I initially wanted to write my project on the marriage processes of my culture. However, even as I published that idea, I felt uneasy. Despite the reassurance made during class that the I-Search paper would need more secondary resources than primary, I felt that specific topic would sound more like gossip and motherly advice than actual concrete learning. My suspicions were confirmed the next day during a small conversation with the professor. It was during class, when the professor reiterated Swale’s six characteristics of a discourse community that I found myself thinking of the Muslim Students’ Association’s dawah (Islam-informative) branch. She passed out a paper with two columns: Know and Want to Know, and the six characteristics as six rows. The first characteristic stated that every discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common goals. ‘Obviously, they want to inform the campus on Islam,’ I thought as I checked it off. The second and third characteristics stated that there has to be intercommunication among its members and provide feedback. The MSA members all communicate via meetings, Facebook, google docs, panels, workshops, and texting, so there was no doubt in those categories. The fourth stated that a discourse community utilizes one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims. The dawah members meet in the Student Center on the first floor biweekly, so I checked that off. The fifth characteristic requires a specific lexis. The word ‘dawah’ is originally an Arabic word, as are other phrases used among members regardless of their origins. The final characteristic states that there has to be a threshold of members. Because the table is performed on campus, the members are all Wayne State students. It’s also set during the day, when many students have classes. These two limitations usually result in about 4-7 members to be free at any given time. With that, I had properly identified my discourse community.
Choosing that specific branch was a no-brainer; I had been pondering over it since last semester, when I first caught wind of it. Actually wording the question required a bit more effort. I didn’t even include it in my first rough draft, which confused my peers. I worded it during class to get an immediate response. After wording it and sharing it with a few more classmates, my doubts were erased as they all gave me an approval.
Because of my excitement, I began the process of interviewing before the readings on that subject were even assigned. A previous reading had depicted a girl who wanted to know more about firefighters, and immediately went to an authoritative figure. That inspired me to see out the member in charge of the dawah branch, the coordinator, and the previous coordinator. Because I also wanted a point-of-view of an active non-authoritative figure to relate with, I also chose an experienced non-authoritative figure as well.
As for observation, I waited until after the readings were assigned. Speaking came easily to me, but to sit and watch was an unfamiliar concept to one as garrulous as myself. Through the readings, I learned of the different positions one can adopt as an observer, like participant-as-observer and observer-as-participant. A quick question during class to the professor made it clear I could mix the positions up to my own comfort. During the conferences, I asked about the process of taking field notes. The readings had outlined a process that included drawing a diagram and detailing logistics, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have the time to be so meticulous. I was informed that simply jotting them down during observation and making more detailed notes later on was allowed, and I relaxed.
Typing up the essay was simple because of the informal aspect to it. Peer review didn’t result in many changes. Teacher review pointed out a few points to elaborate on. But generally, the actual essay part didn’t require as much stress as a formal research paper. What did stress me out was going about gathering information. This project, and ultimately, class program, designs it so that teachers are more of sideline guides. Defining what an I-Search paper entitled, the interviewing process, and the observation process were outlined in the readings that I had to read on my own time. The professor simply answered questions and cleared up difficult concepts. The project depended on individual skills in gathering information through secondary means. It liberated me from the generic Google search and tedious data base and allowed me to explore alternative, more exciting options, like interviewing friends over donuts. It taught me how to word the reflections in my mind as part of my essay. For example, one sentence I wrote was, ‘Even I can do dawah.’ Normally, I would just keep it in my head, thinking ‘I can do it!’ The only part I would word is the following sentence, explaining what I learned: “All I had to do was remember my pillars, gauge the reactions of the questioner and arrange my responses accordingly, behave as I usually do as a Muslim, and finally, realize that my youth does not undermine my capabilities in speaking on a topic as close to my heart as Islam.” The I-Search paper presented an opportunity to express my personal comments about my achievement. To recapitulate, the objectives I have achieved throughout this project are alternate forms of research and articulation of my personal reflective comments.