Teaching Research

As part of PWR’s charge related to the WR 1 and WR 2 requirements, PWR 1 and PWR 2 classes (in collaboration with the library) teach first and second-year students research strategies that provide an introduction to important research practices that they will likely use in their coursework at Stanford and then in future academic and professional work.  This charge accepts as a premise that student research at Stanford still focuses in many disciplines on scholarly texts (journal articles and books), though given the evolving communication landscapes, many student research projects might draw on additional sources, such as websites, podcasts, born-digital texts, etc. 

More specifically, in PWR 1, the learning objectives related to research are:

  • Students will develop research skills, including the ability to craft a focused research question and to locate, analyze, and evaluate relevant sources, including both print-based and digital sources.
  • Students will develop the ability, in research and in writing, to engage a range of sources and perspectives that illuminate a wider conversation about the topic
  • (see the complete list of PWR 1 learning objectives here)

In PWR 2, the learning objectives related to research are:

  • Students will continue to develop their ability to construct research-based arguments, including collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing data and scholarly and public articles and texts.
  • (see the complete list of PWR 2 learning objectives here)

PWR 2, in particular, with its more advanced conversation about research-based arguments, is an appropriate site for inviting students to explore a range of research methods and sources.

In incorporating these research-focused objectives into the foundations of our PWR 1 and PWR 2 curricula, we intend to help students develop an understanding of and experience with research as a means of accessing and analyzing a wide range of sources that will orient them to scholarly and public conversations and ultimately help them create knowledge and contribute to those conversations.  In short, we are helping to guide students to conducting research effectively in the context of an R1 university.

That said, PWR classes are not “sources and methods” classes, such as you might find in other departments and programs across campus that foreground specific disciplinary modes of research.  As PWR courses teach students from across the disciplines, our goal is not to teach discipline-specific research methodologies.  We can certainly encourage students to explore different methodologies and provide context for disciplinary conventions that they will encounter in greater depth later in their studies, but PWR courses are not charged with doing the work of Writing in the Major courses.  Our charge is to provide them with an introduction to college-level research and to the ethics of research practice as well as a rhetorical perspective that will help them analyze a wide range of texts.

In keeping with this approach, PWR instructors should be mindful of how they scaffold and encourage research methods in their classrooms.  As a program, we are committed to fostering student curiosity, intellectual growth, and purposeful agency in their research process. However, at times students might want to incorporate research methods into their PWR 1 or PWR 2 projects that either do not actually align with the type of project or question under consideration or that present ethical challenges.  In most cases, the more problematic methods are associated with research on human subjects.   For this reason, we ask instructors to adhere to certain guidelines in teaching research methodologies:

  • Do not let students engage in primary research (surveys, interviews, observations) on vulnerable populations, such as teenage mothers, survivors of sexual violence, people with eating disorders, homeless individuals.
    • Teaching strategy: if a student is interested in a topic related to vulnerable populations, steer them toward data sets or interviews conducted by others.  That way they can still have access to some of the primary research on these individuals without conducting it themselves.
  • Always ask students who want to conduct surveys or interviews as part of their project to explain how that method would benefit their project, especially given how primary research can slow the research process.
    • Teaching strategy: Ask your students what they would gain from this sort of method that wouldn’t be gained from finding similar information – probably from a longer-term study with a larger sample size – in secondary research. Ask them to carefully consider and revise their research question to ensure that this methodology best supports generating a productive answer for that question.
  • Always discuss the ethical implications of conducting this sort of primary research with your class to help them achieve a nuanced understanding of the responsibilities and complications of that sort of work.
  • Always provide pedagogical scaffolding and feedback on surveys and interview questions and processes for those students who plan to engage in this sort of research.
    • Teaching strategy: Review drafts of all surveys and interview questions; if not everyone in your class is engaged in this sort of primary research, set up peer consultation groups or special out-of-class group conferences to promote feedback and revision, asking students in these groups to serve as beta-testers/focus groups about the survey and interview questions.
  • Strategize with students about how to best distribute surveys or request interviews.  Do not spam the PWR instructor’s list with survey requests.
    • Teaching strategy:  Work with students to identify the target demographic and a sample size goal that is appropriate to the scope of the research, the research process timeline, and the resources available.

If you have any questions about a proposed student research topic or methods, please set up an appointment to talk with the Associate Director or one of the Directors for guidance as early in the research process as possible.

Additional resources to help students who are interested in conducting this sort of primary research will be available on Teaching Writing soon.