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Research Process


If there’s a place to be inspired to inquire about the experiences of multi-lingual writers, it’s George Mason University.

George Mason University is, by some estimates, the most diverse institution in the country and at the University Writing Center we are privileged to work with students from a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Our students speak and write over fifty-five different languages and represent well over half the total number of students we tutor each year. In an effort to better understand our multi-lingual students’ experiences as writers and rhetors in the academy, our research team, comprised of five writing center colleagues, embarked on this multi-year, HSRB-approved research project, which involves interviews with multi-lingual writers on their experiences writing for the U.S. academy.

We want to acknowledge the DVD Writing Across Borders as inspiration for our research. The DVD was produced by Wayne Robertson at Oregon State University in partnership with Vicki Tolar Burton, Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum at Oregon State, and Lisa Ede, Director of the OSU Center for Writing and Learning. Writing Across Borders features eight non-native students talking about expectations for writing in their native countries compared to those they encountered in their studies at Oregon State University. After seeing an early draft of the video at the 2004 Writing Across the Curriculum conference, Dr. Terry Zawacki, the Director of the GMU Writing Center returned determined to follow up on the Oregon project by collecting stories from an even larger and more diverse range of multi-lingual George Mason students to be presented in a web-based format, making the students’ stories accessible to a much wider audience. This website is the culmination of our efforts though certainly not the end of the story, for us or for the students and educators whose voices we hope will join with those we’ve presented here.


We began our research process by reviewing the relevant literature on contrastive rhetoric and the scholarship in composition and ESL. Our informants are international and immigrant students who we encountered primarily at the writing center and the English Language Institute. We gained Human Subjects Review Board approval and each member of our research team was certified to conduct social/behavioral research because of the possible sensitivity of informant responses. Drawing from ethnographic theory, we then used grounded analysis methods to code the transcripts, working first individually and then as a group to see what themes emerged. These themes from the individual stories became the foundation for our analysis and the construction of this website.

The complete methodology section can be accessed here.