Textual Research Methods

Create more agency in your life. Sharpen your critical reading and thinking competencies by engaging in critical analysis of texts. Understand disparities in textual interpretations. Learn different ways to interpret texts.

Textual Research Methods are the tools and techniques (aka protocolsprocessesstrategies) that investigators and methodological communities use to

Textual Research Methods are a form of critical reading and thinking that is required to survive and thrive in literate cultures. Even simple tasks like looking up how to pay a parking ticket or investigating the best plane fare requires some mastery of textual methods. A good deal of training, whether at work or school, pertains to learning textual methods. Consider, e.g., legal training in the U.S., which requires an undergraduate degree as well as advanced training and certification before lawyers are credentialed to interpret laws (i.e., legal texts) for clients.

Textual Research is a robust topic of academic inquiry. Across disciplines and professions, symbol analysts reflect and theorize about textual research practices. In religious communities, this study is referenced as hermeneutics; in linguistics, semiotics; in humanities, critical theory; in rhetoric, rhetorical analysis.

Textual Research may also be referred to as as Textual Analysis; Academic Research; Library Research; Desk Research; Secondary Research; Scholarly Research; Academic Writing.

Key Terms: Critical Thinking; Critical Analysis; Dialectic; Hermeneutics; Semiotics; Text

[ Text is defined broadly, as any artifact (e.g., alphabetical text, image, sign) that can be interpreted to mean something. ]

As humans, we learn about the world from experience, observation and experimentation. All that is referred to as empirical research.

In order to advance the human condition, we write up the results of empirical research and informal research (e.g., anecdotal musings about life). We create archives. We write down what we think we know, what we want to investigate next, what our interpretation is. All that, in terms of the evolution of the species, is called literacy (aka secondary orality).

Any time you are interpreting, describing, and discussing texts, you are engaged in textual research.

Mastery of textual research methods requires mastery of information literacy, especially strategic searching, critical literacy, and conventions for writing with sources.

PreRequisites to Textual Research Methods
Information Literacy Your perspective, your ability to interpret texts, is shaped by your ability to locate, read, and assess texts—i.e., by the investigator’s
Writing with SourcesTo understand any given text, you need to understand conventions for Integrate Textual Evidence (Quotes, Paraphrases, Summaries)

Textual research methods play a substantive role in other research methods, including qualitative and quantitative research. For instance, an investigator employing scientific methods would conduct a review of research prior to undertaking an investigation.

Textual Research is an extremely robust way to learn about existing knowledge and develop new knowledge (e.g., theories and interpretations).

Examples of Textual Research Methods
Critical-Cultural AnalysisWhat is the text’s historical, cultural, social, economic, and political context? What ideological and cultural assumptions inform the author(s) thesis? interpretation? What does the text suggest tell us about race? class? gender? sexuality?
Linguistic AnalysisWhat are the linguistic elements of the text, such as word frequency, collocation, concordance, topic analysis, sentiment analysis?
Literary Criticism
Rhetorical Analysis

Investigators engage in textual research to

ability to think critically Investigators engage in textual research

  1. to conduct a rhetorical analysis (aka discourse analysis) and produce rhetorical knowledge
  2. to engage in dialectic—i.e.,

Thus, textual research also involves interpreting texts in relation to other texts (an interpretive practice called intertextuality) as well as

While the perspectives of symbol analysts are somewhat different, depending on their disciplinary lens, in general they are curious about how people make use of texts to understand the world. How do people interpret information/data/evidence? How do the communities people ascribe to impinge on how they interpret texts.

As human beings, we engage informally in textual research without thinking about it. We

  • read road sign, a plane schedule
  • searching the web for pricing on a new clothing item
  • talking a books, article, or blog.

As researchers, we engage in Textual Research

  • to learn and think about existing knowledge, knowledge claims, research questions, hypotheses, theses
  • to better understand what is known and not known about a topic
  • to refute existing knowledge claims.
  • to problematize readings:
    • to share our subjective readings of others’ texts (reader response)
    • to identify shared interpretations by others of texts
    • to demonstrate multiple contrasting interpretations by others of texts
    • to explore how interpretations of texts are historically and culturally situated and now those interpretations change over time, place, and cultures

Textual Research is guided by the conventions of information literacy, particularly the practices surrounding attribution: summarizing, paraphrasing, and citing secondary sources.

Textual Research is most commonly referred to as Scholarly Research. has been widely discussed in a variety of academic disciplines.

Textual Research is sometimes called the Never Ending Debate because it presumes that knowledge is produced by ongoing conversations about texts.

Authors from ancient Greece are quoted as if they had just published their insights on thier blog site. Everyone is cited in the present tense.

Ultimately, there is no way to resolve a claim. New evidence may come in or a new discourse community

Discourse communities coalesce around texts. In the U.S. constitutional scholars, judges, and lawyers

and scholarly conversations about texts. For example, people have been discussing the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other religions’ holy texts for centuries. For example, researchers engaged in textual research may argue with one another about what the author of a text meant, what other people (aka critics thought the original authors intended, and what the text says about the author’s psyche, society, or culture.

In other words, Textual Research

See the source image

Source: Design Process Structural Model
Clarification: Primary Texts vs. Secondary Texts
Some researchers, particularly archivists, make a distinction between primary and secondary texts:

A primary text is an original text by an author, such as a memoir, autobiography, or journal.

A secondary text is a text that summarizes, paraphrases, and cites other texts. Examples of secondary texts are journal articles, reports, or proposals.

Additional articles on Textual-methods:

  1. Search the Library Catalog

    Understand how to search for books, journals, government documents, and media that you can access through your college or university...

  2. Textual Analysis

    As a reader, a developing writer, and an informed student and citizen, it is extremely important for you to be...

  3. Understanding How Conversations Change Over Time

    For example, you arrive somewhere to meet two friends and discover that they are discussing where to go to dinner...