Major Projects

Distant Readings of Dissertations

Cover image of Distant Readings of Disciplinarity.

My first sole-authored academic book, Distant Readings of Disciplinarity: Knowing and Doing in Composition/Rhetoric Dissertations, maps out the wide range of methods and topics that have rendered Rhetoric/​Composition/​Writing Studies (RCWS) difficult to define as a discipline, both in terms of an internal core and in terms of separation from “adjacent fields” like English, education, and communication. It was published by Utah State University Press / University Press of Colorado in December 2022 as part of their series in Writing Research, Pedagogy, and Policy.

Drawing on the full text and abstracts for 3,647 dissertations completed in 2001–2015 at 296 schools—of which 1,684 dissertations are from 85 programs in the Consortium of Doctoral Programs in Rhetoric and Composition (CDPRC)—I find that what most distinguishes RCWS research isn’t an emphasis on pedagogy, collaboration, or rhetoric (as is sometimes assumed), but rather a “move to the meta”: a tendency to shift attention from individual writers to structural forces and systems, or from the things studied to the ways we study things. Within the field, I test assertions made with limited or anecdotal evidence, such as two common complaints that the field is overly beholden to classroom teaching—or too removed from it. On that particular question, my data suggests that neither claim is true, with both theory and practical applications represented in roughly equal proportions, and with both widespread across graduate writing in the field. At the same time, I demonstrate that dialectical, humanistic methods are used considerably more often than replicable, aggregable, data-driven methods.

Noting that a resistance to scalable sources of evidence contributes to the sustained uncertainty (and resulting anxiety) around disciplinary status, I model the ways large-scale data analysis can clarify relationships among topics, methods, and schools, making the discipline’s variety easier to navigate. The book develops a broad cross-institutional context of where RCWS doctoral research has been, so that researchers, thesis committees, and curriculum-planners can make more informed local decisions about where their research should go next.

The book was reviewed for Rhetoric Society Quarterly by Bill Hart-Davidson.

An article based on a portion of this work, “Mapping the Methods of Composition / Rhetoric Dissertations: A ‘Landscape Plotted and Pieced’ ,” was published in College Composition and Communication. Source code is available at, and early iterations of figures are online at

Some relevant conference presentations:

  • “Topic Modeling Communities of Discourse in Doctoral Dissertations.” Computers & Writing Conference (C&W). Rochester, NY. May 21, 2016. (View slide deck)
  • “Data’s Promises: A Personal History with Coding, Raising Questions About the Future”. This was part of a panel on “Writing Studies and Data,” sponsored by RCWS History and Theory of Composition. Modern Language Association (MLA). New York, NY. January 6, 2018. (View Prezi)


Composition as Big Data

cover of Composition and Big Data

I am the coeditor with Dr. Amanda Licastro (University of Pennsylvania) of the book-length collection Composition as Big Data, published in Fall 2021 by University of Pittsburgh Press as part of their series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture. The book aims to kickstart a collective reckoning in RCWS with the role that algorithmic and computational approaches can, or should, play in our research and teaching. Chapters range in subject from ethical reflections to database design, and in contexts from single-class pedagogy to programmatic assessment to learning transfer across the curriculum, providing a broad base for exploring how Composition and Big Data interact. In our introduction, we argue for thoughtful engagement with data-analytical methods, in order to understand what applications are useful, with what precautions. By providing examples of people already conducting large-scale algorithmic research in the field, this book will encourage an open-eyed discussion of the potential benefits and drawbacks of such research.

The collection was reviewed in…

Cover image credit: big-data_conew1 by luckey_sun, under a CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.

The Writing Studies Tree


The Writing Studies Tree is an online, is an online, crowdsourced database of academic genealogies within writing studies; in other words, it is an interactive archive for recording and mapping scholarly relationships in Composition and Rhetoric and adjacent disciplines. In my role as lead developer, I have designed the data architecture, tested a number of different platforms before settling on Drupal, built out and maintained the Drupal backend, and coordinated with programmers and my partners in directing the development of new features such as the D3 visualizations and filters. I was also the lead writer, with Amanda Licastro, on several grants, including three successful awards (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) from the Provost’s Digital Innovation initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center. Using that grant funding, I am currently seeking consultants and developers in user experience design. Please contact me if you are interested in working on the Writing Studies Tree!

For a short video introduction, see this presentation from a CUNY Digital GC event in May 2014:

The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy


As part of the founding editorial team of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, I helped to craft the mission statement and review policies of this open-access online journal, which released its first issue in February 2012. Committed to the idea that the journal should promote learning experiences throughout its processes as well as its products, as coeditor (with Joseph Ugoretz) of Issue Two I introduced the “Behind the Seams” feature, which opens a reflective space for conversation about feedback and revisions that are often hidden for publication; my editorial work on that issue also led to the adoption of an internal Style & Structure review team to offer authors formative feedback, assisting them in communicating ideas clearly and implementing suggestions from subject-based reviews. Still an active member of the editorial collective, I have served as reviewer, copy editor, and editor for structure and style, as well as participating in collective debate and decision-making.

To view the current issue and most recent short-form pieces, visit

And please don’t miss my teaching and writing: those are ongoing projects, too!

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