Exercising Empathy and Social Research Practices

Presenters: Erika Luckert, Caterina Bernardini, English

Contact info: Caterina Bernardini: cbernardini2@unl.edu, Erika Luckert: eluckert2@huskers.unl.edu; Twitter: @erikaluckert

The designs described in this poster were inspired by presenters' participation in a Summer 2020 community of practice which included nine additional first-year writing instructors, Associate Professor and Director of Composition and Rhetoric Debbie Minter, Associate Professors in the Libraries Catherine Fraser Riehle and Erica DeFrain, and Libraries' Instruction Specialist Janel Simons. This work was made possible with funds from a CTT Seeding Student Success grant entitled, "Writing information literacy: A collaborative effort to support intentional integration of information literacy at the foundation.”


Students become conscious creators of new sources about a topic that does not regard them directly, but a person that they are close to. Empathy works in the project as both a crucial ethical value, and as a powerful epistemological tool.

Students work socially throughout their research process, beginning by finding a source for a peer’s project, and continuing to support each other’s work by critically examining the diversity of sources that they each choose.


Exercising Empathy helps students do away with the “self-centric bias” that often creates a pre-set rhetorical agenda and that provokes a mechanical execution of writing and researching. Students consider ethical issues of representation and the located, experiential and subjective roots of any information. Their understanding of issues of rhetorical strategies, genre, audience, and context of creation is enhanced. Students empathize with other creators of informational resources, directly experiencing the challenges, limitations, and rewards that are inherent in creating a new piece of information.

Scaffolding social practices into the research process helps students consider their topics from new angles, discuss the value of their peer’s sources, and support each other in research and writing. These strategies also encourage students to view research and writing as recursive, and to develop skills for giving substantive feedback on each other's work.


Exercising Empathy

Students pick a topic of research that they don’t feel sufficiently informed about/would like to learn more about and that does not affect/regard them directly, but a person that they are close to. Then they design a piece (article/blog/informational booklet, etc) to inform other people about the topic, annotating the sources they find, and thinking and re-thinking about the different rhetorical strategies to use, according to their specific informational agenda.

Social Research Practices

  • Students share their research proposals with their peers, and their peers respond with the gift of a source that contributes to the proposed project
  • As students make progress in their research, they consider tendencies and trends in their research, and work to expand the diversity of their sources in conversation with their peers

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