Research Highlight: Hannah Silvers

Hannah Silvers—PWR ’17

In the beginning stages of the brainstorming process for my undergraduate research project, all I knew was that I wanted to investigate something about how writing operates in organizations. I had no idea where to go from there. I played with a few ideas, but when I realized that none of them were sticking, I turned to my own experiences as a student editor for inspiration. What I identified were two conflicting identities, and it is this idea of a conflicting identity that I think I want to investigate further:

On one hand, I am first and foremost a student. Everything I do at this stage in my life is a test run for the “real world.” The audience of class assignments and projects is always my professor — even assignments that ask me to imagine different hypothetical audiences are evaluated by a professor, so which is the audience that really matters in the end? I’m expected to fail and then use my failure as a learning opportunity.

On the other hand, as an editor, I’m expected to know what I’m doing. I’m employed by a student media organization that relies on my proficiency with AP style and English grammar as well as my fact-checking skills. Technical knowledge aside, I’m also supposed to understand organizational norms, such as how the production process works and the role I play in the organization. How I understand these processes affects how I edit.

Student editors, particularly those employed by student-run or other on-campus organizations, are always navigating their dual identities as students and as editors, as learners and as experts. The context in which they work is one that frames them primarily as students, but their responsibilities require them to act as experts.

I want to explore this duality in an undergrad research project. We’re in the beginning stages of the research process, brainstorming a potential skeleton for what the research would look like. Right now, I think want to conduct an ethnographic study in which I follow a few student editors, observing and interviewing. The goal of my research would be to discover how student editors function in these two roles and maybe how they or their organizations could help them be more successful in both roles.

I think research in this field would be immediately useful for college students who find themselves in positions of authority over a text. But since we’re always learning, the findings could translate beyond college students to employees who have to learn how to write for a new company or situation.

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