Autoethnography Assignment


Using the Songwriters on Process Website with an Autoethnography Assignment

Below is a complete version of an autoethnography assignment I ask students to complete in a composition I course, using a writing about writing (WAW) frame and curriculum to design the objectives for the assignment. Opipari's website is particularly valuable for teaching this assignment because the autoethnography asks students to examine their own process and to learn that generative processes do in fact exist and they impact how we create and shape text. The autoethnography assignment asks students to make connections between their writing process and the writing processes of other writers and makers they are learning and reading about the course material.

This website provides students an additional resource to learn about composing processes and to make connections with their own process; it also gives students with less confidence in their print literacy abilities an opportunity to explore multimodal writing and generative strategies that make more sense to them and then connect them to important print literacies necessary for the course. Notice that the main questions I ask students to engage and answer for the autoethnography assignment are the same questions Opipari asks the musicians he's interviewing for his website. Many of Opipari's website interviews provide excellent examples of situational variables and their impact on the writing process that students overlook, like where, when, and how often we write.

Autoethnography Overview

This project will ask you to examine and refelect on your writing process. What is your writing process? What do you do when you write? Define, analyze, and document your writing process over the next few weeks. Once you've collected and organized that data, what can you now say about your writing process? How can you use your personal data about composing, and the scholarly articles we've read in this section of the course, to fill a gap in the current research about composing processes?

Before you begin the autoethnography, make sure to record yourself writing the self-portrait and the two specified discussion posts. This will provide you with an example of your extensive and reflexive writing to analyze. The directions for the self portrait are provided below. Remember, record yourself composing the self-portrait and discussion posts before beginning the autoethnography.


We begin our exploration of writing by considering how we can use repeatable research methods to study our writing process—the actual steps we take as writers to construct text. Research has shown this process to be highly idiosyncratic (peculiar to the individual), but understanding the particulars of our process allows us to become metacognitive, or self-aware, of our writing. You'll be introduced to some new terminology here, but don't let it intimidate you.

Even the term autoethnography itself might seem strange, but if we break it into its components, we see it is really fairly simple: the prefix "auto" simply means "self" (think "autobiography"), while "ethnography" means a scientific description of peoples and customs. This assignment, then, is a selfstudy of your own writing.


Record and analyze your writing process using the prompt and methods provided below. Then, create a metacognitive report that demonstrates your understanding of the conversation and research about writing processes, making claims and connections between what you saw in your process and what you noticed in the articles from this unit.

The Autoethnography should be 4–5 pages + Works Cited page + Appendices (including Writing Log, Coded Transcript, and any other relevant data)

Data Collection

For the purposes of this study, you'll record and then analyze your writing process. You'll use two primary methods to collect data about your writing process for this project, a think-aloud study and a writing log (detailed below). This should build a comprehensive picture of your writing process. Also, consider using some of the clips of yourself conducting the think-aloud from your video.

Remember: The more detailed you are in collecting this data, the more successful you'll be in writing the actual paper, and the more you'll learn about your writing process.

A. The Think-Aloud Study

For this part of the project, you'll need to have access to some sort of recording device, preferably with both audio and video, so make sure you know how to use your computer's recording device, if it has one, or make arrangements to borrow a camera or recorder. When you sit down to write the self-portrait and the specificed two annotations, you need to think out loud the entire time, just speaking whatever is going through your head, even if it seems strange or random. This will feel strange, and it will take some effort, but if you stick with it you'll succeed. Just externalize everything you are thinking. When you've completely finished writing the self-portrait and the specified two annotations, listen/watch the recording and transcribe them.This means typing everything you said on the tape, even the ums and ahs. You'll use this transcript for your analysis. It'll be helpful to double or triple space this transcript so that you can make notes on it. It's helpful, too, to keep track of the time, since it'll let you know how long a particular process took.

At the least, you might mark each 30-second interval with a "/". Italicize the places where you're reading your actual writing out loud. See Sondra Perl's article for an example of what a complete transcript might look like.

B. The Writing Log

The writing log is a method of capturing the data that your recording might miss. Remember to record the times in which you're planning, brainstorming, or revising, too. This log will also let you record some data about times when you may not be near your recording device, so you cando it by hand. Also, be sure to use the data you retrieve from writing the annotations. Divide it into the following sections:

Data Analysis

To make sense of all of this data, we'll come up with a code in class that will help you look at and organize what's actually happening in the transcript (see WAW for an example of what thismight look like). Once we've established the code, use it to analyze your transcript. You can do this a few different ways: Use different colors of markers (e.g., pink is for planning), shorthand (e.g., P is for planning), or the color options/track changes feature on your word processor. Once you've coded your transcript, go back and look at it and your writing log to get a sense of what you actually did. What is interesting or surprising about what you found? What immediately jumps out? Did you do some things often, and some things rarely or never? How does your analysis connect with what we've read in class? It might be a good idea here to create some charts or tables for yourself to visually explore the amount of time you spent on particular activities.

