ENGL 500 - Writing Center Theory

This guide provides information about databases and journals to aid students enrolled in ENGL 500 located relevant research materials.

Library Research Guide

Scholarship is a Conversation

A scholarly article is not a monologue. It is part of a conversation between multiple scholars, spanning years and disciplines. You do not need to read everything in order to participate in a scholarly conversation; however, you should consider:

  • Who are the most influential scholars in my topic area?
  • What are the most influential works in my topic area?

Identify influential scholars and works by:

  • Noting authors/works frequently appearing in references/bibliographies 
    • References help track research and the scholarly conversation into the past
  • Searching databases that provide Cited By links to identify sources that have been cited by other researchers
    • Compare different articles on the same topic to identify which articles and authors are referenced most in scholarly conversations
    • MLASearch It, Google Scholar, Scopus, and Web of Science Core Collection all record citations, but each database produces slightly different results
    • Cited By links help track research and the scholarly conversation into the future

Screenshot highlighting Cited By link in Google Scholar

  • Following Related Articles or Related Documents links to find sources that cite the same sources the article you are reading cites
    • This tracks research taking part in the same scholarly conversation; even if the authors aren't talking to each other (citing each other), they are talking about similar topics
    • Google ScholarScopus, and Web of Science Core Collection are your best sources for this option 

Scholarly Conversations Across Disciplines

What different disciplines are contributing to the conversation?

Scholarly conversations are not usually limited to a single discipline. Scholars with different subject expertise can contribute to a single topic. 

For example: in a scholarly conversations about classroom accommodations for children with learning disabilities, a researcher will want to look at psychology scholarship to determine developmental factors, and educational scholarship to explore options for classroom accommodation for those specific needs. Both psychology and educational scholarship explore identifying learning disabilities. 

If you are unsure of what disciplines may be discussing your topic, search in a multi-disciplinary database, like Search It or ProQuest Research Library. Use the results in those databases to identify relevant disciplines or subjects. 

Once you have identified relevant disciplines, conduct a search in a database that focuses on that discipline. Our database directory can be sorted according to subject. 


Screenshot of Subjects option on Libraries' databases page

Search and Re-Search

Your search reflects what you know about a topic. 

The keywords you search for will change as you learn more about a topic. Your first search may be simple:

  • a theory (Critical Race Theory) 
  • a method (read aloud) 
  • a user group (first-year students) 

After studying your first results, your next keywords may look at a theme: cultural training AND writing centers

After more reading, you may search for more specific information: writing centers AND students' right to their own language  

Search for authors. Certain authors appear over and over in your search results and in references. Researchers tend to concentrate on certain topics so searching for them as authors can provide additional relevant results, even if the terminology has evolved.

Researching Critically

Effective research requires that you critically evaluate your sources and how you search for information. 

Evaluate your sources

Read or examine multiple sources. Explore a topic from different perspectives by locating more than one source on your topic. Seek variety in terms of:

  • type of institution being examined (private, public, tribal, two-year, four-year, HBCU)
  • student demographics (traditional, non-traditional, first-year, engineers, international)
  • author's gender, race/ethnicity, writing center experience

Follow the references. Does your source cite references or otherwise indicate where they got their information? If not, why not? If yes, read some of those sources so that you can evaluate their information. 

Note: Sources may disagree with each other. This is okay, that disagreement helps us understand a topic. Be concerned when a source is discredited, particularly when the facts presented are disproved or the research process is questioned. 

Check your assumptions

Your search terms may bias your search results. Some terms assume an outcome; use of these terms may result in only locating articles that agree with that outcome. These terms include:

  • support
  • benefit
  • harm
  • improves
  • prevents 

If you must use a search term that indicates an outcome or relationship, try:

  • impact 
  • influence
  • affect 
  • effect

Change your search method to change your search results. Increase your search results by:

  • searching in several databases;
  • following the citation trail -- what works did the author cite; what works cite this article;
  • searching for different formats: books, journal articles, dissertations.

Identify the scholarly conversation(s). The sources you locate are part of a conversation among researchers and scholars in an effort to better understand writing center practices and theories. Identifying a conversation helps determine what has already been written about a topic and if there are known gaps in our knowledge. The conversation may entail:

  • best practices
  • research methods
  • theoretical approaches 

Look at how your topic is discussed by other researchers, what language they use to describe it, what experts they reference, what topics they consider related to your topic. Try new searches using these concepts.