Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reflecting on your growth as a writer and a researcher

To start class today, I’d like you to take a few minutes and reflect on what you’ve learned as a writer and researcher thus far in our class and consider these larger questions: How have you developed as a writer? What have you learned about conducting research? To find your way into these questions, you might start by first reflecting on what you’ve learned from completing our current assignment for The Gathering Place. What insights into qualitative research have you gained? What did you learn about writing as you moved from conducting the interviews, to transcribing the recordings, to creating a written piece appropriate for the members of community that comprises The Gathering Place? To enrich this reflection, you then might contrast this experience to what you learned about writing and research from our first assignment, the literature review. What knowledge or expertise did you gain from this assignment that was distinct from the insights of our current assignment? How did this writing experience provide different sorts of lessons for you as a writer?


  1. In taking this class I have been reintroduced to a form of writing that I have spend many years trying to get away from. In my writing and speaking styles I have always chosen to take more of a persuasive tone where there was a very set goal and purpose to my writing. The projects that we have done for this class so far have been entirely different from what I am used to as I have been asked to reproduce research and tell a story with general themes and coherent links but no final goal in terms of convincing or persuading a reader. In writing in this manner I have been forced to reevaluate the steps that I take in writing in order to tell the story that I’m aiming for. When writing persuasively it is necessary to go into the story with a clear goal and direction for the rest of the piece. How can you possible hope to guide your reader to a destination of thought if you don’t know what that destination is in the first place. Writing in the style that we have been in this class, must be undertaken in a very different sense. In going through the interviews that I conducted and the research that I gathered I frequently found myself struggling to find material for a preconceived notion of a story that I wished to tell. While it wasn’t an easy process for me I did eventually realize that in order for this style of writing to work I needed to let the story and ideas develop naturally based on the material that I did have available to me. As soon as I let this natural approach to writing take over I noticed the essays becoming easier to write with the stories simply flowing off the page. Because of this course I really do feel that I have become a more diverse writer with a greater ability to vary my writing process in order to fit the assignment that I find myself in, in that moment.

  2. I feel that completing the narrative assignment has helped me grow immensely as a writer. This assignment was utterly new and different to me, for I had never written a piece based on interviews that I conducted and transcribed myself. My interviewing experience was very, very limited, which was something that made me anxious at first, but I soon became used to the process. In the past, the essays I had written could best be described as conventional, as most of them concerned some type of literature or pre-designed topic. I felt as though this assignment was very loose in terms of the direction in which I could go with it, which feels freeing yet difficult. My first draft was written very tentatively over the course of last weekend, and to be honest I really was not sure if it was at all what was expected of me. However, peer editing helped me immensely, and I was able to polish what was first a hesitant piece of writing into one that I feel incredibly confident about. I surely enjoyed the contrast between the literature review, which was academic and based on research, and this one, which had a much more personal feel to it. I believe that writing such radically different pieces such as these in quick succession has helped my writing skills grow. The first essay was logical, versus this undoubtedly creative narrative, and I had never written a piece like either of these in the entirety of my academic life. I was worried, of course, about doing justice to the stories of the women from the Gathering Place, but through my work with the initial draft and refinement of it, I believe that I definitely made strides.
    I had examined peer-reviewed research studies in various other college classes, including Intro to GWST, but I had never synthesized several different studies into one coherent essay. Having previous experience with at least reading them helped my confidence as I gathered various relevant ones for my first piece, yet it was challenging to find an adequate number of sources that could all fit well into my paper in some way. My methods included using many different databases as well as examining each study with a critical eye. I will admit that reading them and extracting beneficial information was a bit tedious and challenging. Synthesizing them without overly quoting them was even more difficult. My choice of topic was interesting to me, and overall, I would describe this piece as an adventure!

  3. Writing is meant to be personable. No matter what the purpose and direct action of the writing piece is the author is meant to have a voice. As a researcher it’s been really important to be objective but yet empathetic. I think that’s the nature when working with interviews. People are more likely to open up to you and share information about their personal lives if they know that you are kind and understanding.
    I’ve learned the necessity of developing a well-organized paper. It not only helps with flow but also allows your voice to shine through. Qualitative research allows for a real personal affect. You can tug at reader’s hearts by using quotes from the people you interview. It’s really important to understand your audience when writing a research paper.
    I’ve never transcribed something verbatim. This was a lengthy process, but for me helped connect back to what I had previously heard. It gave me more of a connection. When I was listening back to the tapes I could picture the moment when I was sitting and interviewing that woman. I also learned the importance of open-ended questioning. Sometimes I forgot to keep my questions open-ended but now I will be more mindful about it.

