Doing Research on English Grammar

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Scholarship & Teaching

When we come across something that we don't understand or can't do, many of us reach out to more knowledgeable or more skilled friends to ask for information or instruction or some type of help.  We write; we phone; we email.  That same tactic is found in our work as scholar-teachers when we seek the help of more experienced or knowledgable colleagues.  Those colleagues are not necessarily friends or people that we know at work or at school.  Often they are the scholars, thinkers, and researchers in applied linguistics who have published materials, studies, discussions that we read in search of solutions to our problems as teachers.

That is, the background or literature section of a paper is not an empty ritual but an important part of the way that we educate ourselves and seek to connect our own situations to those of other scholar-teachers. 

The papers for this course are planned to tie your work on English grammar into this larger framework that we all use just about everyday--having a problem and seeking help in dealing with it.  In this case, the "problem" is not knowing as much as you would like about a particular area of grammar. 

The Research Process

Seeking articles, book chapters, whole books, and other resources for information about a grammar topic is a demanding and challenging task.  Scholars and scholar-teachers have been talking, thinking, writing, and debating about English grammar for 100s of years.  Your initial task is to find out what tools are available to help you locate and then sort through the multitudes of resources to find just the right information for your purposes.

Scholarship demands not just intelligence but also patience and diligence.   And time.  On the whole, finding useful resources is not something that can be done in a hurry or at the last minute.  For example, the library at GSU does not always have materials that seem to be of importance for our work in applied linguistics.  We do have connections to excellent regional and national libraries but getting those materials takes days if not weeks. 

Remember that no late papers will be accepted.  You need to start right away by deciding on your topic.  If you would like to talk with me about the topics, please send me a message at

Research Resources

Searches for resources are now aided by the use of computers, especially the use of cd-rom databases in the library and of web-based resources that can be accessed on campus and at home.  Generally, these search tools do not give you the full text of articles, chapters, or books.  They help you find references; then, you must work with the library to get copies of the materials for you to check to see if they will actually be useful for you. 

One of the realities about background searches is that you will need to look at many more materials than you will actually include in your study.  You will find that articles, chapters, and books are often not quite what you had hoped from their titles and abstracts.  This fact of scholarly life is the reason that you will probably look at 20 or more articles or books and then select your 8 resources from that list.  It is really important for you not just to settle down with the first 10 titles that you find during your search. (Remember that you must start with the reference grammars on reserve and then start looking for other publications.)

You are looking for (1) discussions that are considered fundamental on your topic as well as (2) discussions that are little known about but that you find helpful.  How do you find out about discussions that are fundamental?  What strategies can you use to discover articles, chapters, and books that have been influential on your topic?  One way is to compare the reference lists at the back of several sources to see which articles are always included by everyone.  Another is to read carefully for sources that are described as influential in other sources. If you are lucky, you'll find a doctoral dissertation that has been published recently--that study will have a huge reference list and a discussion of the literature that will evaluate previous studies.  If you find a dissertation that you would like to read, please let me know; if it seems of use in my work, I'll buy a copy that you can use and then return to me.   Otherwise, work with interlibrary loan to see if a copy can be borrowed.  Also, check to see if the author has published an article or book chapter based on that dissertation because some of the same information will be in that shorter version of the study.

Resources for Web-based Searches

There's a link on the front page of our WebCt site to a list of resources that you can use in your initial search for resources.  Perhaps the most important of these are the following. The links will open in a new window.

1. Galileo--the web-based system maintained by the University System of Georgia.  To use Galileo from home, you'll need the password for the current semester.  You can get that by telephoning or stopping by the Reference Desk at the GSU library.  If you have any trouble getting this password, please check with me for help by emailing me at

Through Galileo, you can link to ERIC, the educational database that provides references to published materials and also to materials that are available on microfilm and microfiche in the GSU library.  The non-published items in the ERIC database include curriculum guides and various reports that are valuable but not the kinds of things that scholarly journals publish.  The TESOL Quarterly is among the many journals that are indexed on ERIC. 

2. GIL--the web-based catalog for the GSU library.  You can find out about materials that are in the GSU library.  Remember that you need to search beyond GSU to find the best possible selection of materials.  Find what we have but do not limit your search to the GSU collection.

You should also look at the resources available on a web-site created by some AL/ESL graduate students a number of years ago that I now maintain. English Grammar on the Web has a number of links to useful sites.

As you work on your papers, please let me know your questions. I'm eager to help you with these papers and with learning about doing research on English grammar. Please send me your questions at