Tag Archives: methodologies

10: How to work with my setting

No Prompt (extra entry): On problems presented by my setting

I am growing increasingly excited about the prospect of studying automated check-in systems at doctor’s offices. However, this subject also presents some problems that I need to work through because of the setting. I initially thought that working in a waiting room might reduce privacy concerns. However, I’m now thinking it actually heightens the problem. The waiting room is not really a public space. (In fact, the legal status of a waiting room would depend on the specific clinic.) Therefore, the increased freedom I was initially thinking would come from that sense of “public” is, I now believe, false. In addition, choosing the waiting room as a setting for observation severely decreases subjects’ abilities to opt out of my research, and it presents problems in terms of informing people that they are subjects in a research study. Informing them before they use the system would skew my results, and informing them afterword may not be possible. This would also mean I was approaching people in a vulnerable state–they’re sick, rushed, already handling something new … in other words, I see these people as a vulnerable population.

All things considered, I believe observation may not be the way to go with such a study. I’m now considering surveys or interviews as an alternative method, which presents the problem of picking a population to study.

I’ll keep thinking about it.


9: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 3

Prompt 8 (Blakeslee p. 52): Identifying a setting

The setting I am now considering for my research is a waiting room in a general physician’s office. I believe it is a good setting for my research question for a number of reasons, most specifically that it will allow me to observe communication in a medical setting with a minimal amount of privacy concern. Also, although I haven’t done the research to back this up yet, I suspect this may be an area that has not been much focused on previously, thereby creating a gap in available scholarship that I could help fill. (We’ll see how that pans out once I start doing research on this setting.) I do know that IRB and local permissions will still be major issues because of the medical setting.

Furthermore, I am now thinking about studying a new mechanized check-in system that has recently been put into place at my local doctor’s office. ISU’s clinic has had this system in place for a longer time, so these two sites might provide an interesting comparative study.

  • Required approvals will include the university IRB and an administrator of a local waiting room/doctor’s office.
  • These people will likely be concerned about patients’ rights to privacy. I hope to allay those concerns by explaining that I will be observing interactions only in the public space of the waiting room. I may also need to secure the permission of those I observe, though this would have to be done after the fact.
  • Establishing good rapport could be done by letting these individuals know about ways they and patients stand to benefit from my research. As I don’t have the specifics of my research nailed down yet, I can’t discuss these well … but any research I do will have benefits for participants.
  • My main obstacle will be negotiating privacy concerns. I will also have to learn on-the-job about the things I’m looking for. I’m quite sure this research will require at least one pilot study.
  • Many of my responses to obstacles will have to be devised as obstacles come up. In advance, I can take steps to assure patient privacy and to minimize the effect I have on the environment as an observer.

Prompt 9 (Blakeslee p. 55): Thinking about lenses

  • I gravitate toward approaches that favor thinking about social and cultural influences, and I’m especially interested in areas that are of current popular interest. In terms of approaches, then, methodologies that privilege ideas about ethics and sustainability are important to me.
  • My personal beliefs and preferences are intimately tied up in my research. The United States currently faces what has been dubbed a healthcare crisis. As a professional reporter, I saw the personal effects of this crisis and resulting legislation firsthand. Also, as a graduate student, I get by on an insurance policy that is different from what most people have (or lack).
  • My theoretical beliefs tend toward approaches that put egalitarian concerns first. For me, this means I’m interested in technology (and its posited democratizing effects) and feminism.
  • I struggle to see my own biases, and I think qualitative research is important for this reason. I suspect I am biased in my search for places where gender is constructed in ways that are damaging to women. Honestly, I’m OK with this bias (which is perhaps a problem) because I see it as a natural reaction to a world that does the opposite. I am also biased in economic ways that sometimes embarrass me deeply. I know that I grew up economically privileged, but I also worked very hard to get where I am (as did my husband, who grew up in a very different context). I consider myself a fiscal conservative, which is certainly an anomaly in academia. This could definitely be construed as a bias.

8: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 3

Prompt 5 (Blakeslee p. 44): Completing a lit review


  • Coverage of topic — what if I miss something important?
  • How do I narrow my topic? I probably can’t read everything that has to do with gender and tech comm.
  • What if Milner doesn’t have access to something important?
  • What is the appropriate balance of sources? (eg, should I look mostly at books, or mostly at articles, since that’s what I’m looking at producing.)
  • How do I find out if I’m reading the research in the same ways other people are?