  4. What I have learned as a writer is sometimes to make writing effective it is okay to put yourself into it. I think throughout so much of high school they engrained in you to keep it objective, only use third person. Not to completely contradict myself but I have also learned that it is an important balance between your opinion and effective writing. That sometimes it is better to pull yourself out of the writing and make sure other people come across more clearly. For example, the literary review was a harder piece to write because it was very objective. As opposed to looking at The Gathering Place narrative, even though it was a very personal piece as a writer I had to make sure not to let my emotions overwhelm the piece.
    I have also learned that through research you gain a lot of things: a different point of view than you originally possessed, or the justification for why you have that point of view. If you do research before you write that the writing of the piece can become easier because what you need to write about is laid out for you in a more clear way. Also I found that sometimes you have to take things with a grain of salt. When one woman has a completely different stance on something than the women around her that does not mean that her attitude is universal. It is up to you as the writer to decide what you want to include (given that it is contextual and accurate) as far as your research goes. I also learned that research gives you time to reflect on what you really want to convey to your audience.
    Comparing the Literature review assignment to TGP narrative I gain completely different skills. The literature review was more analytically intensive whereas TGP narrative was much more intuitive. How you wrote and portrayed the women at TGP really hinged on how they portrayed themselves on tape and then how you perceived them being able to put a face to a name. The literature review required more understanding of what research was done for you and put in front of you. While I see where the skills from the literature review essay are crucial, I learned that as a writer I enjoyed writing the narrative more. I felt conveying someone else’s story where I could put more feeling into it was much easier than objectively analyzing data and drawing a conclusion.

  5. I would say I have learned very different things from the two major assignments we’ve done in this class. The Gathering Place narrative has taught me how to be a better qualitative researcher. I’ve had to interview people for papers in many other classes, but those papers were mainly comparing facts and theories we had learned in class with real-world experiences of leaders and managers. Interviewing women at the Gathering Place was quite different. We had a background of knowledge from our readings and discussions in class, but we didn’t have anything that we “had” to cover. We most certainly weren’t supposed to be analyzing these women’s stories; rather, our job was to seek out their experiences and to listen. Interviewing in an open-ended, natural manner while still managing to dig into details and get powerful stories was hard for me at first. I think I have grown a lot as a qualitative researcher by learning to make an interview more of a conversation and less of an interrogation. I would stay I still have lots of room for growth in my ability to listen actively and steer a conversation in a very natural manner. Once I actually got around to writing the paper, however, I felt like everything just clicked. It was very easy for me to see how I could group powerful quotes into subtopics and tie everything together in a smooth manner to allow the woman’s story to shine through, hopefully without too much interference on my part.

    The narrative was a much easier assignment for me than the literature review. It was hard for me to choose one topic related to homelessness and then to find recent, scholarly articles related to the topic. I felt overwhelmed by doing all of the research. I have grown hugely in my ability to find relevant articles through the DU library’s academic search engines. I have also largely improved in my ability to read through, make notes on, summarize, and find connections between a large number of very lengthy (and at times dry) articles. Once I got into the writing itself, I found it fairly easy to adopt an academic, objective voice and to characterize the research. I still struggle with introducing the literature in an engaging yet clearly academic manner. I am trying to learn how to craft a creative opening that is still closely and clearly tied to the rest of the essay. I also need to learn how to transition between subtopics and sections of the literature review more fluidly.

    Overall, I would say that I am learning much from this class. The most improvement I have noticed has been in my ability to research, both doing my own qualitative interviews and finding and reading through scholarly articles. Finally, though this may be superficial, this class is teaching me even more about time management because many of the assignments are time-intensive and much more involving than I think they will be. At first I had to stay up very, very late to get things done; now I am learning to lay out more time in advance so that I don’t have to stay up through the wee hours of the morning the night before a paper is due.

  6. Through the class so far this year I have learned a lot about research and the type of writing associated with research. Before starting this class I had a lot of writing experience and hardly any of it was in the research field. The hardest assignment for me was our first research paper. I had a difficult time trying to manipulate and work with someone else’s research without inserting my own opinion on the topic. Although I still don’t think I fully understand research writing, or at least to the extent where I am able to communicate my point as a research writer as clearly as I would like I think that my experience at The Gathering Place has really made me a better person and a better writer.

