3 squares REx 1 | Spring 2016

IntroductionSearch REx 1Glossary

REx: A Reintroduction
Jenn Fishman and Joan Mullin

REx 2K16
REx as Digital Scholarly Praxis

REx as Inclusive Scholarly Praxis

REx as Critical Praxis

Diving into REx 1


REx 2K16

The first edition of REx has been a long, long time in the making. When the project began in 2006, all of us involved wanted to make writing research—distinct from scholarship about it—more visible and accessible. Our reasons were rooted in specific and personal examples: studies we conducted to inform our own teaching and administrative work but never quite got around to writing up formally; projects we shared through in-house reports and presentations but never circulated more widely; research that yielded rich data we just didn't have time to analyze, and so on. Now, nearly ten years later, we remain committed to making writing research more visible and therefore more accessible and usable for members of the rhetoric and composition/writing studies community. With the publication of REx 1 we also confirm our commitment to discovering the changes—and meeting the challenges—a resource such as REx is poised to promote.

REx as Digital Scholarly Praxis

Like so much emergent digital scholarship, REx is designed to adopt and critically adapt the mechanisms of traditional disciplinarity for transformational ends. A scholarly publication, REx is an exclusively online platform that combines peer-reviewed publication with the production of a now familiar type of academic resource, a searchable database. REx is also a public resource, available at no cost to all users of the World Wide Web. These defining features, however, are not what distinguishes REx from other, currently available resources or what marks it as radical, a resource with the potential to markedly change our perspective on writing research. In this respect, what sets REx apart is the genre it centers on: the REx report.

Distinct from traditional scholarly genres, the articles and books associated with "publish or perish" mandates, REx reports represent knowledge production differently. Formally, reports have six discrete sections, which are designed to collect information regarding the material circumstances of writing research along with the people, practices, and processes involved. Section by section, reports collect;

  1. general information about a single research project;
  2. specific information about each project’s Principal Investigators;
  3. specific information about each project’s team members and support;
  4. details about project design and execution;
  5. project outcomes and researcher reflections;
  6. and affiliated files.

For contributors to REx, the result is an opportunity to document research activity, making both expertise and effort more visible. In turn, REx reports invite database users to see and search writing research across conventional categories of design, discovery, and dissemination.

Further, REx reports perform specific social action within rhetoric and composition/writing studies and academic contexts more generally. As a genre, not simply a form or formal arrangement of information, REx reports facilitate the documentation and citation of research activity with emphasis on people and praxes. As such they invite contributors and users alike to rethink received knowledge about everything from what writing research is and what modes of research are predominant to who conducts writing research, who gets credit for it, and how it informs our discipline.

REx as Inclusive Scholarly Praxis

From the outset of our work on REx, we have invited colleagues from around the world at all career stages to report all kinds of writing research, including but not limited to studies that are the subjects of scholarly presentations and publications. Although, to be sure, some facets of REx have changed over the last decade, we have worked consistently to build a database that includes two broad categories of content:

  1. reports on studies already familiar to different audiences within rhetoric and composition/writing studies
  2. reports on studies completed but publicized only locally (if publicized at all), new and ongoing studies, and studies that are defunct or stalled.

Our rationale for inviting such broad participation is simple and goes to the heart of our impulse to index research on writing. In building resource that is much more than an alphabetical list of people and projects, we have worked to create a means of documenting, citing, and studying writing research activity in the broadest sense—and well beyond the much narrower parameters of conventional scholarly publication.

In spite of numerous changes to scholarly practices over the last ten to fifteen years, the limited compass of scholarly standards remains calibrated to the true north of R1 institutions and the work of assessing the achievements of R1 tenure-line faculty. Of course, writing research is regularly conducted by any number of other researchers from undergraduates and graduate students to non-tenure-track faculty and administrators, academic staff members, and independent scholars. We know this is the case not only through our own experience but also via the rich lore that informs our field. Yet lore cannot fully answer our drive for data, our desire for replicable models, and our need for references we can include in course syllabi, institutional white papers, position statements, and formal scholarship.

Over time, what REx stands to offer, then, is not a static panoramic portrait of writing research but a steady vantage point for considering and reconsidering research on writing. If colleagues participate by submitting reports about their work—and participation is no small contingency here—then cumulative editions of the REx database will contain an ever-growing and changing cache of information. As a result, for database users who search the names and locations of PIs and team members, REx will not only identify potential collaborators in specific geographical locations and possible mentors with particular expertises; REx will also test users’ assumptions about who conducts research on writing. In this respect, with REx 1 we launch an analogue to the #Ilooklikeaprofessor campaign that swept social media in the late summer of 2015, although we ask contributors not for selfies but for self-reports.

