“Dear OWL Mail”: Reshaping our stories about writers and writers' concerns

Cristyn L Elder, Purdue University


Much of the literature in the field of rhetoric and composition narrates the stories of writers and their writing as told by teachers, administrators, and researchers. In an effort to bring writers' voices to the forefront of these stories, this empirical study examines the types of questions and concerns writers have about writing as submitted through Purdue University's OWL Mail. This dissertation examines OWL Mail users' inquiries submitted from 2006 to 2010 and identifies 60 different question types and the frequency with which they are asked. Demographic data by question type is also collected. This study categorizes users' inquiries into the following top nine question types: Documentation Style, Grammar, Beyond the Scope of OWL Mail, Format, Genre, Punctuation, Word choice/form/usage, Unclear, and Resources. The final chapter describes the implications of these results and how they might shape our pedagogical and research practices in the writing center, online, and in the composition classroom. These implications will help to reshape the stories we tell about writers and their writing.




Weiser, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Higher education

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