Connecting Module #1 to Module #2: Teacher Response to Module #1

Business Keeping

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.

TPC is a wide-open field, which is both good and bad

As you are learning, TPC is an incredibly diverse field. One might argue: too diverse. When diversity reaches a point at which shared methods, approaches, and research questions don’t exist, a field has a hard time defining what it really does. At the same time, when fields overly restrict what field members are allowed to research and do, this can create the opposite problem by squelching innovation.

TPC has been trying for a long time to find a middle ground between these two extremes, and has made some great strides, but is not there yet. We desperately need some shared methods, for instance, especially for training new members of our field. And we desperately need a common understanding of how to design a research methodology, or overall approach to research (questions, problems, etc.).

Lacking both of these, it can feel at times like individual members of TPC simply aren’t communicating with one another in the ways that members of the same academic field should.

 Research problems are important first and foremost to guide and develop research before it even begins, so that the researcher is writing with a clear understanding of why research is needed and what the objective to the research will be. Without taking the time to situate your prospective research in the context of what already exists in the field, you run the risk of duplicating previous research efforts.

Often, a researcher comes to understand a potential need for research by noting research “holes,” “gaps,” or unanswered questions when reading through prior research on a topic and making connections between previous studies. For example, reading a study about younger employees’ experiences with communications technology that they consider “outdated” – like a desk phone or fax machine – might cause a researcher to wonder how the young subjects of that study might engage with video calls or text messages in the workplace differently than their older peers. – Margaret

Use Each Other’s Sources, Please

What I also wanted to do in this first module is provide you with sources. Hopefully one or more of the articles reviewed in this module will spark your curiosity and help you shape your annotated bibliography and literature review. I have found it can be particularly challenging for new members of TPC to understand the sub-topic areas that are held within it, which are many.

This is one thing that I believe TPC is starting to do well: we are starting to specialize. It’s good that we have people who just study intercultural communication, or UX, or training. Every other academic discipline on the planet that considers itself a research discipline includes areas of specialization that individual members can choose from, or can develop new specializations from.

This is an exciting time for TPC as new topic areas seem to emerge on an almost daily basis. Have fun researching, and please let me know any questions you have as you work on the next module.

I noticed that I had a hard time navigating through the different journals. I often found myself lost or back to square one. I read through several articles before I found the research that I wanted to focus on. It was easy to see common themes from article to article but finding one that truly connected to one another was difficult.

I wanted to find articles that were similar to my own research interest. With the articles that I have chosen, I felt more of a connection the readings and the author’s research questions. With these two articles their central research problem/question focuses social media and the pandemic. Pinpointing the exact problem however was not the easiest. The obvious being how social media has spread word with the pandemic, but that was too broad of a topic. Finding that clear differentiation between the two was key and took time. – Emily

Final Steps for Module #1

Things to Revise

From the drafts I received and reviewed, these are the biggest things to pay attention to as you finish up your modules:

  1. Be sure you articulate the journal’s mission and how it ties into the articles (or fails to): This was the one major content revision I recommended to several folks. Understanding a field is about understanding its journals, which are kind of like small fiefdoms of knowledge production: they each reflect a different aspect of the field as it tries to grow.
    1. Here’s a good example of the level of detail I’m looking for: “JBTC or Journal of Business and Technical Communication is a journal that provides a place for individuals to engage in discourse with a specific focus on business, technical, and scientific communication. In this journal, opposing ideas are permitted with the intention of improving communication practices in both academe and industry. Additionally, the journal keeps their audience informed on the latest communication practices, problems, and trends in both business and academic environments. In doing so, the journal covers a range of topics from managerial communication to the ethics of business communication, etc.”
  2. Be sure you’re giving context for the research problems: Research problems are very specific to each study. They frame the research, the need for it, the background in which it arose, etc. Be sure you’re articulating each article’s research problem thoroughly.
    • Here’s a good example of the level of detail I’m looking for: In “Locating TPC at 2YC, the authors reference a series of studies dated as late as 1979 and as recently as 1990 to assert that program and curricula research over the last thirty years has excluded two-year colleges. Because two-year colleges enroll one-third to over one half of all undergraduate students, Bivens et al. argue that understanding TPC programs at these institutions contributes to a clearer picture of the entire field of TPC. In fact without this information, given how many students are entering TPC programs from two-year institutions, the understanding of the field is incomplete. Choosing to present the consequences of the problem from a positive perspective, the authors argue that additional knowledge regarding TPC programs at two-year colleges will enhance partnerships and collaborations with four-year institutions and thus strengthen the field as a whole.”
  3. Be sure you’re identifying the exact research methods used in the articles: Try to be as specific as possible. You can paraphrase what they say their methods are, but be more specfiic than just “interviews” or “surveys.” What kind of interview? What kind of survey? More importantly, how did they use the methods to answer their research questions?
    • Here’s a good example of the level of detail I’m looking for:”To address their research question in ‘Addressing Workplace Accessibility Practices Through Technical Communication Research Methods,’ Huntsman interviewed 18 university instructors. The author coded and analyzed data from the research interviews to identify common themes in the faculty members’ motivations for and approaches to creating accessible course materials, as well as their perspectives on accessibility within their classes and institution (p. 221).”
  4. Be sure to use APA: There is a link in the Grading Criteria to a site I like to use. As APA is the official citation system for TPC (or as close as we have), I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t introduce you to that in this class. It’s VERY different from MLA, so if you’re not familiar, review that link in the Grading Criteria.

