See Disclaimer Below.

Posts Tagged ‘Legal Research and Writing’

What is a Research Paper, and How Does It Implicate Disciplinarity?

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Law, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Pedagogy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Teaching, Writing on September 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Richard L. Larson interrogates the “research paper” signifier. He claims that this signifier lacks settled meaning because it “has no conceptual or substantive identity” (218). He calls the term “generic” and “cross-disciplinary” and claims that it “has virtually no value as an identification of a kind of substance in a paper” (218). Despite its empty or fluid meaning, the term “research paper” persists inside and outside English Departments, among faculty and students, at both university and secondary school levels. The problem for Larson is that by perpetuating the use of this slippery signifier, writing instructors mislead students as to what constitutes research and thereby enable bad research.

The term research paper “implicitly equates ‘research’ with looking up books in the library and taking down information from those books” (218); therefore, students learning to write so-called research papers inadvertently narrow their research possibilities by relying on a narrow conception of research as library visitation, note-taking, or whatever, without recognizing other forms of research that may be more discipline-appropriate: interviews, field observations, and the like (218). Using the term “research paper” to describe a particular type of activity implies not only that other, suitable practices are not in fact “research,” but also that students may dispense with elements of logic and citation if their instructors didn’t call the assignment a “research paper.” Really, though, research papers teach skills that apply to all papers, regardless of whether instructors designate a paper as “research.” In a way, all papers are research papers if they draw from sustained observation or studied experience.

Having argued that the term research paper is a vacant signifier—vacant of identity if not of meaning (not that the two are mutually exclusive)—Larson argues that the “provincialism” (220) of writing instructors (by which he means writing instructors’ presumption that they can and should speak across disciplines despite their lack of formal training in other disciplines) leads to a problem of territoriality. Some information belongs in the province of other disciplines, Larson seems to suggest, and writing instructors should not assume that they know enough about other disciplines to communicate in a discipline-appropriate setting. Some knowledge, in other words, lies outside the writing instructor’s jurisdiction. I’m ambivalent on this score. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

English PhDs and Legal Research & Writing

In Arts & Letters, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric & Communication on October 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Dr. John F. Sase and Gerad J. Senick cite my article in the opening of their piece on legal writing.  Read their piece here.  My article argues that English PhDs–not lawyers!–should teach legal research and writing courses.

Legal Research & Writing, Audience, and Cross-disciplinarity

In Communication, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication on September 6, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Richard L. Larson interrogates the concept of the research paper. He submits that this term (“research paper”) lacks settled meaning because it “has no conceptual or substantive identity” (218). He calls the term “generic” and “cross-disciplinary” and claims that it “has virtually no value as an identification of a kind of substance in a paper” (218).

Despite its ever-shifting meaning, the term “research paper” persists both inside and outside English Departments, both among faculty and among students, at both university and secondary school levels. The problem for Larson is that by perpetuating the use of this slippery signifier, writing instructors mislead students about what constitutes research and thereby enable bad student research.

The term research paper “implicitly equates ‘research’ with looking up books in the library and taking down information from those books” (218), so students learning to write so-called research papers inadvertently narrow their research possibilities by relying on this narrow conception of research as library visitation, cursory note-taking, and so on, without recognition of alternate forms of research that may be more discipline-appropriate: interviews, field observations, etc. (218).

Furthermore, using the term “research paper” to describe a particular type of activity implies not only that other, suitable practices are not in fact “research,” but also that students may dispense with elements of logic and intertextuality and citation because instructors didn’t refer to those things as elements of research papers.

Research papers, properly understood, teach skills that apply to all papers. In a way, all papers are research papers if they draw from sustained observation or studied experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Discourse and Legal Writing Instructors

In Communication, Information Design, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Legal Research & Writing, Literary Theory & Criticism, Rhetoric & Communication on August 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

My writing instructors in law school parroted a line that I considered both annoying and at times wrong:  “This is bad writing.”  The criteria for what constituted bad (as opposed to good) writing had to do, invariably, with rigid rules of grammar and syntax.  A sentence was “bad,” for example, if it failed to have a comma following an introductory prepositional phrase; or a sentence was good, even if it sounded awkward, so long as it did not violate any rule of basic grammar.  Such over-commitment to formalism quashed any sense of experimentation or creativity that the students might have had.  Rather than trying out new styles and syntaxes, students confined their writing to short, plain statements of fact and conclusion.  Their papers read like boring how-to manuals: monotone and tedious, never lively and engaging.  The problem, as I see it, is that legal writing instructors have little awareness of audience.  They simply have no notion of what Stanley Fish calls “interpretive communities” and so have no notion of genre (categories of discourse) or performative text (text that mimics or signals certain categories of discourse).  Legal writing instructors locate students within a field of discourse akin to technical writing, but they never explain to students why technical writing is appropriate or even desirable in a legal context.  Instead, they inform students that anything that is not technical writing is bad, and they do so without realizing that different communities may have different expectations or prefer different techniques and vocabularies.  Legal writing instructors never explain that certain modes of writing can be good in other contexts but instead treat all writing as belonging to one classificatory scheme.  They force writing into one of two categories—good or bad—without regard to the quality of writing as contextualized in other communities.  Such habits simply will not do.      Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: