Readings for November 15 in 8011

In today’s class, we’re having visits from Dr. John Logie and Dr. Christina Haas, both professors in the department. Logie will be talking about rhetorical analysis and Haas about grounded theory.

We read two studies for today; not surprisingly, they employed rhetorical analysis and grounded theory. Here they are:

Harper, F. M., Weinberg, J., Logie, J., & Konstan, J. A. (2010). Question types in social Q&A sites. First Monday, 15(7). Retrieved from

Teston, C. B. (2009). A Grounded Investigation of Genred Guidelines in Cancer Care Deliberations. Written Communication, 26(3), 320 -348. doi:10.1177/0741088309336937

The Harper study (on which Prof. Logie was also an author) involved analysis of 300 questions from question and answer web sites (including Yahoo Answers and Answerbag). The goals of the study were:

  • “Produce a taxonomy of question types drawing on core principles of rhetorical theory that is tailored to the study of online question asking.”
  • “Develop an initial understanding of the properties of the different question types.”
  • “Develop an initial understanding of the quality implications of the different question types” (§ 1.1).

They developed a taxonomy of questions, based initially on Aristotle’s three species of rhetoric (deliberative, epideictic, and forensic). For purposes of question taxonomy, the researchers considered Kenneth Burke when coming up with two “sub-species” of each species: Subspecies of deliberative are advice and identification; of epideictic, (dis)approval and quality; and of forensic, prescriptive and factual.

Two rhetoricians coded 300 questions according to this taxonomy. The researchers then considered the linguistic characteristics of the questions and found the taxonomy corresponded to linguistic differences. They then asked undergraduates to evaluate the questions on several vectors and looked for patterns between the taxonomy’s categories and the students’ responses. They found and reported several.

I have some questions:

  • How did they select the questions they coded?
  • Are “factual” questions really past-based/forensic? (§ 2.2)
  • Why are the two questions coded as “not a question” (§ 4.1) coded that way.
  • The researchers implied the undergraduate student evaluations were “coding”; weren’t they really questionnaire resposes?
  • Could they use more sophisticated NLP tools (POST and machine learning)?

I enjoyed the Teston study. In it, Teston considered “how medical experts from various specialties collaboratively deliberate about future action using a range of rhetorical strategies” (322). She used genre theory, charter document theory, and Toulmin’s analysis of arguments to assess and theorize this space (323). She used grounded theory to begin her study; her descriptions of her method still seemed a bit of a black box.

She analyzed the temporal and contextual roles of references to certain national cancer treatment standards in cancer-care debates among physicians (330-33), noting that discussion of the standards often arises as a link between the science of cancer treatment and the patients’ experiences. She then analyzed one of the NCCN standards using Toulmin (334-342), but she suggests that the form of the document matters in the case of this example.


  • Teston claims on 346 that she has “explored the ways that the Standard of Care document rhetorically excludes and includes ways of seeing and doing.” Has she actually done this?
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2 thoughts on “Readings for November 15 in 8011”

  1. Haas on grounded theory
    Almost 10 years, working on modifying grounded theory to make it useful in writing studies—to create a grounded theory approach (GTA).

    Iterative systematic analysis results in grounded theory, a theory tied to the data.

    Three dilemmas for writing researcher:
    1. Viewpoint dilemma: If you want to see something big, you have to start someplace particular. One is always someplace in particular with GTA.

    2. Data dilemma: “What do I do with all this data?” With GTA, you are writing from the very beginning. Data collection, analysis, and writing are iterative from the beginning.

    3. Theory dilemma: “What if my data don’t match my theory?” With GTA, there is no imposition of a theory onto the data. GT theorist brackets theory by focusing on data (constant comparison of small conceptual structures with other small conceptual structures).

    GTA works for writing studies because:

    1. Works in highly complex sites. Most literacy sites now are complex.

    2. Open to different kinds of data sources.

    3. GTA helps her overcome the shortcomings of narrative. Narratives suck you in; they can be tyrannical. GTA helps Haas move past that.

    If you are going to use GTA, start with Glazer and Strauss (1967), The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Then Strauss’s 1987, Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists.

    Haas and partner now trying to consider two current movements in of GT:

    1. “pushing out of reality” – moving beyond current theoretical spaces, pushing space between stitches in the sweater, open coding and dimensionalizing, “making something strange” (taking them out of their natural habitat).

    2. “pulling in” – weaving together, “axial coding” and “integration and theory building.”

    Theoretical sampling, saturation, and sensitivity.

  2. You raised a point about Teston’s article that I need to comment on: Did Teston find some weaknesses with the genre Standard of Care Document? She does not openly critique the genre, but leaves the door open. I have pondered about this move, and I wonder if it is a characteristic of the grounded theory approach–this immersion in data and reflection on data. GTA avoids narrative and perhaps Teston does not feel she has enough information to make any strong claims about the Standard of Care Document.

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