This is the fourth blog post in a series featuring the ongoing scholarship of each research team participating in the CEL 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency. This blog post features research from the Green Rogues, a team including Dana Driscoll, Writing Center Director and professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Andrea R. Efthymiou, assistant professor of Writing Studies & Rhetoric and Writing Center Director at Hofstra University; Heather Lindenman, assistant professor of English and Coordinator of First-Year Writing at Elon University; Matthew Pavesich, Teaching Professor and Associate Director of the Writing Program at Georgetown University; and Jennifer Reid, Director of Student Affairs Assessment, Communication and Student Government at Marquette University. For this blog series, we asked the Green Rogues questions about their in-progress research so we could highlight their work in the CEL seminar.

This team’s self-selected name—the Green Rogues—offers insight into what initially motivated them to focus their research on student writing in non-obligatory contexts. In early discussions, group members—coming from different vantage points such as student affairs, writing centers, and writing program administration—all realized that while writing studies recognized that students engaged in a great deal of self-motivated writing beyond the confines of the university, and they often spoke with students about this kind of writing, few studies actually examined the implications of this non-obligatory writing for classroom practices and student writing happening within university contexts. So this team decided to make these “rogue” outside-of-university-sanctioned writing spaces and the writing that occurs in them the focus of their research; they also sought to complicate what we identify as the traditional spaces of teaching and learning (including student affairs, service learning, and writing centers) as well as how students develop as writers through non-obligatory writing. Further, the Green Rouges recognized that there isn’t a great deal of research into how students learn to write, how writing happens, and what writing does that’s not focused on the teaching of writing (beyond professional and technical writing). Therefore, they wanted to design their study so that it would have implications for and speak to colleagues outside the realm of writing studies.

Staying true to their name, the Green Rogues devised unique research questions as well as research methods. For example, their research questions center around neglected non-obligatory writing:

  1. What are the functions of self-sponsored, non-obligatory writing and rhetorical activity?
  2. What is the relationship between those functions and writers’ identities?
  3. To what extent are these functions an interplay of the personal, professional, civic, social, and educational, or any combination thereof?

This team’s choice of research participants and participant recruitment strategies were also unique; in addition to students, they sought groups outside of the university who are underrepresented in writing studies scholarship, and they used snowball sampling as a way to reach these participants. Starting first with recruiting undergraduate and graduate students through email invitations to complete their survey, they asked these students to also forward the email invitation to other writers engaging in non-obligatory writing outside of the university context. In addition to snowball sampling, the team also relied on their own non-obligatory writing personal networks to reach potential participants. These snowball sampling and personal networking methods helped the team recruit participants engaging in self-sponsored, non-obligatory writing in a variety of non-academic spaces, including gardening groups and prayer groups. In fact, about 300 out of over 750 survey responses this team collected are from often neglected writers doing non-obligatory writing in non-academic spaces. And to further diversify their research participant pool when conducting follow-up interviews, the Green Rogues selected for different age groups as well as for people who didn’t identify themselves as writers.

A great deal of the Green Rogues’ energy has been put into developing a comprehensive taxonomy for the functions that self-sponsored, non-obligatory writing play in people’s lives, and how writing artifacts serve functions across a variety of contexts. Developing their taxonomy has led to some expected and unexpected conclusions. For example, some writers who most resist the title “writer” have devised creative ways to leverage their writing to gain control of their lives; they’ve used personal non-obligatory writing in professional contexts, again to gain control and power; and they’ve used non-obligatory writing to increase their anonymity to control situations and set the terms of engagement.

Team members agreed that they’re doing this research because they see a real need for the field of writing studies to expand beyond classroom spaces. Outside of writing studies, they argue, there’s some really interesting work happening on writing outside of school, and our gaze has become too focused on the classroom context. If we’re really going to call ourselves writing studies, we need to, as a field, expand our research into spaces and study writing more broadly, which really is the entire point of the CEL Writing Beyond the University seminar.

This team also reflected on the unique opportunities and experiences offered by the Writing Beyond the University seminar’s multi-institutional, multi-year model. For example, pre-tenure faculty get the opportunity to build cross-institutional empirical research projects alongside more established faculty, providing practical, hands-on experiences and the chance to build career-long working relationships. The Green Rogues recognized these experiences as mutually benefiting all participants. Of course, no research project is without its challenges though, and the team noted that while 95% of their data collection occurred before the pandemic, they decided to halt data collection to avoid complications. Negotiating the IRB review process at multiple institutions was also a challenge, as was the wider context of higher education during a pandemic, where group members struggled with job insecurity concerns.

As for some of their most interesting findings, the Green Rogues are especially excited about the taxonomy they’re building, an artifact of writing across different contexts and different identities. While still in-progress, this taxonomy will help highlight how writing is a tool for promoting identity, how writing works in contexts beyond the university, and how people leverage personal writing for professional purposes. In particular, the team is excited about the concept that people use writing beyond university contexts “to set the terms of engagement” for their writing. In their own words, the Green Rogues explain that “setting the terms of engagement” for one’s writing means “to reduce anticipated disadvantage based on appearance, age, gender, race, disability, etc.  To level the playing field or set the terms of engagement.  To increase anonymity, using writing and its affordances to ‘hide’ a social/cultural anticipated disadvantage; to overcome a disability.”

The team’s research is also leading the Green Rogues to realize that the terminology and understanding around the concepts of “self-sponsored writing” and “writing to learn” deserve further attention and complication. There is great blurring between what people might initially identify as binary obligatory and non-obligatory (or self-sponsored) writing, and that writing to learn doesn’t occur only in academic contexts. Such considerations have led the team to acknowledge the need for writing studies to expand its research beyond traditional classroom spaces and to study the writing that people do in their lives more broadly. Doing so has led this group to understand the power of writing for humanity and that “writing is a human activity that has tremendous benefits for us as a people” (a comment from our online group conversation).

We’ll showcase the Green Rogues’ publications on the Center for Engaged Learning website as they become available.

Paula Rosinski is Director of Writing Across the University in the Center for Writing Excellence and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric at Elon University. She is co-leading the 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency.

How to cite this post

Rosinski, Paula. 2021, July 19. “Going (Green) Rogue: Studying Non-Obligatory Writing, Neglected Writing Spaces, and Underrepresented Writers” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from