Other than that, the drafts I saw were very solid!

As you revise, do one more check through the Grading Criteria to ensure you are using best practices for review articles and thus get a good score on this assignment.

Final Step

5) 9/14/21 by Midnight ET >>

Revise your review article. The point of receiving feedback from your peers, and also from myself, is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to the course website is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

Hand in your revised documents:

Research Is What Makes a Field: Teacher Response to Homework #1

General Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard. Check for them there.

Takeaway #1: Research in TPC is hard

If there’s anything I want you to get from the beginning of this class, it’s that research in TPC is difficult, perhaps more difficult than many other fields, which is why TPC researchers are typically people who are good at abstract, philosophical thought. The field displays elements of the social sciences, the humanities, computer science, and several other disciplines. Rude’s article is a convenient rallying cry, but it has not been picked up by the field-at-large, probably because it doesn’t really represent the true diversity of research going on in the field.

Rude (2009) relays the power research questions to a specific field have, greater than research methods or research topics do, in “defining a field internally and externally” (p. 175). The lines of inquiry inform us about the specifics about a professional field. I believe good research questions can legitimize a field.Rude’s central question is quite broad in encompassing the questions of the field of TCP, but the related questions work to distinguish the unique purpose of a few standard research focuses in the field. I am particularly interested in technical communication put into practice ethically. How can a policy reach its intended audience? Would members of the audience or community contribute to the design of thetext? Am I broaching social justice or values or am I overlapping practice and social change theories? The mapping is helpful to illustrate the research areas but specifically the practice research question from the central research question in Fig 1. is of particular interest to me.Rude’s (2009) pointof analyzing109 books to identify implicit and explicit statements … that address technical communication(p. 180) reminded me of an article I located for a publicwriting (abouttechnical communication) course where an author reviewed articles in TCP spanning ten years for use of the term “social justice. Just, Rude’s approach reminded me of something else I read last spring and I incorporated that result into a paper I worked on forthat course.

– Gina

Takeaway #2: Research is what makes a field

The other thing I want you to get from the beginning of this class, however, is that research is the way to understand a field. Specifically:

  • How do members of a field attempt to solve problems? What kinds of problems do they try to solve?
  • What methods do members of a field use to solve research problems? What methods aren’t used, and why?
  • What questions are members of a field asking? Why are they asking those questions? What questions aren’t they asking?
  • What theories are central to the field? What professional practices? How do these theories and practices connect, and are there any disconnects between them?

If you can answer all these questions for a field, then you have a pretty good sense of it. This first assignment is meant to help you begin to answer some of these questions for the field of TPC.

According to Rude, specific research questions define a field both externally and internally by demonstrating the knowledge and research that is unique to the specific professional field. Questions that appear often suggest consistency of significant thought in the field, and questions can help to both identify gaps in knowledge necessitating research and clarify rhetorical demands.

– Margaret

Takeaway #3: Research is what drives practice

The third thing I want you to understand at the beginning of this class is that research is what drives practice. This is not always the case and isn’t a perfect, causal relationship, but in general: when people try to solve problems in a given field, they look to what other people have done with similar problems.

The theory practice divide exists because the methodologies in business research are different than academic/theory type research. Sullivan and Porter believe this divide could beminimized or possibly eliminated by an understanding of the dynamic nature of methodologies and the awareness that they are socially constructed over time. Practice-focused research keeps the methodology static whereas theory-focused research is led by the researcher’s thoughts and observations as opposed to the workplace’s. The solution of praxis has the theory informing the practice, the practice informing the methodology, the methodology informing the theory, and round and round the cycle goes to create a unification of theory and practice in research.

