Writing the WISR Way

Abstracts of WISR Articles on Writing and Research

Note: These articles have been written by WISR faculty over the past 30+ years, and they include general perspectives as well as specific tips on how we all can do meaningful writing about our action-research endeavors, in order to better share our knowledge with others.  These abstracts are meant as overviews and guides to the accompanying articles, not as substitutes for reading the articles in the entirety.  Links are provided so that you may read and use each article in its entirety.

The Importance of Sharing Stories and the Details of the Complexities of Our Lived Experiences and Inquiries—in Writing and Telling Others about Our Emerging Knowledge and Expertise by WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky (2-21-12)

In fine-tug and improving one’s research and writing, getting additional evidence is always a good idea. All evidence is soft, to the extent that needs to be verified by other, persuasive evidence. A challenge is to piece together a variety of types of evidence to see to what extent the different types of evidence tend to confirm one another and/or raise further questions. At WISR we have previously written about a number of important, guiding principles to use in doing research and writing: be concerned with the bigger picture; tell and listen to stories and examples; be concerned with values and social justice; take one’s own experiences and insights seriously; still, look beyond oneself for information and insights, as well; write and rewrite in our own voice. Given our concern with “messy,” real world research, our findings and conclusions will often evolve gradually over time. The author suggests that in writing or telling others about our inquiry, we should honestly, unapologetically put ourselves in the “middle” of the picture of the entire story of the research process. Then, our readers/listeners can identify with our experience and thought processes, and with how we struggled to make sense out of conflicting evidence and view points, and then finally, arrived with our current conclusions and/or questions.

Expert knowledge, at the highest levels, and the most profound depths, is best articulated not just by rules, techniques and concepts, but also by sharing one’s reservoir of experience—which involves telling/sharing stories as well as commentaries/analyses of what those stories suggest—what insights one can gain from those stories. Expert knowledge must draw on extensive experience, which cannot be boiled down to or substituted by rules or algorithms no matter how well developed. For this reason, those trained by experts are very, very rarely even close to as skilled and expert as the experts who have trained them. Experts become expert because of the experience they gain over time combined usually drawing on some intangible qualities of creative thinking, dedication, critical-mindedness, curiosity and more. Therefore, it is ideal for the apprentice to be with the expert while the expert continues to be engaged in her or his process of becoming more expert. The expert still scratches his or her head, runs up against problems, sometimes feels undecided, and the process of fine-tuning and creating knowledge and expertise is always ongoing.

In summary, as we write about our research findings, we should try to engage our readers, or listeners, in “being with us” as we think about and wrestle with the insights we have come to through our experience (that is, through our research). To best do this, we need to include lots of examples and stories, and to invite our readers/listeners to be engaged with us, in the process of “becoming more expert.”

Discussion paper on Communicating What We Know to Others—written on 5-7-81 by WISR faculty members, Terry Lunsford and John Bilorusky, as part of WISR’s national demonstration project on teaching and learning action-research (funded by the US Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education).

This paper discusses why and how we can communicate the insights derived from our research to others. We suggest we should consider writing to and for ourselves first, including jotting down rough and spontaneous notes. Then as we get our ideas down on paper, we can begin to think about our audiences, and what it is that we can, and should, communicate to them, as well as how to write using words and styles that will be understandable your audiences. It is especially important that we remove technical jargon and academic lingo from writings that are to be read by laypeople and by varied audiences. It is important to do more than simply report on our research “findings”—we should learn how to educate our audiences and engage them in thinking with us about the implications of research findings. One approach for writing about our research is to describe for our audience the process of our inquiry—to tell the “story” of what we did and how we came to the insights, conclusions, and questions that we feel are the important outcomes of our inquiry.

Suggestions on Doing Theses at WISR by WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky

This article gives WISR students some tips on the priorities to think about when planning and writing a thesis at WISR. For example, choose a topic that has strong personal interest, and consider how the thesis may contribute to the thinking and practical efforts of others in the larger community. An informal thesis proposal is a tentative starting point, and as part of this, come up with some questions that you genuinely feel you don’t yet know the answer(s) to, but that are important to you and you would like to learn more about, even if you aren’t able to definitively answer the question(s). Theses can take many different forms at WISR, and this means that may not “look like” conventional theses in many cases. In particular, students are encouraged to use detailed examples and stories from their experiences and the experiences of others, as part of their original “data gathering” based on peoples’ first-hand experiences. Each thesis should have a “research methodology” chapter where the student discusses how she or he would do the research differently if they had the time to do the research again, or to extend the research further.

Techniques and Uses of Note-Taking

This short handout on “Note-Taking Methods and Ideas for Community Agencies” was developed by Terry Lunsford and John Bilorusky, of the WISR faculty, in 1981, as part of WISR’s Federally-funded FIPSE project on teaching and learning action-research. It brief outlines some ways of taking notes by spending just a few minutes every few days, and then overtime, using these notes for one’s research and writing projects.

Some Ideas and Suggestions about Writing by WISR Faculty members, Cynthia Lawrence and John Bilorusky, June 2, 2006

This article was written for a WISR seminar, to help WISR students get some ideas and tips on how to “get started” in doing writing for their various projects. Emphasis is on finding manageable ways to write a little at a time, in small chunks, as part of our everyday living. Emphasis is also on letting go of the inhibiting factors that have influenced us in the mis-education that is usually experienced as we have gone through conventional schools and colleges. There are also some suggestions for writing meaningfully, clearly and in your own voice in the latter stages of the writing process.

Action Research Seminar: ‘Writing in Your Own Voice’ by WISR Faculty Member, Cynthia Lawrence

Although mechanics, punctuation and spelling should be of some concern, they should not inhibit writing, and many other qualities are much more important. We, at WISR, accept and legitimate, validate and honor your subjective voice. We expect that you write, not to show you’re right but to show that you have a legitimate position. Writing is . . .
• The preservation of thought
• The way to record filed notes, ethnographies, theories and concepts
• The clarification of thought
• The encouragement and communication with others
• The format for dissemination
• The content that adds to society’s body of knowledge
• The proof of what one learns
• The validation of personal knowledge
• The commitment to paper—ideas, values, philosophy

Before I go further I need to blast all those elementary and secondary teacher of English who blocked your writing growth rather than having expanded it. When I was teaching young writers in fifth grade classroom, I set up editing centers. A small group of learners would work with me to become experts in some area of written mechanics. The other children would take their work to the experts for editing. Eventually, all children were experts in all areas, and writing mechanics were checked in a non-threatening way.

Because most of us have experienced a more threatening approach to writing improvement, it may be hard to trust our voice, our style, our emotional self, our values, our intellect and more. In this blurb on our seminar, you are hearing only my voice, the richness of other voices in the seminar is missing but I have recorded some of the ideas from the seminar. As I said, write it down!

Included were also some notes taken from a couple of previous writing seminars (1985 and after). The topics were:
• Kinds of Writing (or Purpose of Writing)
• Steps to Writing
• Commitment to Writing
• Standards of Writing
• What Encourages Writing?
• Ways of Maintaining Meaning
• Unanswered Questions

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