How do I view myself in relation to the scholars whose work I’m reviewing? This depends on the scholar in question. Very often, I see the scholars I’m reading as beyond my reach. However, I’m aware that some emerging scholars in the field have done important studies that have been acknowledged, and I’ve been very encouraged by the community I’ve found, especially at the Computers & Writing Conference.

Prompt 6 (Blakeslee p. 44): Reviewing a journal

  • Gender & Society; Deputy editors are Betsy Lucal (Indiana University) and Bandana Purkayastha (University of Connecticut); I’m reviewing the three most recent issues, which are October 2010, August 2010, and June 2010.
  • Topics of articles in these three issues included: motherhood, family makeup in specific cultures, sexuality, economics and welfare, gendered labor, naming, reproductive practices, gendered activities in cultural locales.
  • Gender & Society focuses on research reports, most of which are about 20 pages. The journal also publishes a significant number of book reviews.
  • Most articles are examples of qualitative research. I would describe most of them also as ethnographic in nature.
  • Nugent, Colleen. “Children’s Surnames, Moral Dilemmas: Accounting for the Predominance of Fathers’ Surnames for Children.” Gender & Society 24.4. (2010): 499-525. Print. Nugent uses an online content analysis methodology to examine the predominant cultural choice to give a child the father’s surname and how this practice results in “gendered differences in moral responsibility.” Nugent conducts her study by analyzing 600 comments from online forums on this topic and coding them based on information about the commenters. She examines the motivations of naming, but an obvious limitation is that all the people whose comments she used were aware of the importance of naming enough to be talking about it. Nugent says the practice of patrilineal naming results in the privilege of continuity of identity for men and the perception that families with only daughters “die out,” perhaps resulting in preference for sons. She also shows that this cultural practice is most common among white, “native,” affluent members of society, lending this practice legitimacy. Ultimately, Nugent says that women who want to take a stand against this hegemonic practice are faced with a moral dilemma of choosing between their own benefit and their family’s.

7: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 3

Prompt 2 (Blakeslee p. 41): Developing a Criteria Sheet for Your Proposal

Checklist for evaluating my research proposal

  • Does the proposal have a clear research question about gender and tech comm?
  • Does the literature review address gaps in existing work that my research fills in?
  • Do I explain how I came to be interested in tech comm and in gender studies?
  • Do I explain that my goal is to examine how gender affects communication practices?
  • Do I map out  my plans and methods for evaluating how gender affects tech comm practices?
  • Do I explain who the audience is? (Is the audience other researchers or laypeople? If it’s laypeople, where does one publish such a study?)
  • Do I include anticipated outcomes? (This study should produce an article and could be incorporated into a dissertation.)
  • Does the proposal discuss potential bias?
  • Does the proposal discuss the IRB process?

Prompt 3 (Blakeslee p. 41): Planning Your Research

Alternative 3: Developing an idea map; see image below.

Research map

Research map

6: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 2

Prompt 9 (Blakeslee p. 29): Identifying bias

  • What in your own personal experience has influenced your thinking about the issue you are considering for your research? In what ways to you think your experiences are influencing your thinking about the issue?

My training and background in journalism have definitely colors my interests and ideas about my research. Journalism is still primarily a male-dominated field, especially in the crime and politics beats I covered. My observations of my own work and communications with the men in the newsroom showed me some of the differences in gender that I believe could yield rich research.

  • How are your personal beliefs and preferences affecting what you are thinking of doing in your research? What are those beliefs and preferences?

I believe in a set of ideals closely associated with what many call the “liberal media agenda.” This means that I am very liberal in terms of social issues. However, I was raised in a fiscally conservative household and I have largely retained those beliefs, which certainly colors my thinking on a lot of healthcare issues that I’m interested in researching. My political preferences tend toward libertarian perspectives, and this is often evident in the critical stances I take on legal texts.

  • What do you think might be some biases you have in your approach to your topic?

I am biased in many ways, but the most dangerous biases are probably the ones I’m unaware of. I am hyper-aware of my tendency to think of everything as it relates to gender. Truly, I believe this is less of a bias than a reality, but I also know that it could be perceived as a bias and that I should recognize it as such.

