Research Methods in Professional & Technical Communication

Research Methods in Professional & Technical Communication is an undergraduate course. This course introduces students to textual research methods and empirical research methods -- both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Course Description

Research refers to a systematic investigation carried out to discover new knowledge, expand existing knowledge, solve practical problems, and develop new products, apps, and services. Different research communities have different ideas about what knowledge is and what methods and methodologies are appropriate to verify knolwedge claims or develop new knowledge. Here, the term methods refers to techniues

is and how to conduct it — and thus they different research methodologies.

Learn about the different epistemological assumptions that undergird informalqualitativequantitativetextual, and mixed research methods.

Students will be introduced to the idea of research as inquiry and as a knowledge-making enterprise that is used in the workplace to solve problems or answer questions. By exploring the research methods used in the PTC fields, students will develop an awareness of how professionals in the field of professional and technical communication develop an idea, plan a research project, go about gathering data (whatever “data” may be), perform analysis, and present their work.

Creative Challenges – Writing Assignments

Students will complete creative challenges, some of which will be collaboratively authored:

  1. x
  2. x
  3. x
  4. x
  5. x

Students will complete quizzes and assignments in class that must be written in class. They will also be assigned readings and required to annotated those readings in Perusall, a social annotation app that the university makes freely available to students inside Canvas.

Learning Objectives – Course Goals

You will be introduced to the idea of research as inquiry and as a knowledge-making enterprise that is used in the workplace to solve problems or answer questions. By examining a variety of research methods, you will learn how to develop an idea, plan a research project, go about gathering data (whatever “data” may be), perform analysis, and present your work.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Identify what research methods are most appropriate to use for particular rhetorical situations and research questions
  2. articulate the ideologies that inform different research methods and be able to identify and critique what research is and explain why it is important in the workplace
  3. Evaluate existing research on its strengths, weaknesses and ethical orientations
  4. Explain different types of research methods and when they should be used
  5. Plan a research study to include planning, analysis, and writing up the results

Required Texts

  1. GCF Global. Google Drive and Docs
    This is a thorough, free guide to using gDocs. You’ll need this resource if you are unsure how to create and share gDocs
  2. Web Accessibility Initiative. Images Tutorial
    This is a free resource. Not sure how to caption images? Learn how to make your images more accessible.
  3. Rewriting Work
  4. Syllabi Policies for AI Work
    • We will study this corpus for our collaborative, class-wide project. Note this form is also available as a searchable spreadsheet
  5. Try This
    This is the major course textbook for this course
  6. Writing Commons
  7. You can block the ads by adding Adblock Plus, a free Chrome extension. The ad blocker works great.


For helping me develop the course readings and assignments, I thank Ilene Frank (HCC) librarian and friend extraordinaire;  Professors Whitney Gregg-Harrison (University of Rochester); Abram Anders (Iowa State University); and Anna Mills (Cañada College), and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University). Thank you, colleagues, for being so inspirational and sharing your expertise. For help with the contract grading I’m using in this course, I thank Heather Shearer (Teaching Professor at UC Santa Cruz). Now that GAI tools are so widely available and given it’s impossible to police their use, “ungrading” is, in my opinion, the only sensible way forward.


Note to Students


  1. As a USF student, you can request the Adobe Creative Cloud app from here: 
  2. You will need a non-USF gmail account for this course because USF is no longer supporting gmail. When I comment on your texts in gdocs, I’ll use my gmail account. That said, please use for any coursework communications.
  3. Given FERPA, all of my grading will take place inside Canvas
  4. Perusall, which is a social annotation tool that is free to you as a USF student.
  5. Course Sandbox


USF Core Syllabus Policies

This course follows all USF policies, including policies for students recording class sessions, academic integrity and grievances, student accessibility services, academic disruption, religious observances, academic continuity, food insecurity, and sexual harassment.

Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend classes. 

  1. Students who accrue four unexcused absences—missing two weeks of the semester—will receive a B in the course provided they complete the labor efforts required to otherwise earn a B grade. 
  2. Students who miss six classes (unexcused) will receive a C in the course provided they complete the labor efforts required to otherwise earn a B grade. 
  3. Students who miss seven classes (unexcused) will automatically fail the course.

Late Work Policy

If you do not have a university-approved excuse for your absence or if you do not receive an extension from me, I will not accept late work. Beyond university-excused absences: please be in touch with me as early as possible if you’d like to request an extension for a *very* good reason (e.g., serious illness or accident, death of a family member, job interview), and I will consider your request if it is accompanied by relevant documentation. 

