The Value of the Research Field of Composition and Rhetoric Studies

Presented by Norbert Elliot.

Norbert feels that in those first two years of college when students are taking composition classes, this is a critical time to encourage inquiry. If students are taught well, the students begin to explore other areas and constructs effectively. They are able to move between discourses much more efficiently and successfully. Therefore, there should not be in composition and rhetoric a sharp divide between academic writing and professional writing.

Elliot’s own teaching and research is an example of how professionals should be able to range between different discourses. He deals with traditional composition and rhetoric students as well as professional and technical writing students. He does suggest, though, that most graduate programs in composition and rhetoric do not effectively allow for this kind of range. He thinks that there is a general lack of empirical research in composition and rhetoric. Those in humanities tend to stand away from testing and data, but Elliot suggests that those items should play a role in the overall research related to composition and rhetoric.

One way that he suggests that more empirical research can be obtained starts with opening up the types of writing projects composition and rhetoric students create. Something as simple as a blog that responds to readings can then become an archive of data that newly minted PhD’s can then examine for evidence of the importance of the field. It suggests that the students are the important focal point of the study more so than scores or numerical data. The digital world in one way to make this happen. He also cites open source programs to open the digital world to more people without the barrier of licensing costs. These examples and others suggests that the composition and rhetoric field is growing and expanding rather than static. The digital world also allows for greater connections between people who might normally not be able to engage with each other.

Next, he discusses the entry of new professionals into the field of composition and rhetoric. He speaks of the typical entry path of dissertation work leading to journal publication. He argues that this is a more social process than a formal one. His personal experience started in the literature field that, at times, he found to be somewhat unwelcoming to new ideas and those whose work expands into varied ideas. Composition and rhetoric, however, is much more welcoming to a variety of research fields. This is another reason why research into the field of composition and rhetoric remains important to continue to examine the importance and the scope of the wide-ranging construct that is composition and rhetoric.

Presenter Bio

Norbert Elliot is a professor of English at New Jersey Institute of Technology. His research areas are the history, theory, and empirical work in the assessment of writing ability. He begins by stating that those in the educational measurement field often define the term “construct” as a particular mental model. Composition and rhetoric as a construct is a quite large domain that includes multiple ways to think about the construct itself. We can think about writing in academic settings, professional and technical writing, and the new world of digital media discourse. Thus, he suggests that when we discuss composition and rhetoric that we consider a much larger discourse than just writing in a college classroom.