I am biased politically, as is everyone. My political beliefs are explained in more detail above.

I am also biased in the language I use. In my academic work, I usually use vocabularies that reflect critical theory and feminist approaches. These vocabularies likely limit the analyses I am able to do.

Prompt 11 (Blakeslee p. 27): Identifying theories

I read the following three articles:

  • Hall, Judith, Juliet T. Irish, Debra L. Roter, Carol M. Ehrlich, and Lucy H. Miller. “Satisfaction, Gender, and Communication in Medical Visits.” Medical Care 32.12. (1994): 1216-1231. Print.
  • Cohen, Philip. “The Gender Division of Labor: “Keeping House” and Occupational Segregation in the United States.” Gender and Society 18.2 (2004): 239-252. Print.
  • Bowker, Lynne. “Terminology and Gender Sensitivity: A Corpus-Based Study of the LSP of Infertility.” Language in Society 30.4 (2001): 589-610. Print.

Hall, Irish, Roter, Ehrlich, and Miller examine the effects of age and gender (of patient and physician) effect patient satisfaction. Ultimately, (and this is something of a reductive summary) the article shows a bias in favor of older male physicians by most groups. Cohen explores the relationship between gender segregation in the home as compared to in the labor pool, finding that women leaving the home to work are a major factor in decreasing labor segregation. Bowker discusses the linguistic sexism inherent in infertility discourses and suggests possibilities for incorporating gender sensitivity into those discourses.

All these articles are underpinned by feminist perspectives and proposals for change. I also thought the “in society” theme of journal names/topics might be important. I am interested in doing research that can be representative of larger populations because it is this sort of research that I believe has the ability to spur or encourage social change.

These articles all also employ quantitative and/or linguistic methodologies. I think I am drawn to these types of studies because their findings seem harder to refute. It’s almost as if they’re written in a language that is more likely to get through to the people who need to hear it. (Sort of the opposite of Lourde’s tools-of-the-master argument.)

Prompt 13 (Blakeslee p. 32): Identifying ethical concerns

My research question is currently:

How does gender (not just sex) affect the ways that people perform and perceive communicative activities in professional/technical settings … how does knowing about these performances/perceptions shape communication?

The ethical concerns this question raises are mostly related to methodology. For example, how does one interact with interview subjects? My subjectivity as an obviously female person will be apparent to interviewees and could influence their responses. In fact, any line of questioning could result in “fixed” answers, even if it’s unconscious. Thus, getting real answers in an interview situation might involve deception as to my purpose, which raises many ethical questions.

In addition, what if my findings turn up evidence of sexism? Am I obligated to report this? Or am I obligated to protect my research subjects? How can I protect ALL research subjects if some are victimizing others?

5: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 2

Prompt 6 (Blakeslee p. 27): Brainstorm a list of (broad) questions relating to your topic:

  • How does medical communication affect patient actions? (And are the privacy guidelines and ethical considerations involved in studying medical communication too much for a fledgling researcher to overcome?)
  • How do legal writings like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act actually affect citizens? (And which citizens, and how can I measure this?)
  • Is journalism a branch of technical communication? (And who defines it so?) Does this contribute to the difference in the gender/sex of people entering these fields?

By the end of my research, the question I most want to be able to answer is this …

How does gender (not just sex) affect the ways that people perform and perceive communicative activities in professional/technical settings … how does knowing about these performances/perceptions shape communication?

Prompt 7 (Blakeslee p. 27): Try using a tool provided by the authors to formulate a better research question:

I am looking for recurrent themes as described on page 24. First, I will “manually” consider themes in what I’ve been reading and writing. Main themes involve rhet/comp, gender, and tech comm. As the latter two can fall under the umbrella of rhet/comp, I will move forward with the assumption that I should be looking for ideas related to gender and tech comm. As this is already how I formulated the very drafty research question above, I seem to be on the right track.

Now, for something completely different. I used Wordle.net to create a word cloud based on my personal blog, where I often post items written for classes or responses to extra reading I’m doing. The biggest words in the image below are apparently the ones I use the most. Here is the result:

Wordle generated this image from my personal blog.

Wordle generated this image from my personal blog.

