Graves' (1975) Research Project Design and Execution

        Graves' research (1975) is worth reading as a model of how to construct a project to research the composing process. Here are some things you can see being done right, which might help you when it comes time to do your own research.

1) He surveys the literature of preceding researchers and exposes a gap where there's a need for study (23).

2) The design begins with a clear statement of the researchers' assumptions, in their case the statement about composition being an "organic process" with all that implies about what they expect to find and how they'll set up the study (23). Note they may not have known they thought this before the literature review, and they may even have discovered or rethought it in the course of their research, but it's essential that the reader know at the outset what their basic assumptions are. You can disagree with the research on these grounds (i.e., it's not "an organic process" but rather a set of processes that compete with each other rather than working in an "organic" fashion as the organs of a single body).

3) They established a reasonable scale and sequencing of the project's overall goals and objectives, starting their planning (we assume) in 1971-2, data-gathering in December 1972 to April 1973, doing data analysis and writing the article until around 1974 when it would be submitted for peer review at RTE and get published after the usual 1/2 to 1 year delay in 1975. Compare that with the time you have for the research projects and you'll see you have not four years but more like four to six weeks. Limit your goals and objectives accordingly, but there are still great things you can do in that time.

4) They staged the project so that each stage of research feeds into the fine-tuning of the next (25). That way they didn't have to know exactly how they were going to ask those questions in the interviews until after they had watched Michael for a long period of case study, and the observation of the writing episodes (III) took advantage of what the kids said in the interviews, and finally the writing folder analysis (IV) allowed them to look for features that could test the hypotheses they built in stages I, II, and III. Your projects, though smaller in scale, can take similar advantage of staging their development.

5) They defined key terms (26-7) like what exactly constitutes "writing" for a 7-year-old (scribbling on the wall, drawing a whale eating cave men, etc.??). Without clear term definitions (which you can change as a result of your research!) you can't accurately describe what you're studying. Present them to the reader early in the report of your results so the reader also will understand.

6) Serendipity (26). I love the word, its colonial/imperialist origins notwithstanding. They took advantage of opportunities which arose only after they were under way, like observing children writing who weren't in the study because their subjects were out of the room or doing something that prevented them from writing. Think of waiting 250 hours waiting for your subjects to start doing what you need to observe, and knowing that you can't tell them "hey, start writing you little rascal!" or you'll blow the experiment! They made good use of time that might otherwise have been wasted and provided themselves with a valuable set of "context" data to check their study against.

7) When they finally wrote their report for publication, they resisted the temptation to provide detailed data on all their major research subjects and chose Michael as a representative (29). However, this also leads to the possibility of a problem--is the study thereby biased, especially toward males? How would one test that possibility by examining their methods and their data?