Digital tools and the discourse-based interview

Writing researchers often approach research questions which cannot be investigated with one-dimensional data collection methods (Moore, 2017). For example: writers’ perceptions of their successes or failures, and the rationales behind their writing choices, vary widely (Sommers & Saltz, 2004). Writers’ goals and the interpretations of primary audiences (those articulated by the writers) and important secondary audiences (such as teachers or researchers) do not necessarily match. And because writing is deeply embedded in contexts, its meaning often changes as contexts change (Nowacek, 2011).

In response, writing researchers often design studies intended to explore tacit knowledge: the practical, implicit, incompletely articulated knowledge which guides writing choices (Polyani, 1958), often as values shared among communities (Swales, 2004). Common techniques include gathering multiple data types, engaging both producers and consumers of texts, using procedures designed to stimulate recall, and explicitly including writing-related skills and experiences which are sometimes ignored or misunderstood. In this presentation, we consider the discourse-based interview (Odell, Goswami, & Harrington, 1983), a technique for accessing tacit knowledge which has been valuable for writing researchers (Swarts, 2009; Lancaster, 2016), but needs more methodological attention. We offer an update of Odell et al. attuned to data-driven research and considering contemporary writing issues such as writing transfer and remediation. We discuss how the discourse-based interview can help researchers explore tacit knowledge relevant for writing research, describe several techniques designed to update the discourse-based interview for digital media, and share the design of a pilot study intended to explore their effectiveness.

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