Writing Strategies: What’s Your Positionality?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Reflecting on, fleshing out, interrogating, and conveying your positionality relative to a research orientation is critical to ensuring the validity of your research stance. After all, no one can be 100% objective. The researcher’s beliefs, values systems, and moral stances are as fundamentally present and inseparable from the research process. In fact, even the most passive methods of data collection and quantitative analysis have some interactional aspects, and it is impossible to absolutely control for and ensure the unobtrusiveness of research applications and interventions. Power dynamics flow through every vein of the research process; therefore, it is our ethical duty to intentionally and mindfully attend to our role(s) in the contextual power interplay of the research process.

In addition to the technical qualitative and quantitative research methods for ensuring validity, a preemptive and fundamental step in attending to the ethics of the research process is to critically reflect on, flesh out, interrogate, and state one’s positionality. A great place to labor with and develop one’s positionality is in a researcher reflection memo, which provides a safe, brave, intentional, self-reflexive, and critical space to consider and respond to questions about one’s positionality:

  • How do my personal, professional and/or intellectual positionalities (identities, contexts, experiences, and perspectives) cohere with or diverge from my research inquiries?
  • What legacies (personal, communal, societal, national, transnational and/or global) inform the social constructedness of my positionality?
  • In what ways, or not, am I conscientiously, or not, reifying, resisting, disrupting, and/or changing the constructs of my positionality through this research process?
  • How has my own positionality changed, or not, over time, and why? In what ways has it remained static, and why? In what ways has it been dynamic, fluid, emerging and/or generative, and why?
  • How does my positionality recognize, honor, and/or problematize intersectional notions of difference (politics, economic class, race, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, legality, age, ability, education, sexuality, gender, and/or religion?) as a conceptual praxis of analysis for my research context?


For more support come into Weingarten to meet with a learning instructor during an individual consultation on any and all undergraduate and graduate research or join our working group series called Dissertation Bootcamp.

Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor and Research Fellow

Story of the Research Question

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Have you ever felt “stuck” conceptualizing and fleshing out your thesis and related research question?

At any point in the writing process and the academic calendar, but especially relevant during the semester-end stretch when final papers are due, you may find yourself interrogating the premises of or struggling to develop or refine the research question itself.

One way to mindfully deliberate on the research question and release the conceptual flow of writing is to PAUSE and REFLECT on the “story” of the research question itself. This can be done by writing a brief reflective memo, which may or may not be integrated into the paper itself, but will probably prove to be quite cathartic and clarifying.

Taking license to be free and unrestrained, write as if journaling to yourself, and reflect on any one or combination of the following prompts relative to your research question:

  • What is the (background) “story” of (behind) the research question?
  • What has been the developmental trajectory or building blocks of the research question?
  • How did I become interested in this question?
  • Why is this question significant to me?
  • What do I find most compelling about my question?
  • In what ways do I connect with this question? What are my points of reference for contextualizing the research question – in my own life, practice, field, and/or in the world?

For more strategies, come to Weingarten, collaborate with a learning instructor, and get tailored feedback through an individual consultation. Also, consider registering for our Dissertation Bootcamp!

By Staff writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow & Instructor

Getting Started on Final Papers

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So it’s that time of the semester that we all forgot about-final papers/project season. You know, because we were surviving it week by week, midterm by midterm, page by page of mostly monotonous readings? It can be daunting to begin tackling a huge and cumulative assignment when you have no idea where to even begin. Here are some strategies to get started:

  1.  Chunking: Ever get this feeling that you are so overwhelmed by the task that no matter how much time you devote to sitting down at your desk, you just are too paralyzed to start? Don’t start off thinking you are going to do it all in one sitting. Begin by breaking down the assignment into different stages and assign yourself goals. Perhaps start off with re-reading major concepts of the course since that might inspire a certain topic or focus for your paper. Then, on another day or week, move on to researching and making connections to texts covered in the class. The point is to establish tasks that are realistic bite-sized chunks.
  2. Concept Mapping: Having a whiteboard (or blank paper) and some different colored markers (different color= different theme/connection) help to get all your ideas out there without the pressure of writing full-on paragraphs or pages. Brainstorm with drawing if you have to! Jot down ideas and key concepts and this way, you can also work towards clarifying your arguments.
  3. Come into Weingarten: Learning instructors here at Weingarten have various academic backgrounds including and ranging from doctoral students, research assistants, social scientists, and academics. Having another person to help you “talk through” your scholarly ideas is a great way to learn. What it comes down to is really cliche but hey, it works: “Two heads are better than one!”

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

Got Writer’s Block?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Have you ever received a writing assignment and felt “frozen”? Have you known you need to write but gotten stuck staring at a blank screen? You’re not alone—everyone has experienced writer’s block, from John Steinbeck to J.K. Rowling to leading scholars in many fields. Fortunately, there are techniques for overcoming writer’s block that will help you submit that term paper or finish your dissertation.

1368823401Causes of Writer’s Block: One of the most commonly held beliefs about writer’s block is that it’s a sign of laziness or lack of preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth;
writer’s block often affects students who have high expectations for themselves. According to Keith Hjortshoj, author of Understanding Writing Blocks (2001), it is very common in people making transitions and adjusting to new writing formats. This category includes first-year college students, new graduate students, undergraduates moving to more advanced levels of study, and writers completing high-stakes projects.

Strategies for Moving Past Blocks

1. Free Writing: One of the biggest things you can do to combat writer’s block is freewriting. Freewriting means you sit down and write what comes to mind about your topic without stopping to read what you’ve written. Simply keep going—nobody will see your writing yet, and you will have a chance to revise later. Freewriting will allow you to write and think more fluidly, help you process information, and get text onto the page that you can shape into your finished product. Many students find it useful to brainstorm by writing what comes to mind in the form of a list or diagram. You might even find that you can generate text by pretending you’re writing about your topic in an email to a friend.

2. Free Form: Don’t feel like you have to write from the beginning of your paper to the end; you can choose the section you’re most confident with and start there. Bracket things you’d like to change and come back to them during revision.

3. Writing Groups: Lastly, avoid isolation with the task of writing. Seek out connections with other writers, whether they’re in your class or fellow graduate students in the grad student center.

Analyzing Your Writer’s Block: Here are some of the questions that Hjortshoj recommends for better understanding your writer’s block:

    • What kind of writing are you trying to do?
    • At what point does progress end?
    • What do you do up to that point?
    • When you reach it, what do you do next, and why?

Note the answers to these questions, determine the changes you need to make and ask which strategies will help you write through the block. You may have to try several strategies before finding one that works, just like you might in a science experiment. Deliberately keep yourself from doing things that you suspect are causing your writer’s block. No matter what, don’t give up! For more support and strategies for writing, come to Weingarten! 

Staff writer: Brenna Swift