Students may arrange to turn in assignments late if they miss class for one of the following university-approved reasons, AND they’ve alerted me prior to the absence when feasible:

  1. Court Imposed Legal Obligations
  2. Jury Duty, court subpoena, etc.
  3. Military Duty
  4. Religious Holy Days. Note: Students who anticipate the necessity of being absent from class due to the observation of a major religious observance must provide notice of the date(s) to the instructor, in writing, by the second class meeting.
  5. Ongoing Medical Conditions. Students facing extenuating circumstances, such as a debilitating illness or injury (physical or mental) or disability that inhibits him or her from attending class or completing assignments, must work with the appropriate on-campus organization (e.g., the Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention, SOCAT: Students of Concern Assistance Team, USF’s Student Health Services, USF’s Student Accessibility Services). The appropriate on-campus organization will then act as a liaison on behalf of the student and help the instructor determine appropriate action. As your instructor, I am not qualified to determine appropriate accommodations for ongoing medical conditions, and I will require documentation and guidance from these experts/liaisons.
  6. Presenting at a professional conference. Students who miss class because they are participating in a scheduled professional conference are expected to present a schedule of the event upon returning to class.
  7. USF Athletics’ Participation. Students who miss class because they are participating in a scheduled USF athletics event are expected to present a schedule of the USF athletic events that require their participation to me by the first week of the semester if they intend to be absent for a class or an announced examination.

If you plan to miss assignments due to the reasons listed above, you are responsible for informing me about your excused absence prior to the absence and for making up the missed work within a week of the original deadline. 

Due dates. The due dates for all assignments are indicated in Canvas and in the course schedule. Take note of the following differences:

  • 11:59 AM = 1 minute before noon. You probably won’t see this in our class.
  • 11:59 PM or 23:59 = 1 minute before midnight. You’ll see this listed as a common assignment due-date time at Canvas.

Late assignments are those that are turned in after the due date listed in Canvas. You will not receive feedback on late work. After an assignment closes, you can no longer submit it unless you made prior arrangements with me for an extension.

Incomplete assignments are those that are not submitted, those that are submitted in an inappropriate form (for example, via email or incorrect file type) or a file that cannot be reviewed (this includes files that cannot be opened), or those that do not meet assignment guidelines or baseline criteria for passing. Incomplete assignments earn a score of “incomplete.” 

No late assignments are accepted. The only exceptions to this policy are students with USF-excused absences (medical absences require a doctor’s note; school activities such as USF teams require a note from Athletics BEFORE THE ABSENCE). You are welcome to work ahead if your schedule requires that.

Grading Contract

Students’ grades will be based on their labor over the semester. This approach is called “labor-based contract grading.” Ideally, contract grading frees you up to try new things because you won’t be penalized for taking risks. In fact, I strongly (!!) encourage you to try new things and push yourself. Growth and strength result from struggle and working through confusion.

Contract Grading – UnGrading Resources

  1. Contract Grading – So Your Instructor Is Using Contract Grading
  2. Labor-Based Grading Resources by Asao Inoue
  3. Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom, 2nd Edition

Canvas Workaround

Assignments in Canvas will be marked as “Complete” or “Incomplete.” Nonetheless, Canvas will show you a percentage in your “Grades” view. However, because we are using a labor-based contract the Canvas grade percentage means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Ignore it. Any cumulative percentage that Canvas might show you is meaningless.

Grading Criteria

  1. You earn a score of completion on an assignment by completing it as described in the assignment description. Your submissions should demonstrate you have read the readings associated with an assignment. 
  2. You earn an incomplete by failing to submit an assignment, by submitting an assignment that cannot be opened/read or, when required, commented on; by submitting an assignment that is not responsive to the assignment prompt; or by submitting work that is writer-based as opposed to reader-based — i.e., writing that is sloppy, writing that is so personalized, so idiosyncratic, that readers cannot successfully interpret it. Discourse may be called writer-based when it lacks an organizational structure other than a stream of consciousness, when it departs so significantly from standard written English that readers cannot decipher what the writer is saying. Furthermore, writing that does not in my opinion seem like prose from one human to another human will be marked as incomplete.

To earn an A in this course, you will need to

  1. receive a complete on all eight creative challenges
  2. complete all of the annotations/readings assigned in Perusall
  3. attend all but three classes

To earn a B in this course, you need to

  1. receive a complete on the first seven creative challenges
  2. not be noticeably late to in-person class meetings more than twice.
    • Three late arrivals will constitute one missed assignment. 
    • Five late arrivals will constitute a second missed assignment
    • Following five late arrivals, each lateness will result in a course grade deduction. So, for instance, a final grade of a B will become a C.

To earn a C in this course, you need to

  1. Meet the expectations for a B, yet receive a complete on six of the first seven creative challenges

To earn a D in this course, you need to

  1. Meet the expectations for a B, yet receive a complete on six of the first seven creative challenges.

In summary, your grades are based primarily on your labor as opposed to the quality of your work.

Grading FAQs

If you are grading based primarily on labor rather than quality and assigning “complete” or “incomplete” grades, what sort of critical feedback can I expect to receive?


Depending on the rhetorical context, I’ll consider the conventions that govern academic or professional writing:

  1. Academic Writing – How to Write for the Academic Community
  2. Professional Writing – How to Write for the Professional World

Audience Awareness

I will assess whether your work is responsive to the needs and interests of its target audience (e.g., readers, listeners, or users). As NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English) Position Statement on “Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles” (Adler-Kassner et. al. 2018) points out, audience awareness is a critical concern of writers during composing (along with purpose and context):

When writers produce writing, they take into consideration purposes, audiences, and contexts. This leads them to make intentional choices about the elements that go into writing:

  1. content (the subject or focus of the writing);
  2. form (the shape of the writing, including its organization, structure, flow, and composition elements like words, symbols, images, etc.);
  3. style and register (the choice of discourse (aka writing style] and syntax used for the writing, chosen from among the vast array of language systems [often called “dialects”] that are available for the writer); and mechanics (punctuation, citational style, etc.)” (“Understanding” 2022).


I will assess whether the writer(s) has adopted an an appropriate writing style given the rhetorical situation. Are the writer’s appeals to ethos and pathos appropriate given the audience? Have they established a consistent voice, tone, and persona? To assess whether the text is writer-based or reader-based based, I will evaluate its clarity, brevity, coherence, flow, inclusivity, simplicity, and unity

Content & Critical Thinking

I will evaluate whether the writer has provided the evidence and reasoning readers need to correctly interpret the work. Regarding evidence, is the content responsive to what the audience knows/feels about the topic? Has the writer created an authoritative text by providing  a consistent credible voice, tone, and persona? Have they employed the information literacy conventions academic and professional readers expect? For instance, have they provided the sources and details readers need to assess the credibility of their claims? Additionally, I will assess whether the writer has maintained a consistent line of inquiry or analysis throughout the paper. Has the writer demonstrated a clear progression of ideas, where each new piece of information logically builds on the previous one.  This approach ensures that the reasoning is clear and coherent, effectively addressing the thesis or research question and demonstrating thorough content and critical thinking.


An illogical progression or lack of cohesiveness will hinder clarity and undermine the effectiveness of the writing. A well-organized paper demonstrates an understanding of the rhetorical situation and audience’s needs, resulting in a clear and compelling piece. Hence, I will assess check the document for logical flow — whether the writer maintains a consistent line of inquiry or analysis throughout the paper. This involves ensuring that every section and paragraph supports the central focus—the thesis, hypothesis, or research question that drives the narrative or argument. In other words, I’ll consider whether the writer has structured their work with a clear and logical progression of supporting points, ensuring cohesiveness and unity throughout. This involves ensuring that every section and paragraph supports the central focus — the thesis, hypothesis, research question that drives the narrative.This also involves ensuring each new idea builds logically on the previous one, adhering to the given-to-new contract. I’ll also consider whether deductive and inductive reasoning are applied appropriately, depending on the nature of the argument or narrative. Headers should be used effectively to make the content scannable.


I will assess whether the writer has effectively applied key design principles — proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast — to enhance the clarity and impact of their work. I will question whether the text demonstrates an understanding of visual rhetoric and the power of visual language. This includes using images, graphs, and other visualizations to support and enhance the written content, making complex information more accessible and engaging. Headers, bullet points, and other formatting tools should be used effectively to make the document scannable and user-friendly. 

Course Information1

1 Acknowledgments: I thank Heather Shearer (Teaching Professor at UC Santa Cruz) for meeting with me and sharing her expertise with labor-based grading. Now that AI tools such as ChatGPT are widely available, I believe it makes more sense than every to try ungrading.

I thank Ilene Frank, Librarian extraordinaire at HCC, for her help


Week 1, Tuesday 8/27
Week 1, Thursday 8/29
Week 2, Tuesday 9/3
Week 2, Thursday 9/5
Week 3, Tuesday 9/10
Week 3, Thursday 9/12
Week 4, Tuesday 9/17
Week 4, Thursday 9/19
Week 5, Tuesday 9/24
Week 5, Thursday 9/26
Week 6, Tuesday 10/1
Week 6, Thursday 10/3
Week 7, Tuesday 10/8
Week 7, Thursday 10/10
Week 8, Tuesday 10/15
Week 8, Thursday 10/17
Week 9, Tuesday 10/22
Week 9, Thursday 10/24
Week 10, Tuesday 10/29
Week 10, Thursday 10/31
Week 11, Tuesday 11/5
Week 11, Thursday 11/7
Week 12, Tuesday 11/12
Week 12, Thursday 11/14
Week 13, Tuesday 11/19
Week 13, Thursday 11/21
Week 14, Tuesday 11/26
Week 15, Tuesday 12/3
Week 15, Thursday 12/5Last day of class