to man ;-).

The Pro version, which is $60 per year, even allows you to import and annotate PDFs.

With the Google Chrome Evernote Web Clipper, you can even save entire webpages offline.

Now, whenever someone asks me something like the best way to optimize a mobile website, or what the top ten usability testing tools are, I can recall that information in seconds. More importantly: when I’m in the middle of a project and need to refamiliarize myself with a best practice, every single best practice I’ve ever encountered is available to me.

Regardless of whether you use a particular tool: if you want to be the best professional you can be, you need to hoard knowledge, and you use to manage this knowledge stockpile so that it is useful to you and others.

A few of the tips listed in this article that I personally use when researching are to read the abstract first, avoid plagiarism by taking notes in my own words, use an orderly system when taking notes, keep full record and info about my sources, and allow myself plenty of time to read through the research I need. I cannot tell you how much time I’ve saved myself by reading the abstract of a paper in order to determine whether or not it’s going to have the information I need. The author will highlight the main points of their paper in the abstract and that allows me to get a quick overview of the content. Using an orderly system and keeping track of my sources has also helped save me time while writing research papers. Most often my notes fit into the rough outline of my paper based on which section they fall under. And if I am using multiple sources I make sure that I keep track of which notes came from which source so that way I don’t have to wast time going back through papers, books, or other sources to find where I got a piece of information. While on the subject of how I organize my notes, I also find it helps me save time by already writing my notes in my own words so that when I’ve finished my paper I don’t need to worry about plagiarism because I already reworded my notes from the start. Of course while most of the tips I find the most useful help save time, nothing quite takes the stress and pressure off of me by starting an assignment early and giving myself plenty of time to get it done. This allows me to carefully read what I need to as well as have the time to write multiple drafts, ensuring I have an accurate and carefully written paper. – Rachael

Section 601