Undergraduate Research in English

Billy Clark, Marcello Giovanelli, Andrea Macrae

Research output: Chapter in Book/Published conference outputChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


English as a university subject covers a very wide range of topics, with variation around the world both in scope and in how programmes are organised. Work in English is often more or less formally divided into sub-disciplines. In the UK (where the authors of this chapter are based), language, literature and creative writing are the three most common subdivisions. In Europe, different divisions are made (in Germany, for example, into linguistics, literature, cultural studies, language pedagogy and language practice) and students on English programmes often look at two or more of these areas. In the United States of America, divisions are stronger, with very little work in universities which combines or connects linguistic and literary perspectives. This chapter focuses on undergraduate research on language, literature and creative writing, without presupposing that this encompasses all that can be covered by English or that these areas should be sharply distinguished. It focuses on higher education in the UK, partly because there is little data on international practice (we mention some below) and anecdotal evidence often relates to particular institutions. The relationships among different areas of English vary within the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) as well as around the world. The prestige associated with different areas of the discipline also varies, with some countries not offering opportunities for active research at undergraduate level. In some contexts, English language is treated as a language to be learned, although research of various kinds can be included in this process. Research in languages other than English contributes to understanding of all areas of English, but this lies beyond the scope of this chapter.
In all areas of English, students can be encouraged to be researchers from the outset of their studies, with tutors (‘instructors’ or ‘professors’ in the US) and students working together to develop and carry out research in different forms and of varying depth. While there is a tendency to understand undergraduate student research as only part of dissertations (‘theses’ in the US) or extended projects, we conceive it more broadly as referring to systematic, focused investigations which aim to enhance knowledge or understanding. On this view, students engage in research across an entire programme of English study.
We consider here both informal, small-scale research as it occurs in everyday learning within language, literature and creative writing, and the shape of research in its more formal sense. We look at the kinds of extended independent research enquiries involved in the different areas of the discipline, usually undertaken in the final stage of an undergraduate degree, we briefly reflect on commonalities with regards to approaches to research across language, literature and creative writing, and we note a number of avenues through which undergraduate research in English can be published.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Undergraduate Research
EditorsHarald A. Mieg, Elizabeth Ambos, Angela Brew, Dominique Galli, Judith Lehmann
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781108869508
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


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