Thematic Paper Session 2

Learning from big and deep data: Good practice case stories based on long-term ethnography and large corpora
Daniel Perrin (Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland) and Marlies Whitehouse (Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland)

This panel uses the case of planning in collaborative professional text production in several domains (journalism, multilingual organizational communication, and financial analysis) to discuss the concept of good practice case stories from both theoretical and practical perspectives. By drawing on large corpora of real-life data and applying the multi-method approach of progression analysis, practices are identified that allow for flexible planning in the dynamic system of text production.

Progression combines three levels of data analysis: 1) ethnographic observation and interviews regarding text production contexts; 2) computer recordings of text production activities; and 3) cue-based retrospective verbal protocols of writers’ decision-making. This enables researchers to contextualize text production processes within communities of practice (level 1); trace the development of the emerging text in all detail (level 2); and reconstruct the writers’ considerations from different perspectives (level 3).

Triangulations of the three levels show that key features of the text production practices under investigation, as well as of the writing phases they dominate, scale up. This means that the patterns found in both practices and phases recur in similar forms throughout the various stages of text production. They are manifested during the split seconds it takes to make stylistic decisions as well as over the days, weeks and months of organizational document cycling. An understanding of planning in text production of this kind, first, reaches far beyond former concepts of planning in writing research.

Second, this empirically based understanding of real-world practices allows for the design of good practice case stories that enable novices to systematically learn from their experienced colleagues. Case stories differ from case studies in two key properties: They represent results of the research process, and they are narratives. As narratives they follow a dramaturgy of raising and resolving suspense. This text design is oriented towards comprehensibility and attractiveness for professional but not necessarily academic addressees.

In conclusion, it appears that text production research conducted in real-life contexts sharpens theoretical approaches to linguistic practices on the one hand, and contributes to sustainably improving the situated activity of writing on the other.