This post is the first in a series in which we feature the ongoing scholarship of each research team participating in the Center for Engaged Learning (CEL) 2019-2021 research seminar on Writing Beyond the University: Fostering Writers’ Lifelong Learning and Agency. This blog post features Project Chameleon, a multi-institutional research team comprised of Neil Baird, associate professor of English at Bowling Green State University (United States); Alena Kasparkova, researcher and publication coach at VSB-Technical University of Ostrava (Czech Republic); Stephen Macharia, doctoral fellow and instructor at Strathmore University (Kenya);  and Amanda Sturgill, associate professor of Communications at Elon University (United States). Project Chameleon’s research explores how alumni adapt prior writing-related knowledge when learning to write at their work and how alumni’s university education enables, or doesn’t enable, them to succeed as workplace writers. Within this area, they are currently focused on examining how early-career alumni evaluate writing success in their workplaces. We asked the team a series of questions to help us showcase their work in and throughout the seminar and their findings thus far.

Focusing on how workplace writers define success is a way for this research team to take a “glass-half-full” approach to the study of writing transfer. As the team explained, much of the scholarship on school-to-work transition has taken a half-empty perspective, suggesting that transfer (between first-year writing and upper-level writing, for instance) does not always occur in the way that instructors and researchers hope it would. However, studies that emerged from Elon University’s first writing transfer seminar, Critical Transitions:  Writing and the Question of Transfer, suggested that transfer is possible, and this team wanted to build on that promising finding. In addition, the team sought to explore the power relationships that occur in the workplace between employers and alumni writers; the team has a sense that power dynamics are exacerbated in the workplace and are curious about how writers work within this dynamic, especially when it comes to writers understanding how well they are doing in their jobs.

With the help of Stuart Blythe, an associate professor at Michigan State University, who was unable to continue with the study after the first summer, the team designed an interview-driven case study to examine the experiences of early-career alumni. First interviews focused on alumni’s actions as workplace writers and their impressions of the factors that enabled or impeded their success. Second interviews asked the alumni to tell a story of two pieces of workplace writing: one that went well and one that was challenging. In this way, the team was able to understand in more depth how the alumni saw workplace writing as a process. The team noted how this choice provided flexibility for the participants and informed their decisions about coding. Graduate students from one of the team member’s institutions–Annie Cigic, Renee Drouin, Emma Guthrie, Morgan McDougall, Ran Meyer, Bailey Poland, Brian Urias, and Lena Ziegler–participated in coding the interviews, which additionally informed the analysis.

In their initial findings, the team is learning how conceptions of writing success affect how alumni negotiate writing as advocacy and collaborative writing. To elaborate on their initial findings, they now want to find answers to the following questions: How do alumni evaluate success when they begin to understand the impact of writing? How do alumni evaluate collaborative writing and the process of co-creation? How should university instruction work to help students better understand the power of writing to advocate and to prepare students for the collaborative nature of workplace writing? The team is interested in how such preparation might persist in relevance for an entire career.

While all the research teams faced challenges proceeding with their research during the Covid-19 pandemic, one additional challenge this team faced was working across different time zones, continents, and contexts for writing. On this last point, for one member of the team–based in the Czech Republic–writing isn’t explicitly taught at their university and students don’t talk about audience and voice or have much practice talking about writing at all. These differences required team members to calibrate their own understandings and assumptions about writing. A defining feature of this team’s process is flexibility and learning from their participants. This team believes its research will help the field learn more about how early-career alumni navigate power relationships in the workplace and will contribute to writing transfer studies’ understanding of audience.

We’ll showcase the team’s publications on the Center’s website as they become available.

Julia Bleakney is director of The Writing Center in the Center for Writing Excellence and assistant professor of English 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:

Bleakney, Julia. 2021, March. “How Alumni Writers Define Writing Success and Negotiate Writing in the Workplace” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from