Theoretical underpinnings

My work tries to interrogate the ways that ideology is inscribed through our choices of texts, pedagogy, assignments, grading strategies, tutoring practices, responses to papers, and ways of interacting with students both in and outside of the (real and virtual) classroom. The ideology we inscribe at the site of literacy is the most essential because it shapes not only the ways our students read and write about the world, but also the ways they read and write themselves. What kind of citizens are we producing in our classes? And what are the implications of this?  What kind of citizens do we want to produce?  And how do we justify this?

In some way or other, all of my work explores what we are really teaching when we think we are teaching something else. As composition teachers we set out to teach writing, and we often do that by assigning readings. We may discuss the content of the readings, but our major emphasis is on how the essays model the kinds of writing we want our students to produce. Are those essays really appropriate models? For what? What else do they teach? What does the juxtaposition between them teach? In the first year writing course, are we preparing students for college writing, civic engagement, or workplace writing? If we select WAC texts, are they really appropriate models for the disciplines, or do they leave students with the impression that disciplinary distinctions are marked only by content? What impact might this have on already under prepared students? If we select “multicultural” texts, do all of the authors discuss a broad range of topics, or do writers of color write about race, while white women write about gender and white men write about philosophy, etc.? What does this teach our students about who writes and what the academy expects? If we select readings with which we think our students can identify because they share physical or social characteristics with the authors, regardless of whether those texts are “academic” or intellectually challenging, are we really helping our students develop the skills they will need in college and, later, their professional and civic lives?

Then there are the questions of authorship and citation. When we focus on instilling plagiarism-terror and correct citation, are we really teaching students to engage freely with the ideas of others and respond in ways that create new meanings and expand their thinking? Do we teach our students to summarize sources as a way of processing and thinking through ideas with another author, or as a safeguard against violations of academic integrity? Are we teaching them to fear trying to incorporate other voices into their own thinking, leaving them mindlessly quoting to avoid the plagiarism-checker (or using work-arounds to avoid being caught) instead of using writing as a meaning-making process?  

What messages do we send when we think we are “simply” teaching?  What can we learn when we study student writing rather than “correcting” or grading it? And how does all this influence the ways we train writing tutors, set up distance learning programs or service learning projects, talk to a student during our office hours, or make administrative decisions? 


I am passionate about research, about gathering data and about interpreting those data using both statistical analysis and close textual and rhetorical analysis. I am also an advocate of the importance of multi-site, transcontextual research in the field of Writing Studies. We simply can no longer accept data from small, single institution studies as representative of the whole. Small studies allow us to ask questions, develop methods, and make connections to other studies, but they cannot be generalized. They can be replicated though, using site-specific modifications as necessary (and helping to develop a theory of replication for Writing Studies), so my final passion is for transparency of methods. Small studies that replicate other studies can add to, deepen, and challenge our overall understanding, so I am not at all an advocate of big-data or nothing. But, to quote an unknown genius “the plural of anecdote is not data.”

For a sense of how this works, check out:

  • The introduction to Points of Departure: Rethinking Student Source Use and Writing Studies Research Methods. Ed. Tricia Serviss & Sandra Jamieson.  Utah State UP, 2017 by Tricia Serviss, “The Rise of RAD Research Methods for Writing Studies: Transcontextual Ways Forward.” 3-22.   DOI: 10.7330/9781607326250.c00b  [download PDF]
  • Serviss, Tricia, and Sandra Jamieson. “What do we mean by Transcontextual RAD Research?”  In that same collection. 25-31. DOI: 10.7330/9781607326250.c00c  [download PDF]
  • Serviss, Tricia, and Sandra Jamieson. “Replication and the need to build on and expand local and pilot studies.” Also in that collection. 83-88. DOI: 10.7330/9781607326250.c002a  [download PDF]

Citation Project

The Citation Project is a translocal, transcontextual study of how writers integrate and engage with source material in researched writing. It encompasses several local and multi-site studies (see with different Principle Investigators along with Rebecca Moore Howard and me. The first studies I participated in (Jamieson & Howard  2013) focused on the traditional researched essay produced in first-year writing courses. We collected more than 12,000 pages of researched writing produced by students at 16 public and private colleges and universities in the US (including community colleges, Ivy Leagues, research universities, religious institutions, and liberal arts colleges) into the Citation Project Source-Based Writing (CPSW) Corpus. These papers  and the sources they cite provide opportunities for qualitative and quantitative analysis. In one study of the corpus (“Writing from Sources“), a team of coders used a modified form of citation context analysis developed by Howard, Serviss, and Rodrigue (2010) to code 800 pages from those papers (50 randomly selected pages from each institution) and analyze how sources were integrated in the 1,911 citations (summary, paraphrase, quotation, patchwriting, and copying). The second study (“Selecting Sources“) also replicated other research categories, applying them to the sources selected by the students and the ways different sources are integrated into the papers. Sources were coded for difficulty-level, kind of source, length of source, and page in source cited. New research is underway (“Students and their Sources“) that follows students from the beginning of their research to the submission of the final paper.

Jamieson and Howard are working on a book that will draw on statistical and rhetorical analysis of the papers in the CPSW Corpus, to make pedagogical and programmatic recommendations. Other publications from the Citation Project are listed at that site, and Tricia Serviss and I published an edited collection that contains the philosophy and methods of the project, Points of Departure: Rethinking Student Source Use and Writing Studies Research Methods (Utah State University Press, 2017)

Visit the Citation Project website to learn more

Recent Articles on Citation Project research

Summaries of our work: