Fall 2007 - Editors' Welcome

Special Issue: Online Research, Writing, and Citation Practices

For many people in developed nations, it is hard to imagine completing writing and researching tasks without using online spaces. Indeed, these spaces have become so integral to writing and researching processes that going offline is now often the exception. Being online is the default condition. Younger generations who have grown up with digital technologies may be more comfortable turning to online spaces, but generations who grew up in a print-dominated culture are making this shift as well–willingly or not. Some companies, for instance, now charge extra for people to receive print copies of billing statements or send bills only online. Organizations from government agencies to retail stores increasingly direct their audiences to web sites to find and retrieve necessary information, such as hours of operation, directions, and policy explanations. Along with a phone number and mailing address comes a URL. "It's online" is now the overwhelming response to questions about the location of important information.

Online spaces, therefore, play an increasingly integral role in people's everyday lives. People communicate with friends, book flights, renew library books, send pictures, order gifts, read news, find recipes, and get driving directions online. To complete these tasks, people create online avatars, screen names, email addresses, passwords, URLs, domain names, and chat handles. They blog, IM, text, chat, google, myspace, bookmark, and tag. Online spaces play a crucial role in constructing not only what but how people write and research–and in how they come to see themselves as composers and researchers.

Google provides one example: The word google used to name a single Internet search engine; now google is a verb designating the activity of searching for information online using key words and phrases. It is both a place and a practice, a resource and a habit of mind. Google as a search function, moreover, is now a built-in component of major Internet browsers like Microsoft Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. And in addition to offering a means to access existing online texts, Google is now compiling and digitizing additional texts by partnering with academic libraries around the world. It is also adding to the textual landscape of the Internet. That this online service has become so deeply embedded in our culture signals the enormous influence the digital realm can have on how people make meaning in the world. Time magazine, in fact, named "You" the 2006 person of the year precisely because of the widespread growth of online spaces where people are communicating and creating knowledge.

Online activity increasingly characterizes academic writing and researching activities as well. Indeed, online spaces are frequently the first place many students visit for such tasks (Purdy & Walker, 2006), though instructional materials and citation systems often ill-prepare writers and researchers to use them for academic work (Walker & Taylor, 2006; Reilly & Eyman, 2007; Walker & Purdy, forthcoming). But students are not the only ones relying on these spaces. Scott McLemee (2007), for instance, reports that a professor he interviewed "decided to clear his shelves [of print books] in part because he expected to be able to do digital searches to track down things he remembered reading." The contributors to this special issue address the impact of online spaces by examining the multiple ways in which digital technologies shape processes of meaning making in composition. They examine the writing, research, and citation practices online spaces enable–and the implications of these practices for students, teacher-scholars, and the field of writing studies.

In particular, contributors consider the growing responsibilities of writing studies professionals in critically engaging online spaces in the composition classroom and in research endeavors. Specific suggestions for meeting these responsibilities vary. Jody Shipka applies a multimodal framework for composing, Randall McClure & Lisa Baures and Thomas Peele & Glenda Phipps call for collaboration between composition instructors and librarians, Daisy Pignetti draws on virtual ethnography, and John Borczon & Paul Shovlin advocate student-teacher collaborations in a variety of online spaces. The multiplicity of their approaches signals the multitude of opportunities teacher-scholars have to make work in online spaces integral rather than tangential to pedagogical and scholarly work in writing studies.

Theory into Practice

The Theory into Practice section of the special issue begins with Jody Shipka's "This Was (NOT!!) an Easy Assignment." This web text offers an excellent exploration of students' experiences of multimodal writing instruction. Considering how the modalities students can access and use online likewise play a significant role offline, Shipka examines how 29 first-year composition students negotiated a multimodal framework for composing that challenged their expectations for, and/or experiences in, academic writing courses. Enacting the very practices she discusses, Shipka employs words, drawings, sound, and video together to create a scholarly work that uses multiple modes online rather than just reports on them in print.

The web texts by Randall McClure & Lisa Baures and Thomas Peele & Glenda Phipps both provide convincing arguments for the necessity of establishing collaborations between writing studies and library and information science professionals to provide adequate instruction in online research. In "Looking in by Looking Out," McClure & Baures approach this collaboration from a disciplinary perspective. They discuss the ways in which the standards of library and information science and writing studies, as presented by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA), respectively, articulate the importance of developing in students skill in conducting research–and how such instruction is often left to teachers of first-year composition who generally receive little or no training in offering this instruction. Their solution is to triangulate these standards to offer a "developmental framework for English composition curricula" on information literacy. "Looking in by Looking Out" reinforces that before we can successfully teach students to use online spaces for research and writing, we need some agreement among national standards that stipulate the means by which to measure effective–or "information literate"–use of these spaces.

Peele & Phipps discuss an example of collaboration at the course level. They directly response to McClure & Baures' call for "instruction . . . delivered at the point where subject content and information literacy skills converge." In "Research Instruction at the Point of Need," Peele & Phipps contend that research instruction in composition courses needs to be tailored to specific writing assignments and must involve partnerships between compositionists and librarians. They include video segments of interviews with composition instructors that illustrate how generalized library instruction alone–either through generic online tutorials or broad overviews of library resources–is inadequate in preparing students to complete research tasks for specific courses. Peele & Phipps instead suggest that tutorials to help students navigate free and fee-based subscription databases be designed to focus on the specific library resources needed to complete a particular course assignment. By explaining the instructional media they developed, Peele & Phipps offer helpful examples of pedagogical resources that teachers can adapt to their own courses.

The closing piece of the Theory into Practice section, "The 'I' of the Storm," examines online practices at a personal level. Using herself as a case study, Daisy Pignetti explores how online spaces created before, during, and since Hurricane Katrina have offered her and other evacuees new ways to share knowledge and create trust. She balances personal narrative with a consideration of research methodology and networked communication to show the ways in which Katrina-related online spaces offer comfort. Pignetti's web text provides a crucial reminder that the online research and writing practices students bring to–and, through efforts like those recounted in the web texts of this special issue, learn and develop in–the composition classroom can help them make sense of the world.

The Virtual Classroom

In The Virtual Classroom section, John Borczon and Paul Shovlin adopt the collaborative identity Jean-Paul Shovczon to share their discussion of the ways in which online technologies like wikis and MOOs complicate power relationships between and among students and teachers. Through sharing specific wiki and MOO-related activities the authors assigned in their classes at Ohio University, "Teacher, Researcher, Scholar, Essayist: A Web Text with Some Assembly Required" reflects on the shifting expectations we have for online spaces and the pedagogical possibilities (and resultant tensions) enabled by these spaces. Shovczon's web text emphasizes the need to re-evaluate what we think we know about the use of online technologies as spaces for writing pedagogy.

Print to Screen

For the Print to Screen section of this special issue, Joyce Walker has compiled abstracts of the articles from our edited collection, Digital Contexts: Studies of Online Research and Citation. Several of the authors who have contributed work for this special issue have also contributed to Digital Contexts. The edited collection argues that the increasing prevalence of digital resources is radically changing the processes and procedures through which institutions and individuals search for, find, store, and use information; and that investigation of these changes must be addressed through the collaborative efforts of scholars in related fields.  As a result, Digital Contexts includes work from scholars from several different disciplines and multiple geographic locations. As a whole, the contributions to this collection help teacher-scholars better understand how the designs of digital information structures both shape and are shaped by writing and research behaviors.”

Professional Development

For the Professional Development section of this special issue, Douglas Eyman interviews Heidi McKee and Dànielle DeVoss, editors of the recently published collection, Digital Writing Research: Research: Technologies, Methodologies and Ethical Issues.


In "A 'New Way to See' Students as Researchers and Writers," James P. Purdy reviews the multimedia CD-ROMs i-cite and i-claim. He explains how, while these CDs offer multimedia affordances not available in print texts, the most fundamental way in which these CDs differ from other instructional texts used to teach argument and source use is their construction of researchers and research processes. Purdy contends that these CDs usefully construct students' experiences with texts in non-academic and online contexts as bridges to academic work rather than as counterproductive practices to be forgotten or replaced.

Special Issue Editors
James P. Purdy, Douglas Eyman, Colleen Reilly, Joyce R. Walker


McLemee, Scott. (2007, August 1). Sailing from Ithaka. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://insidehighered.com/views/2007/08/01/mclemee.

Purdy, James P., & Walker, Joyce R. (2007, Spring). Digital breadcrumbs: Case studies of online research. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 11(2). Retrieved July 14, 2007, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.2/binder.html?topoi/purdy-walker/index.htm.

Reilly, Colleen A., & Eyman, Douglas. (2007). Multifaceted methods for multimodal texts: Alternate approaches to citation analysis for electronic sources. In Dànielle Nicole DeVoss and Heidi A. McKee (Eds.). Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Walker, Janice R., & Taylor, Todd. (2006). The Columbia guide to online style. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press.

Walker, Joyce R., & Purdy, James P. (forthcoming). Liminal spaces and research identity: An argument for changing constructions of students as researchers. In Joyce R. Walker, James P. Purdy, Douglas Eyman, and Colleen Reilly (Eds.). Digital contexts: Studies of online research and citation.