An Interdisciplinary Collaboration Examining the Significance of Illness Essays for Patients, Clinicians, and Researchers
The Writing Diabetes Study was developed by a group of faculty composed of literary and rhetoric scholars, an occupational therapist, a medical anthropologist, and an endocrinologist. This diverse group of researchers discovered that they had in common the notion that writing is an activity (craft, practice, or occupation) that can have beneficial effects for patients, and they developed this project to investigate a shared question: How can crafting stories about their experience help patients with chronic illness?
After they secured funding for the project through a UNC Fire Grant, they recruited graduate and undergraduate students to assist with the execution of the study. In fall 2015, the team received approval from the IRB, developed the writing workshop curriculum, and strategized for participant recruitment.
The workshop took place in February-April 2016 at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill. The curriculum emphasized writing techniques based on the five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. We believed these strategies would help participants communicate or write for an audience and would be techniques participants could utilize outside of the workshop. At the workshop, participants completed a variety of writing exercises within a supportive, collaborative group. Ultimately, eleven participants completed the baseline/follow-up visits and at least half of the workshop sessions (i.e., four or more weeks).
After the data collection phase, we began processing and analyzing our findings using methods and concepts from our various disciplinary backgrounds. Undergraduate Maebelle Mathew joined the research team as the HHIVE Undergraduate Summer Research Award recipient. Our analysis is ongoing; however, we hope to investigate correlations between the qualitative and quantitative data, such as:
- Changes in HbA1c
- Responses to diabetes surveys
- Trends in discourse (using computational tools)
- The narrative, rhetorical, and linguistic aspects of participants’ writings
Professor Jordynn Jack, HHIVE Lab alumna Sarah A. Singer (PhD ’19), and PhD candidate Jennifer Edwell published the results of the study in Technical Communication Quarterly and their article was named Article of the Year by the Association for the Rhetoric of Science, Technology, and Medicine in 2019.
The research team also presented our findings at the following conferences:
- Story, Health, and Healing: A Symposium on Narrative in Medicine (@ Wake Forest University on October 1, 2016)
- The Examined Life Conference (@ University of Iowa on October 8, 2016)
- The Health and Humanities Exchange (@ UNC-CH on November 11, 2016)
The Writing Diabetes Study was an intellectual experiment. Beyond investigating the research question, this project attempted to enact a truly interdisciplinary and multi-rank approach to collaborative scholarship.