Writing by Design

becoming a professional writer

Archive for Research

The Claim: It Pays To Increase Your Word Power

For several years now I’ve been giving my first-year writing students a vocabulary quiz as part of their writing diagnostics.  I’ve noticed a strong correlation between final grades in the course and how well (or badly) students do on the vocabulary quiz. Although intuitively the link between a wide vocabulary and writing seems clear–students with more word power have probably read more widely than their classmates–I didn’t like to push that correlation into the realm of causation.

Read the rest of this entry »


How much grammar do you need to write well?

According to a recently-published article in the British Educational Research Journal, there’s little or no evidence from over 100 years of research to show that teaching grammar improves student writing.

Here’s an abstract of the findings:

Over 100 years of research and debate on grammar instruction.64 articles reviewed; results show that there is little evidence to indicate that the teaching of formal grammar is effective, and that teaching sentence-combining has a more positive effect on improving the syntactic maturity of students in English between the ages of 5 and 16 improving their writing quality and accuracy…the teaching of syntax (as part of a traditional or transformational/generative approach to teaching grammar) appears to have no influence on either the accuracy or quality of written language development for 5 to 16-year-olds. (p. 51)

The importance (or not) of teaching grammar to writing students still provokes heated discussion among teachers.  What do you think?




Google and the hidden web

Imagine researching a topic in the biggest library in the world, with access only to the book titles.

It’s a crude analogy, but a warning for everyone–particularly scholars–not to rely too heavily on Google.

A recent study published in D-Lib Magazine found that fewer than half — just 44 percent — of a sample group of deep-Web pages from scholarly archives showed up in Google searches.

Read the article…

New TAPoR Portal

TAPoR has launched a new, useful portal to showcase its impressive range of digital text analysis resources for scholars, and to provide easy access to its Open Source tools.

You can browse TAPoR projects (including UVic’s) to get a sense of the range of possibilities TAPoR offers.

TAPoR is an acronym for Text Analysis Portal for Research, a CFI supported project involving researchers from six universities across Canada, including the University of Victoria, who work with electronic texts and text analysis. The word “tapor” is an Old English form of “taper” − a wick or candle.

The future of scholarly communication


The Center for Studies in Higher Education is conducting research to “understand the needs and desires of faculty for in-progress scholarly communication (i.e., forms of communication employed as research is being executed) as well as archival publication.” With the study now into its second year, the Center has released an interim report with some of the early findings based on interviews with over 150 faculty
members in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Some of the questions that the study seeks to answer include:

— “What will scholars want to do in their research and with their research results, and what new forms of communication do or do not support those desires?”

— “How will scholars want to disseminate and receive input on their work at various lifecycle stages?”

— “How do institutions and other stakeholders support these faculty needs, if at all?”

The Spring 2008 “Draft Interim Report: Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication,” by Diane Harley, et al., is available at http://cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/publications.php?id=300

The Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California Berkeley is a “multi-disciplinary research and policy center on higher education [that is] oriented to California, the nation, and
comparative international issues.” For more information, contact: Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley, 771 Evans Hall #4650, Berkeley, CA 94720-4650 USA;

tel: 510-642-5040; fax: 510-643-6845;

email: cshe@berkeley.edu;

Web: http://cshe.berkeley.edu/

Now, analyze that: using TAPoR text analysis to assess Obama's rhetoric

From Geoffrey Rockwell and Stefan Sinclair at McMaster University, Canada, a provocative experiment, using TAPoR text analysis tools, to compare Obama and Wright’s recent speeches on race. According to Geoffrey’s blog, he and Stefan wanted “to find a way of writ[ing] interpretative essays that are based on computer-assisted text analysis and exhibit their evidence appropriately without ending up being all about the tools. We are striving for a rhetoric that doesn’t hide text analysis methods and tools, but is still about interpretation.”

Read the rest of this entry »

From the Network in Canadian History & Environment (NiCHE): the Programming Historian

The Programming Historian is now available on the NiCHE: Network in Canadian History & Environment website.

According to William Turkel of UWO’s History Department:

This work is an open-access introduction to programming in Python, aimed at working historians (and other humanists) with little previous experience. Introductory lessons teach you how to

* install Zotero, the Python programming language and other useful tools
* read and write data files
* save web pages and automatically extract information from them
* count word frequencies
* remove stop words
* automatically refine searches
* make n-gram dictionaries
* create keyword-in-context (KWIC) displays
* make tag clouds, and
* harvest sets of hyperlinks

The Programming Historian is a work-in-progress. We are constantly adding new material, much of it driven by reader request. Upcoming topics will include indexing, scraping projects, simple spiders, mashups and much more.