As REx accrues content through the continuous collection of new reports, additional interventions will become possible. Right now, with 80 peer-reviewed entries from more than 60 researchers, REx 1 invites mainly inventional inquiries: searches that can inform and inspire subsequent searches via additional means, whether licensed bibliographic databases, CompPile, rhetoric.i.o, or the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.

From edition to edition, however, REx has the potential to grow exponentially. More than 500 researchers from 43 countries have registered with REx, meaning they have opened individual accounts, and nearly half have drafted one or more reports. Imagine what we might learn about contemporary writing research if each researcher were to complete at least one report along with the full peer-review process. Imagine what REx 2 would contain if all registered researchers reported all of their projects, dating from 2000 to the present. And what if each REx researcher recruited a student or colleague to contribute to REx 3? Suddenly, we as a discipline would be poised to replicate Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer’s watershed study Research in Written Composition. We would have a new capacity for conducting replicable, aggregable, and data-driven or RAD research. We would also gain innumerable insights into writing itself along with new research questions, new exigences to address, and more.

Citing REx reports promises equally productive disruptions to our established ways of identifying research as intellectual property. On one hand, REx reports stabilize the activity of research by documenting it and making it citable, independent of related scholarly or community publications. On the other hand, REx reports operate as prompts for reconsidering whom we cite when we refer to writing research and why. In practice, the activity of research tends to complicate the singularity implied by the terms “Principal Investigator” and “author.” Projects may have co-PIs, for example, or team members who take responsibility for particular facets of a study, and those individuals may or may not be the same people who contribute to related formal or informal publications. By indicating who played available roles, REx reports invite multiple citational possibilities, including but not limited to the contact person included on each report. While REx users may find it convenient to cite contacts with reference to particular reports, contact people are not necessarily project PIs or the (sole) authors of the reports on which they are listed. As a result, REx users will need to consider carefully whose name(s) they cite and why they do so, to what rhetorical end. Just as it can be appropriate to identify a film with its director(s), producer(s), studio, or stars, in different contexts it may seem most fitting to affiliate research in REx with study PIs, team members, or sponsoring institutions.

REx as Critical Praxis

In these ways and perhaps others that we will discover together through use, REx offers more than a means of documenting writing research activity and making it more citable as well as more readily available for different kinds of valuation. REx also calls on us to engage critically with scholarly conventions and our own expectations. Not a static text but a cumulative database, REx may be best compared to a kaleidoscope, a tool that calls on users to arrange and rearrange content to experience changing perspectives. With each subsequent edition, REx will increase what users can see, including not only new reports on research begun since the turn of the millennium but also updates on research reported in REx 1. In this way, REx invites us to capture some of the most fleeting and frustrating aspects of producing new knowledge about writing: the ways in which people sometimes change their minds and projects sometimes have to change mid-course in response to the flux of intellectual and material conditions of inquiry.

From some stances, such a resource can seem more like a Pandora’s box than a revelation or relief. Just as REx promises to make the work of writing research more visible so, too, does REx threaten to make how we work as well as what we work on more available to scrutiny both within and beyond our discipline. We are well aware we are publishing REx 1 in what Henry A. Giroux casts as dark times. Arguing for “The Necessity of Critical Pedagogy in Dark Times,” he summarizes: “Ignorance now provides a sense of community; the brain has migrated to the dark pit of the spectacle; the only discourse that matters is about business; poverty is now viewed as a technical problem; thought chases after an emotion that can obliterate it.” In the academy, as the neoliberal corporate takeover of higher education continues, the adjunctification of the professoriate increases alongside course caps and upper administrative ranks (and salaries) in inverse proportion to available courses, student services, faculty governance, and academic freedom. For everyone engaged in the work of writing education against this grim backdrop, the temptation to hide away all but a select sample of best practices, policies, and academic achievements can be great. In fact, in some instances doing so can seem like a savvy protective strategy.

Yet REx refuses this response. Indeed, the logic that animates REx cannot accommodate this kind of protectionism. Instead, with each edition of the database from REx 1 to REx 100 and beyond, REx calls on writing researchers to protest: to actively resist institutional agendas that put politics ahead of knowledge production and publication. As an alternative REx issues a call to occupy research (as we have argued elsewhere) and in doing so to embody our discipline’s signature desire to be inclusive, to be unfailingly and critically curious about communicative practices including our own, and to work continuously to improve writing praxis, including writing research.

