Presentation Abstract

"Help Urgently Needed": The Rhetoric of Information Requests from Undergraduate Researchers On-line

Much interest and concern have been expressed in using the Internet as an information source for undergraduate research papers. One recent polemic, David Rothenberg’s “How the Web Destroys the Quality of Students’ Research Papers,” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 August 1997) claims that “a paper consisting of summaries of summaries is bound to be fragmented and superficial, and to demonstrate more of a random montage than an ability to sustain an argument. . . .”

My research analyzes the information queries and responses posted to several sites devoted to this purpose, including, an interesting hybrid of entrepreneurial attempt to sell database information and free sites for writers to ask and respond to requests for information. It also offers a site for students to share successes and failures. I am also following several newsgroups that receive queries from students working on various undergraduate research projects. I’m interested in the emerging rhetoric of effectively asking others for information, including intensifiers, punctuation and emoticons, repetition, and the like.

I am also tracking effectiveness of inquiry, measured by numbers of responses, length of responses, and pertinence (answers or clear suggestion versus commiseration). Contrary to professors’ fears, requests for general information readily available are often not answered, the on-line community’s tacit understanding that the person posting should have done some preliminary searching.

This research is part of a larger project analyzing the impact of electronic communication on emerging rhetorical conventions, both electronic and conventional.

Author: Karen R. Hamer


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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