    Interviewing at The Gathering Place and deciding what was to go into my final paper and what wasn’t actually in support of the overarching idea of my paper was the biggest obstacle I faced. There were so many points the women made that I wanted to insert into my paper but they just didn’t fit. Different from the first research paper, the biggest obstacle I faced with this paper was making it cohesive. Although I understand that with this style of paper transitions are not as pivotal I had a hard time getting away from the style of writing where transitions are absolutely essential.

    In the long run I think I have learned a lot about adapting as a writer to your audience and the style of writing that is the goal. I also have learned a lot about research writing and how to remain objective so that the audience perceives you as a credible source. I am looking forward to revising our research papers so that I can get a better grasp on what I need to improve on in the future.

  7. I think one of the greatest lessons I've learned so far is how to approach a chunk of qualitative research, specifically interviews, and organize them and think about them in a way that reveals certain themes, stories, and messages. The hardest part for me initially was taking my three interviews and trying to find a story to tell within all of this content. I ended up using only one of the interviews for my narrative, but I was not able to hone in on one specific theme until I highlighted commonalities in all of the stories. I really learned how time consuming it is to not only transcribe interviews, but then to read and reread through them until some sort of message reveals itself. This gave me an even greater appreciation for some of the work we read, like Kozol's, because I got a sense of the vast project that one endures when trying to put together a story or book about personal experiences and their connection to an overall topic.

    Once I chose a story I wanted to convey, I found the writing process unfamiliar yet enjoyable. I chose to sort of mirror Kozol's style in my narrative, and while I'm not sure about the quality of the outcome, I can say that I had fun manipulating this style of writing, specifically finding creative ways to structure my piece and weave in the story from TGP. I got a good sense of the ways in which a writer can insert quotes into a piece like this to add to my pathos overall. It was fun to toy with my voice as a writer with this type of piece, because although I wanted to make her story the focus, I still thought it was important to have a strong voice as a writer that supported the actual story.

    Compared to the literature review, this paper definitely allows the research to have a greater emotional appeal. The lit review was much more straight forward and analytical, whereas this piece felt more like creative writing rooted in specific facts.

  8. I think that this class has thus far challenged me as both a writer and a researcher. As a writer, I believe that I have really been able to focus on sculpting my writing based on the audience it will be presented to. In this class, I believe that my wringing has evolved from existing only in the writing-student realm into being able to appeal to a broader audience of readers. As far as the growth as a researcher, I think that I have gained the ability to be a more versatile thinker when it comes to what useful research looks like, and how to differentiate types of research to best fit my project. For example, the research I conducted at The Gathering Place was quite unique to any research that I have been asked to do before. Through this experience I have gained a further understating of the strengths and weaknesses of qualitative research. In addition, I was very moved by my experience at The Gathering Place Project as a whole so I got to experience academic writing on a more personalized and passionate level. The first essay for this class also challenged my wiring and researching abilities, but in very different ways. Although I did read about other academics qualitative research for this paper, I approached by thinking a broad and almost impersonalized ways. Although I gained a lot of insight on how to properly research other scholarly sources, I did not feel as personally connected to or responsible for what I was writing.

  9. Before this class, I had never really conducted my own research for an essay before. It was all about searching the web for good sources, skimming through them, and conducting a well thought out essay from what I found. For this class, this type of research and writing was only found in the first essay. But because we got so much instruction about how to use DU resources I thought I learned a lot about how to do that more affectively. I learned how to use multiple data bases to narrow down my search to exactly what I was looking for. Before, I would usually just use one database and assume that it had the best resources I could find. After this paper, I understand how to use certain databases for certain kind of articles that I'm looking for. For example, the psych info data base is more useful than Google scholar, when looking for psychology studies. In that way, I think I've improved my online research skills immensely. I've also learned how to organize longer papers by breaking them up into sections. I'm used to a typical "five paragraph" format, but with longer papers this doesn't work well. I was able to break my paper up into logical sections that worked with the paper as a whole.

