Qualitative Research Methods in Speech Communication

Speech Communication 711
Spring Semester 1998
Course Home Page: http://www.wam.umd.edu/~jklumpp/spch711/home.htm
James F. Klumpp
2122 Skinner
E-mail: jk44@umail.umd.edu
Voice: 301-405-6520


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About the Course

This course is concerned with "qualitative methods." Those two words are loaded. For many, divisions such as those between qualitative and quantitative methods define huge gaps that they loath to cross. For many, "methods" has the sound of the distinctive separation of academic work from nonacademic work. Part of our goal this semester is to undermine these divisions. The methods we will talk about are very human activities which mark fundamental ways of knowing that we all use in our everyday lives. You are all historians and critics and writers. Yes, qualitative methods approach work by some different rules than quantitative work. Yes, the refinement we expect of our academic researchers impose standards which exceed the standards we expect from others. But to see those distinctions as the heart of what we do in using qualitative methods is to encourage a stale understanding of human activity.

In approaching an understanding of the qualitative way of knowing many skills will cross our focus. Primary among these is writing. We have all "written" for a long time, but true understanding of writing goes far beyond the simple act of putting pencil to paper. Effective researchers, no matter what the object of their inquiry or the method of their choice, are able to effectively communicate their ideas. Given the diversity of research methods which one has to command in communication studies these days, effectiveness as a researcher requires that one command a number of different writing styles and know when to use them -- to communicate information succinctly, to bring descriptions and situational elements to life, to argue a position effectively, and so on. We will be working on and talking about your writing a great deal. Our focus will be on writing in the critical enterprise, but we wish most of all to increase your consciousness of writing as a skill.

We also will be exploring the critical impulse. Humans in the presence of the activity of others naturally seek to say "I like that," or "I would not do it that way." We look at the behavior of others, and the reactions of still others to that behavior, to learn how we should behave. Even more fundamental is our encountering an ambiguous event and using all that is around us --- previous experiences, theories, knowledge about how the world should be -- to understand its meaning for us. These activities are the critical impulse at work and we seek to refine the skills which refine that impulse.

Then there are the historian's skills. What happened? Is it significant? What were its effects? These are fundamental skills for the historian because we seek to recall, to relate our actions to those of others who came before us. We seek to understand them. Somehow this gives us a sense of where we came from and where we are going. We will be studying skills of constructing events from the past. Our goal is to give you the skills to use the resources of the past in helping to understand the skills we encounter today.

You may think of these skills as skills you will use in research if you wish. You will use them. But think of them more broadly as well -- as refinements of skills that you will use far beyond your graduate degree.

Finally, I want to urge you to approach the course with the spirit of adventure and the boldness which accompanies it. You will be writing your ideas and we will be commenting to seek to improve them. That will work best if you are not afraid to err occasionally in the process of learning. So, like the turtle who makes progress only when s/he sticks his/her neck out, plod forward and enjoy learning about the ways we encounter human activity critically and historically.

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Who is the course for?

Any graduate student who wants to work on his/her writing and to understand the place of communication messages in public life. The course is not designed specifically for students of rhetoric. The skills are critical to such students, but to others as well.

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What will the course be like?

I suspect that I will talk a lot and you will write a lot. In fact, I will be doing more lecturing and exercises in this course than is normal in a seminar. I want to make your writing -- and my research projects as well -- an important part of the course.

You will be writing a lot. I recommend some writing every week. Our work will develop a focus on specific skills in writing and will work on those skills toward improving writing.

You will also be reading. You will read some critics talking about criticism, some "how to"-ish sorts of things, and some criticism. When reading the critics talking about criticism pick favorites. Try to be like them. In reading the how-to's be certain and take them to your own work. When reading the criticism, concentrate on how the critics are facing their task.

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The major texts for the course are:

We will use Barzun and Graff to learn about doing history. But I also recommend you read what it has to say about writing. It is excellent. If the Booth, Colomb, and Williams is better, it is marginally so. I have added it for its writing advice. The Foss book is, in many ways, the least satisfactory of the three. It does a nice job of introducing you to criticism, but does so very quickly. Ideally I would have a better reading, but we are between revisions on many of our rhetorical criticism books right now. This will suffice nicely.

There are other books that you should have at your elbow:

I will set up an internet site for the course, but am not certain yet how I will use it. I may well place some material on the site to expand on some of the concepts of the course. I will announce additions in class.

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Office Hours

T 11-12; W 2-3; and by appointment.

I am in my office a lot more than these hours. Please just arrange your appointment. A rough estimate of my schedule each week is on my home page.

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One of the objects of the semester is to keep you writing. So there are several assignments. But the semester concentrates on only one long assignment. I am also going to ask that you hand in a disk (3 ½ inch IBM DOS preferred) with your papers along with the hard copy. This will allow me to easily reproduce sections of papers for class discussion. I may also try editing on the fly.

Review of History Essay.

Evaluate an historical essay of your choice in terms of significance. Due February 9. 10 percent of grade.

Two accounts of an event.

You will write two different accounts of a single event. Due February 23. 20 percent of grade.

The Criticism.

The criticism is first due on April 13. 30 percent of grade. I will respond to this version, then you will rewrite. The rewrite is due May 11. The rewrite is 40 percent of grade. The criticism will be graded on: (1) insight of criticism; (2) cogency, clarity, and vividness of writing; and (3) following of proper form. An "A" paper will be superior in all ways. I recommend MLA form, although APA or Chicago are acceptable.

All papers should be in proper form including proper title page, title, headings, and references.

Late papers? This course will stack up on you very rapidly if you get behind. Papers are due at the beginning of class on the day assigned. Any papers handed in after that moment are considered late. I have instituted a new late paper policy. There is a form that you need to execute a week before the paper is due if you need to renegotiate the due date. Any papers that are late for the original or renegotiated due date are lowered one grade.

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Obviously this is a seminar and your attendance is assumed. I would also add that in a seminar like this -- with a rather constant commitment to writing -- absences are usually a symptom of a greater problem -- keeping up -- that is of even more concern.

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