Set up

So what are you actually going to write about? Like the authors we've read, you don't need to go into excruciating detail about every single thing you coded. What are the most important take-home points from your analysis? Decide what your claims will be, and then look back at your analysis to decide what bits of data you would like to use in your paper to help support these claims. Once you have a handle on what you want to do with your research, choose an audience that could benefit from this data.

You might write a more reflective piece with yourself as the audience, solidifying what you've learned and describing how you can use this new understanding (sort of like Murray does). Or, you might write a scholarly article of the sort that Berkenkotter and Rose do, joining the ongoing research conversation about writing. Alternatively, you might create a video for somebody who's had a big impact on your writing, like a parent or a teacher, and explain how the results from your self-study demonstrate (or don't) that impact. Or you may create an essay for someone coming to college who doesn't really know much about higher level writing and writing processes. Be as creative as you like, but make sure you present the necessary info and demonstrate your understanding of writing processes as we've discussed them in this class. Whatever you choose, this purpose and audience will have a significant impact on your essay its form, content, tone, language, level of formality, and so on. If you're not familiar with the genre you want to write, it'll be a good idea to search for some examples of that genre online.


Be sure to consider specific bits of data as you write; these serve as the evidence for the claims you make. You also might consider comparing your processes to those of any of the writers we've discussed, using those comparison to clarify something about your writing. Just be sure to demonstrate an awareness of your audience and purpose, your understanding of writing processes and your own study, and the ability to craft a focused argument.


Double-check to make sure you've used plenty of specific evidence and detail to support your claims. Are there any places where a chart might help you to visually present the data? Students sometimes struggle with making specific claims and end up sort of meandering through the chronological narrative of how they wrote the essay, so see if you can identify your main finding. Then, after you submit your draft to me for an initial grade, I'll return it to you with comments and you can continue to revise it before submitting your final portfolio.


The purpose of this assignment is for you to try to learn some things about your actual writing practices that you might not have been aware of, and to reflect on what you learned using the terms and concepts we've read and talked about. Demonstrate that you've achieved this purpose; show me that you have learned something by completing the assignment and make sure the readers of your essay, too, learn something by reading your work. In previous classes, I've seen some students just sort of go through the motions to complete this assignment, but they don't actually try to learn something meaningful about themselves as writers. They thus have little to say in their actual essays, and make cliched and superficial observations, like "I am distracted when I write. I should try to write with fewer distractions." In general, if the insights of the paper were obvious to you before you ever conducted the autoethnography, then you have not fully engaged in the project and you will not receive a good grade for it. This is true for all the writing we'll be doing in this class.

Writing Self-Portrait


This assignment is intended to give you a writing situation to respond to so you can study and analyze your actual writing process. Additionally, we can sometimes see startling differences between our perceptions of ourselves as writers and what we actually do. Understanding those differences is key to understanding ourselves as writers, so this assignment is a logical place to begin our work this semester.


Consider the story you have to tell about yourself as a writer. Who are you as a writer? How do you see yourself, and how did you get here? How do you define the revision process and why? Who influenced you and how did they influence you? The purpose of this essay is to evaluate yourself as a writer today. After you're done with this unit you can go back and apply what you learned and redevelop yourself as a writer.

The self-portrait should be 3-4 pages; it should be be an autobiographical essay built around anecdotes and reflection.

Along with this self portrait, document your process while writing annotations for Berkenkotter and Tomlinson's essays. That should give you plenty of data to work from, plus these two pieces of writing allow you to examine two different composing processes.


Consider what you write and don't write. Consider how you prepare or don't prepare to write a paper. Think of the kinds of writing you enjoy, and the kinds you dread. Freewrite about the writing rules that block or aid you. Consider the metaphors you and your friends use to talk about writing. While not all of this brainstorming will make it into your paper, the act of reflecting should be useful to you as a writer. When you begin to write the paper itself, look back at your notes and freewriting you did to brainstorm. What's most interesting or surprising? Settle on a few particular points to build your essay around, and think of some specific examples, details, and explanations that would help your reader understand what you are trying to explain about yourself.

Also, be sure to collect as much data as possible as you write the paper so you'll be able to effectively study your writing process in the autoethnography.