While I am interested in authorship, I am exploring that concept in another class right now. As such, it appears that I should consider refocusing my research on students. Since my ultimate goal is to teach, this makes sense … it’s just that my journalism background also makes me drawn to issues outside academia, and I think this connection is important to my students.

So, the conclusion of this exploration is that I might want to focus my research on issues of gender in technical communication and that I might want to do this in a way that involves or interests students.

4: Blakeslee/Fleischer Prompts, Ch. 2

Prompt 2 (Blakeslee p. 15): Respond to the following questions:

  • What issues interest or concern you the most in your field?

First, my specific area is rhetoric/composition. Within that area, I am most interested in technical/professional communication (especially medical, legal, and journalistic contexts), gender issues, visible rhetoric, and new media studies.

  • What do you want to learn more about?

I want to learn more about the intersections of these areas of interest, especially how new media and gender issues affect and are enacted within the areas of technical/professional communication mentioned above.

  • Of the reading you have done in your courses or on your own, what has been most interesting to you? What are some topics you have read about that you find meaningful?

When I try to think of specific influential texts, two that I come up with are Francesca Bray’s Technology and Gender and Eva Brumberger’s The Rhetoric of Typgraphy. Both of these texts discuss issues of gender and technology and how they affect communication and/or society.

  • What’s been the most interesting to you (in your field)? What contradictions have you observed between what you have read and learned in your coursework and what you have experienced as a professional? Or … what observations or insights have you gained in discussions with your classmates and instructors? have any of your classmates or instructors identified issues in your field that interest you and that seem to warrant further research?

I am most interested in those places where my areas of interest intersect, and this is largely because I find practical application to be important. I mention above my interest in legal and journalistic contexts; I find these important because they affect such broad segments of the population. Although I enjoy theoretical research and research focused on academia, I sometimes feel that a liberal arts approach requires us to expand our horizons and that it is somewhat contradictory to take advantage of this approach without doing research that could potentially benefit the public. Essentially, I want to do research in areas that affect people. I want to be able to explain to a non-academic why what I do is important. Because of this need, the public contexts are an important part of the work I want to do.

  • Why do each of the topics you listed interest you?

Technical/professional communication interests me, in part, because it is a respected field. With one foot in this realm, I’ll have to spend less time fighting people to prove that I’m relevant. But it also interests me because of my background in journalism. I have seen the effects journalistic and legal texts can have on people’s lives, and I think it is important to examine such effects more thoroughly.

The effects of those texts are changing daily with the advent of new media like social networking and RSS. Again, this is a field where I see potential for growth, and I’m also fascinated with how these technological advances will change the way we compose, communicate, and think.

I’m drawn to gender issues, most likely, because I’m a woman and a feminist (and because I was raised a feminist).

I’m drawn to visible rhetoric because it has been so often cast aside by “serious” academics (or so it seems) and yet it is such an influence in the average U.S. citizen’s daily life.

  • Why do you want to learn more about the topics you listed? What do you want to learn about them?

I want to learn more about the topics above because of their incredible implications for our lives. These issues speak to the way we think, the way we construct relationships, the way we live. I want to learn how we can do those things better–better meaning in ways that are more fair, more sustainable, more transparent.

  • Why do the topics you identified from your reading and other sources hold meaning for you?

These topics hold meaning for me because, as stated above, they affect the fabric or our lives. I believe that knowledge of these subjects can substantially change the ways we live.

Prompt 3 (Blakeslee p. 19): Think of something you have read in your area of interest that you found troubling or lacking, something with which you disagreed, or something that seemed contradictory to your own experience. Identify it and try to articulate the problem or difficulty you had with it.

After reading Brumberger’s article (mentioned above) I’ve often wondered if there is more quantitative, gender-based research in the technical/professional communication field that I’m missing. I’ve recently learned (from our Smagorinsky text) that this may actually represent something of a gap in current research.

Aside from this, I’ve found that research in my areas of interest often leads me to research on race and class issues as well. I sometimes find discussions of race and class issues in these contexts to be both troubling and lacking. (These are the texts where I suddenly realize I’ve been arguing with myself and I have to consciously refocus on reading.) However, I am also somewhat uncomfortable speaking in this area because of the political ramifications of trying to express opinions on such heated topics (especially since my opinions often differ from the standard academic party line)–which perhaps means that it is something I should explore in more depth.