The purpose of this blog post is…
I drove 300 miles today in Mid-Atlantic states traffic and came home to unfinished doctoral class reading. I did manage to do some of it in my hotel room this past weekend, but the bulk of it remained unread until a while ago.
The reading? It’s all about writing qualitative research, or as one of the books I am reading is titled, “Writing Up Qualitative Research (Harry F. Wolcott, 2001). I must admit, as a long-time teacher of public relations writing, I’d count off points for Mr. Wolcott’s title. To me, the “up” is superfluous. One writes qualitative research, and one writes news releases or annual reports or product brochures.
Which brings me to my point: there sure is a lot to read about writing qualitative research. Training is this specialized area for doctoral candidates like me is needed and appreciated. But I have studied writing, written, and taught writing for many years. Is there a difference in qualitative research writing and PR writing?
Yes and no.
In teaching public relations writing, I am concerned with the format of the piece to be written. For example, a news release has a certain format, a way of laying out the piece that is acceptable to the media gatekeepers who will choose to read it or not. As I learn more, qualitative research writing has formats, too. I am sure that dissertation committees look for certain formats in these works.
Qualitative research writing has come to be known as qualitative or descriptive or naturalistic research. Lincoln and Guba (1985), quoted by Wolcott, identify it as several aliases for the term naturalistic — postpositivistic, ethnographic, phenomenological, subjective, case study, qualitative, and hermeneutic.
I strongly believe that PR students must learn to write every type of PR assignment that they might ever be tasked with doing. That is the way I set up my PR Writing classes. Students have 18 major assignments that are designed to teach them how to write — and write really well — all major types of PR writing tasks.
As I get ever closer to my doctoral dissertation, I am enjoying learning about qualitative research approaches. I am leaning toward doing a qualitative research dissertation for it seems to fit the things in which I am most interested in and passionate about.
The types of qualitative research that most intrigue me, ethnography and phenomenology, both require a special kind of writing that on the surface appears to be quite different from what I teach in PR. Or is it?
A fundamental question holds true in either setting — what is the purpose of the piece? Be it a PR assignment for a type of qualitative research, this question must be addressed clearly.
Next comes some sort of outline, or a plan for content. Whatever you are writing, you have to outline the major topics and the sequence in which they will be treated.
There are similarities in PR writing and qualitative research writing that begin to appear here. In PR writing, we try to be concise, clear, to-the-point, and succinct. A major problem in descriptively-oriented qualitative research writing, as Wolcott points out, is to “get rid” of data. Description in qualitative research can be quite voluminous when compared with PR writing, but the writer is faced with the same task — cutting material to a manageable length.
The question of voice is important in both PR writing and in qualitative research writing. Much of PR writing is third person, whereas the role of the researcher is ordinarily an integral part of qualitative research, and subsequently, it is often written in first person.
It is often said that clear writing is clear thinking. I believe that this is true be it in PR writing or qualitative research writing. Most of PR writing will endeavor to be concise and clear, but qualitative research writing will be highly descriptive, with analysis and interpretation, which may often include intuition, past experience, and emotion. As Wolcott says, interpretation invites the examination, the pondering of data in terms of what people make of it.
PR writing is usually free of the writer’s intuition, experience, and emotion, but those things shape the writer’s skills and abilities.
So, onward and upward. I have a great deal more to read and to learn. And then, to paraphrase Frost, pages to write before I sleep, and pages to write before I sleep.
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