Diving into REx 1

As intended originally, what users find in REx 1 will be shaped by their own curiosity, frames, assumptions, and intentions: random viewing or intentional searches produce results that are open to individual or collaborative interpretations of our discipline’s research practices and processes. Database users can conduct a reflective investigation of a single field search that makes visible the kinds of questions being asked by researchers; which methods are most often used or which applied to particular research questions; what sites are being studied; what disciplinary assumptions guide our findings. (Each italicized term is a REx 1 search term.) Database users can also explore the range of populations taken up in our studies (i.e., teachers, high school students, undergraduates, multilinguals, graduate students, tutors), and they can see how data collections, placed side by side, support or challenge each other. By comparing projects that investigate similar questions, REx 1 users can also find ideas and models for their own studies. Too, comparing Reconsiderations can provide useful lessons about what researchers would have done differently, what more they want to ask or reshape, and so on. Overall, then, searching the contents of REx 1 makes it possible to see our discipline’s research processes anew and to think deeply about how we are using available resources, including methods and methodologies.

For example, the search term “diverse” yields several projects useful to an ELL researcher interested in genre or discourse analysis: a comparison of strategies used by English speaking and Macedonian students entering a new genre (Bekar); an Argentinian study of writing practices in the social sciences (Carlino). The study also generates Bosker’s examination of students' portfolios from three different programs and populations (adult, first-year, and graduate) and a study of a nursing curriculum, that finds “there were dynamic, changing interactional patterns with personal, political, relational, emotional, and philosophical perspectives that differed from year to year as students advanced through their degree program” (Chaudoir), Since REx projects afford users short summaries of key information, further areas of inquiry are quickly apparent: What have researchers who compared diverse populations/genres, all found problematic in their designs? Are there common motivations among these projects that shape the findings? What data collections within each project generated productive findings—and why? How did similar data collections differ in results?

Another example: A search of “longitudinal” brings up several well-reported studies of student writing: Stanford (Lunsford et al), Dartmouth (Donahue), ASU (Hea et al) and Kenyon (Fishman). Each study involved collecting student papers, although researchers approached the assessment of their data differently. At a glance, project summaries reveal how varied research questions, resources, and contexts can inform and shape decisions about data analysis. Anyone planning a longitudinal assessment project may find it useful to consult these reports and consider the differences among them in relation to their own research design and resources. In addition, REx users hungry for further details can turn to the files affiliated with these reports: Deans offers links as well as attached to interested readers, while Lunsford, Fishman, and Donahue cite publications that resulted from their studies.

REx users will further benefit if they read in an associative frame of mind, open to drawing and redrawing connections across reports. For example, longitudinal studies of student writing have implications for faculty development, as some reports signal explicitly (Deans, Fishman). Other studies generated by searching “longitudinal” directly examine faculty attitudes towards writing (Cochran) or the effectiveness of TA training over time (Wisniewski). When all six of the studies cited here are considered together, they raise new potential research questions. For example, given the similar time periods in which these studies were conducted, could it be productive to ask questions across two or more data sets or to reconsider study findings collectively in relation to trends within our discipline or higher education more generally? In addition, reading reports together may inspire new study designs, including a longitudinal study that purposefully tracks both student writing and faculty pedagogies over a five-year period (the timeframe chosen by both Lunsford and Hea). Considering Cochran’s examination of faculty attitudes over time together with Dean’s study on curriculum and faculty development, it is not hard to imagine the benefits of longitudinally tracking the effects of faculty development on the evolution of students’ writing.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we call attention to the “Reconsiderations” section of REx reports. Offering the particular clarity and wisdom of retrospect, “Reconsiderations” repurposes researchers’ belated realizations and regrets into advice worth considering: “Include participants from various age groups with various education levels” (Bekar); collected papers differently (Deans); administer a survey before and after a study (Johnson); set up excel sheets differently (Donahue). We cannot underestimate the importance of these words, especially for writing researchers who are working in isolation, without in-field collaborators or co-PIs. Nor should we undervalue the impact that increased information sharing of this kind can have on future writing research.


These observations about the contents of REx 1 emerge from our own interests and shared conversations. What REx encourages is not replication but bricolage: given the opportunity to view information about published and unpublished studies that engage diverse methods and methodologies, REx users can discover how their own work can be richly engaged, how new connections among practices can be forged, and how seemingly dissimilar studies can foster new questions.

But that is just our reading. Now, it’s your turn: contribute and create your own.