– Amber

This “what other people have done” is often referred to as “best practices,” and can be gleaned from:

  • Case studies by more established people involving similar problems
  • Surveys of experts in a field
  • Reports from established practitioners who have solved lots of the same problems
  • Observational research of best practices as they are employed within specific organizations or other settings

All of these sources of information could be described as outcomes of research, however, which is defined as the systematic investigation of a problem in order to create generalizable knowledge.

Student question: how do i spot a research article?

Someone emailed me the following question and I thought others might have the same one

If [an article is] not clearly labeled a research article, is there something specific I can look for to know for sure it is and will work for this assignment?


You’re learning that “research” is kind of a bit wonky in this field when compared to others (such as the hard sciences or social sciences). And yes, some of our journals are not consistently formatted.
A clue as to whether something is a research article:

  • Does the article mention collecting actual data?
  • Does it call itself a research study or (sometimes just ‘a study’)?
  • Does it mention a specific research method, such as “a survey of x,” “interviews with y,” or “systematic analysis of z”?
  • Does it mention reporting research findings?

Hope that helps.

Welcome to Research Methods


Welcome to ENGL 6702: Research Methods in Technical and Professional Communication, Section 601! I’m very excited to be teaching this course for the first time at ECU.

I have been working as a researcher, faculty member, teacher, and practitioner within the field of TPC for over 10 years now. I have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University. I’m stoked to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these professional experiences with all of you.

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of online teaching, here are some highlights of this course website, and thus the course itself, that you’ll want to keep an eye on:

  • Deadlines – I’m a big fan of deadlines, both soft and hard, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.
    • The best place to check for hard deadlines is always the schedule page, from which you can view the schedule for each course module, or learning unit, as it’s posted. All deadlines for each module can also be found within the module itself.
    • Your first hard deadline is 8/26/21, when Homework #1 is due by midnight ET.
    • I will also include soft deadlines as steps within the modules. These deadlines that are not required, but you are encouraged to meet them to stay on pace with the assignment.
  • Technologies – As this is an online course, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are two main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress and Canvas.
    • WordPress is the Content Management System that runs our course website. If you ever have problems with it, I invite you to first be good technological problem-solvers and take a look at WordPress’s excellent documentation, both within the CMS itself and on their website.
    • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Canvas and so won’t go into that one, except to say that all you’ll be using it for is turning in assignments and downloading readings.
  • Interactions – I like to think of teaching as a series of interactions during which knowledge is made. The main interactions of this course are: homework assignments, modules, and discussion on the course website.
    • Homework assignments and their due dates can be found via the schedule page, under the schedule specific to each module. So, for instance, if you go to the schedule for module #1, you will see that homework #1 is due to Canvas by Thursday, 8/26/21 at Midnight ET. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
    • Modules are larger assignments that are due every few weeks. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
    • Finally, you are encouraged to post stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) to the course website that you think your peers would like to hear about, and every homework assignment after the first one will require you to do so. That way we have a nice active online community with interesting content constantly being posted.
  • Reaching me – All my contact info is available on the syllabus page, which of course you should read through thoroughly in case you have any questions or concerns about any course policies (you’ll be prompted to do this for homework #1).
    • I’m pretty much always available via email and phone during normal business hours (M-F 9-5). I am slower to respond on weekends, but still check my email.
    • I have obviously also worked hard to build a robust course website with a lot of information and interactivity, so please do read through it before asking me simple questions like “when is such-and-such due” or “how do I access X?” If you can’t figure out how to do something or are struggling in any way, the best way to reach me is to post a comment on the course website itself. I will receive an email every time you post something to the website, so it will be the equivalent of emailing me, and often another student will beat me to the punch with an answer to your question. Most importantly: other people who have that same question will see it and the answer that gets posted, saving us all a lot of lead time.
  • Working hard – If you aren’t intimidated by the massive course website or omnibus introductory post, I should just mention that I teach a tough class. I also provide a lot of support, however, so if you’re willing to work hard, ask questions, and engage with the material, you should be fine. If you are NOT fine, reaching out to myself and your peers early and often is always the best response. If you are feeling lost in the course, which can often happen when working in online learning environments, touching base with another human being can help ground you and get you back on track. I have high expectations for students, particularly graduate students, but I don’t want anyone struggling needlessly. That’s what the assignments are for ;-).

Section 601