    As much as I learned from writing an online research paper, I still learned the most from doing my own research at The Gathering Place. I learned how to think ahead to the piece that I knew I was going to have to write while interviewing the women. When doing your own research, it's all about the final product. I learned how to think to myself "why am I doing this interview? What do I need to get out of it? What are the best questions to ask so that my paper is the best that it can be?" I knew how important it was that my paper turn out well, and I represent the women that I interview well, because the paper could be used to help The Gathering Place later on. This project helped me realize why it's important that we know how to write papers well. The papers we end up writing outside of school may actually make a big difference in someone's life. While writing this piece I learned how to be a little more creative in my writing, so that it evokes emotion, and creates a strong motive for the reader to keep reading. I think this type of writing also helped me to learn how to affectively use anecdotes, and tell someone else's story without talking about myself too much.

  10. This quarter I feel as though I have definitely been pushed out of my comfort zone. All I really have written are papers that follow the typical format detail, analysis, and synthesis and for the first time this year, the papers haven’t followed that format. It seems as though for many years the writing has been more about us and proving our point and now writing has become less about us and more about the topic we’re researching. So for me as a writer it really does feel uncomfortable detaching myself from my writing and only letting the research speak for itself. Although this style of writing has been different, I think I do enjoy it more. I believe because f this paper I’m better at my introductions. Usually I include a lot of myself in my intro but this time I think I’ve discovered a good way of creating an introduction without including myself. As far as conducting research I feel as though I am better at getting to those deeper answers. My first two interviews were difficult I think primarily because I was nervous and also because the questions I asked were very surface levels and I did not ask why or how a lot of times. Now getting to that deeper level is much more comfortable.

    One thing I was worried about at the beginning of writing this paper was framing the narratives in a way that does not take away power from the story. I wanted to present the story in a way that resonates with people in the same manner it resonated with me when I first heard it. Although I do understand that’s difficult being that it is not my narrative. I think though, after doing the interviews and transcribing, I felt that I could convey the story in an appropriate way. For some reason transcribing really helped. Something about typing the words of the women really guided me when I was writing the paper.

  11. Through this class, I have learned that sometimes the writer needs to detach themselves from what they are writing. This is a new idea for me because I am so used to expressing my opinion, feelings and emotions through my writing. I always used writing either to share an experience or an opinion or to persuade an audience in a specific way. The two papers we have written in this class, the literary review and the narrative for the Gathering Place, are some of the only times when I have not included my own voice in my writing. For the literary review, we were asked to analyze the research that has been done on a specific topic regarding homelessness and present it in an effective, educational way. In the Gathering Place writing, we needed to communicate someone else’s story instead of our own.

    In order to keep your own voice out of your writing, it is important to completely engage in the research you are doing. This might mean thoroughly reading and understanding research articles or paying extra attention to not only what an interviewee says but the way in which they say it. I have realized how important thorough, complete research is to an effective paper because lack of educated research is quite obvious in writing, especially when there are spaces in the argument being made or the story being told.

    The process of conducting interviews, transcribing them and then translating them into a narrative has taught me the importance of detail in writing. Details, in the form of sensory words, metaphors, similes or other literary devices, are extremely effective in communicating the point of the story and helping ones audience to feel and understand the emotions that are so essential to the story.

    The research done for these two papers in much different than what I did in my last class. This research is much more fact based, where as last quarter it was more about being creative and using your own work to communicate a point. This class has taught me tricks as to how to conduct effective research by using online programs and search engines. I have learned that it is a long, frustrating process but if you know what you are doing you can get a lot done and learn a lot.

  12. Here's Lizzie's comment:

    One big thing I learned about writing was how to write someone else’s story without using the “I” voice very much. It was a different style of writing for me. I am used to writing papers in a more academic way, stating a fact/opinion and then backing it up with evidence. It took me awhile to be able to get out of that vein of writing and stop trying to persuade people of something, and instead just tell them a story. While writing my narrative, I worried that I was not doing the women’s stories justice.

    I also learned quite a bit about how to interview someone. When we first started interviewing people, I felt as if my questions came at the wrong times, but as we went on, I think I got better at asking the right questions. I think that I have learned to be a better interviewer and am better able to root out the important bits of someone’s story. As I writer, I grew by learning how to write for a different kind of audience. I am so used to writing for an academic audience that it was hard to step out of that circle and write for all different types of people instead, and write something that they will want to read. This essay was more difficult for me to write than the first essay. I had some experience with writing a literature review, and I thought that it also resembled the other types of academic writing that I am accustomed to. You make a point and you back it up. The narrative was much different and much more difficult for me to write, especially because I was writing real women’s stories, and I wanted to do them justice. I think that I succeeded in telling their stories well, and hopefully they will make an impact on someone who reads them.