The Naylor Workshop in Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies

This post is written by members Joyce Kinkead and Jessie L. Moore.

We believe passionately in the transformative power of meaningful, authentic research for our students. Both of us are aware that students in English often don’t tend to think of themselves as researchers. Rather, they see themselves as rehashing others’ scholarly works. Part of the fault in their perception lies with us. We, as faculty members, may not have articulated to our students the methodology of inquiry in our fields. But we are working to change that. Joyce has written the first textbook for undergraduate students on how to undertake research in writing studies: Researching Writing: An Introduction to Research Methods.  In collaboration with the CCCC Committee on Undergraduate Research, Jessie oversees the annual CCCC Undergraduate Researcher Poster Session, where students have the opportunity to participate in a national, professional conference. Students also can publish in the innovative Young Scholars in Writing, a journal that was created over ten years ago, among other places.

Student Megan Knowles presenting her finished research project poster at CCCC in 2016.

While opportunities for undergraduates to present and, to a lesser degree, publish their work exist, opportunities for undergraduates to gather and share research in process are rare.  That’s where the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies, initiated at York College in Pennsylvania by Dominic DelliCarpini, comes in. The two of us have served as plenary speakers and mentors for the annual workshop. This weekend boot camp for students is exhilarating, energizing, and exhausting.

About 30 students are selected for the workshop from applications filed in the spring. Many of them are generously funded through the Naylor Endowment. The endowment also funds faculty mentors—like us. The weekend is organized so that participants arrive in time for an opening plenary on Friday evening that outlines the process: finding and narrowing a research question; reviewing the literature; determining appropriate methods and tools; drafting a plan and a timeline; and preparing for an initial report.

Prior to this date, mentors have been assigned a small group of student researchers and have communicated with them long distance about their projects. The intensive workshop experience continues on Saturday with small group sessions in which mentors listen to students’ individual research questions and begin providing feedback. Students write their research questions on whiteboards and revisit them consistently throughout the workshop, as the questions may change considerably as the students re-envision their projects. Yes, research is recursive—just like writing.

As faculty mentors, often collaborating with Naylor alumni, we lead a series of workshops that highlight tools and methods to conduct research and provide information about research processes, beginning with an overview of qualitative and quantitative methods and extending through resources for reviews of literature and advice on dissemination. Let’s face it: English majors can be frightened of numbers. Quantitative methods like coding can be daunting. The undergraduate researchers begin gathering tools needed to undertake research: participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and focus groups as ways to gather information. They learn about the difference between causal and correlational relationships and standard coding scales. By the end of the day, they have drafted a revised research plan.

Student Megan Knowles with her draft poster at the Naylor Workshop in September, 2015.

Sunday morning is, well, exciting. Students present their work. Their posters are printed for a gallery walk, and they deliver elevator pitches about their projects. One student presented on his research on middle school writers, which was so advanced and professional that Joyce told him, frankly, that she could see him as a future president of NCTE. In fact, our crystal ball on these students’ futures is quite clear: they are engaged in meaningful questions about writing. These are our future literacy educators.

Why are we so keen on undergraduate research? It has been deemed one among a small set of “high impact educational practices.” According to George D. Kuh, “The goal is to involve students with actively contested questions, empirical observation, cutting-edge technologies, and the sense of excitement that comes from working to answer important questions.” Another researcher, David Lopatto cited the many benefits of undergraduate research: “Research experiences enhance intellectual skills such as inquiry and analysis, reading and understanding primary literature, communication, and teamwork. . . . Undergraduate researchers learn tolerance for obstacles faced in the research process, how knowledge is constructed, independence, increased self-confidence, and a readiness for more demanding research. These benefits are an advantage in any career path.”

The students we worked with drew their own conclusions about how they grew professionally, suggesting that the Naylor Workshop helped them

  • Learn inquiry strategies
  • Grapple with interesting questions
  • Develop professional relationships
  • Construct knowledge
  • Pursue disciplinary interests
  • Gain self-knowledge
  • Find new questions
  • Challenge themselves
  • Pursue their passions
  • Build self-confidence

The Naylor Workshop provides its scholars with an opportunity to move from intuitive understandings of their work as writing fellows, tutors, and/or writing majors toward a deeper knowledge of the methodologies of our discipline. They are joining the conversation through a supportive and challenging learning environment. We are so pleased to be part of this transformative experience.

About the Authors:

Jessie L. Moore served as the inaugural plenary speaker for the Naylor Workshop in 2014. She is the director for the Center for Engaged Learning at Elon University (@CEL_Elon) and Associate Professor of Professional Writing & Rhetoric.


Joyce Kinkead, Professor of English, Utah State University, was invited in that role for the 2015 Naylor Workshop. In addition to the leadership of Dominic DelliCarpini, we also acknowledge collaborator Megan Schoettler, who has assisted with the Naylor Workshop, beginning as an undergraduate at York and continuing as a graduate student at Miami University.


About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

3 thoughts on “The Naylor Workshop in Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies

  1. A year later and another fantastic Naylor conference! I had the honor of the plenary address, made even more special because two undergrad researchers I’ve mentored–Symone Corbin and Sarah Lorish from Penn State Berks–spoke as well on their collaborative UGR experiences. It was incredibly exciting for me as a mentor and professor to hear and watch my students’ collaboratively talking about and analyzing layers of collaboration and co-authorship.

    Of course, there were another 35+ undergrads from around the country at the workshop sharing wonderful research projects at various stages of development. Each were “young scholars” in the way the journal defines the terms around experience rather than age. And for the many mentors at the conference, listening to and mentoring “young scholars” is a great thrill.

    Thanks to Prof. DelliCarpini and everyone from York College. Thank you to Mrs. and Mrs. Naylor whose endowment continues to fund this unique workshop. Thank you to all the faculty, grad students, and undergrads for sharing time for all of us to learn together and to bask in one of the greatest facets of our professional lives–undergrad research!

  2. Although this year I could not serve in one of my all-time favorite professional roles, being a mentor at the Naylor Workshop, I look forward to the many opportunities everyone in rhetoric and composition/writing studies will have to learn from this year’s participants. Over the next quarters and semesters, we will meet Naylor alumni when they share work at upcoming regional and national professional conferences, and we will read about their projects in future issues of Young Scholars in Writing , Xchanges , Queen City Writers , The Jump , Inquiries , and other journals that publish undergraduate ressearchers’ work.

    From a distance, I have been thinking about the magic of Naylor. Certainly, its source is the people involved, starting with Dominic DelliCarpini, his campus colleagues, and his annually changing crew of student co-organizers. The researchers and mentors who come from across the country to participate are also part of the alchemy, and so are the York College staff who contribute their time and energy as well as the many denizens of York, PA, who make each year’s workshop possible.

    The timeframe and structure of the workshop also contribute to the magic. The events that take place between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon distill and deliver the principles and best practices outlined in the recently published CCCC Position Statement on Undergraduate Research in Writing. As that document summarizes: “At its most robust, undergraduate research includes the following elements: the formation of one or more mentoring relationships, preliminary study and project planning, information gathering and analysis, and the feedback loop of peer review and revision associated with the dissemination of findings, whether through publication or public presentation” ( From the opening dinner onward, the Naylor Workshop enables undergraduate researchers to forge vertical mentoring relationships with senior scholars and at the same time become peer mentors to one another. Over the 48 hours everyone is together, feedback occurs not only in loops but also loop-de-loops, zigzags, and all the many shapes that represent how scholars connect the dots between ideas and opportunities, even as they are inventing and encountering new ones.

    No event better enacts the magic of the Naylor Workshop than the closing poster session. This final communal activity gives each undergraduate researcher a chance to share their findings from the weekend. It also gives everyone involved an opportunity to offer comments, questions, and suggestions for next steps. In doing so the group that comes together in any given year models the greater community of practice that is our discipline.

    Looking ahead, there are any number of conversations we should be having to address the following (kinds of) questions: What can and should we do to support Naylor alums and other undergraduate researchers in rhetoric and composition/writing studies? How can we make sure we engage these students as both students and scholars? What does it mean to teach and advise undergraduate researchers, whatever their short- and long-range career goals? What does it mean to take their research and scholarship seriously as research and scholarship? And how will answering these questions not only in theory but also in practice change us as writing educators while also changing writing education?

    With great thanks to Mr. Naylor, we can all look forward to being part of these conversations in the years ahead.

  3. The plenary address at this year’s Naylor Workshop, a joint effort between Dr. Laurie Grobman, Symone Corbin, and Sarah Lorish, focused on collaboration and co-authorship among undergraduate researchers and between undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors. The inspired and inspiring work of Laurie, Symone, and Sarah joins a long-standing critical conversation that challenges the image of the solitary scholar/writer in the humanities–think, for example, of Lunsford and Ede’s Singular Texts/Authors (1990) or the terrific articles published in PURM: Perspective on Undergraduate Research Mentoring.

    As the Naylor Workshop unfolded in the day and a half following the plenary address, still more examples of powerful collaboration emerged. Mentors helped undergraduate researchers conceptualize new projects and refine work-in-progress. Undergraduate researchers made connections amongst themselves and found provocative links among their research. Faculty mentors huddled up to share stories of successes and challenges and to ponder ways to work together to ensure that undergraduate research continues to gain traction in writing studies and rhetoric. And even though the Naylorites returned home two days ago, the collaboration continues. Emails are flying with suggestions for further readings, words of encouragement, and opportunities for sharing work.

    Much gratitude to Laurie, Symone, and Sarah for kicking off the workshop with their stories of collaboration and co-authoring. To Dr. Dominic DelliCarpini and his colleagues at York College for conceptualizing this amazing workshop and for creating this very special time and space to build relationships and share work. And to Mr. Irv S. Naylor for providing the necessary funds.

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