The scholarly literature on handwriting is an non-unified ocean of thought. The subject spans several disciplines and each is fairly isolated from the others, making research an exercise in putting together the pieces. The education field approaches it from developmental milestones, skill sets, and learning theory bases. The neurologists approach from a brain angle, looking with the scientific method of “what we think happens, what we did, what happened” for what parts of the brain do what to which muscles. Occupational therapists approach in a similar manner to neurologists, but with more emphasis on practice. Historians ignore all of the above and are interested in when and how written language spread around. Each has some passing knowledge of what goes on in the other fields, but for the most part (especially in their citations) they’re self contained.
For the purposes of this post and assignment, we’ll be keeping ourselves within the overall realm of neurology, but specifically neuropsychology. The procedure for this little post is thus: find a source, read it, find a major citation. Go find that cited source, and repeat. You can do this as much as you like, but we’ll be keeping it to two degrees of separation from our original source.
We start with the extra-specifically titled:
Bara, Florence, and Marie-France Morin. 2013. “Does the Handwriting Style Learned in First Grade Determine the Style Used in the Fourth and Fifth Grades and Influence Handwriting Speed and Quality? A Comparison Between French and Quebec Children.” Psychology in the Schools 50 (6): 601–17. doi:10.1002/pits.21691.
In the second opening paragraph, Bara and Marie lay the groundwork for their study by citing Berinnger et. al (2006), and also bringing up five other articles Berninger was involved with and three others some of the “et al” wrote seperately. Bara and Marie cite the Berninger et al collection as a means of establishing handwriting as “not a purely motor or visual activity” but a ” ‘language by hand’ ” The next several sections go on to use Grahm et. al’s work as a foundation of theory to ground the study. This is a case in which a large body of work by a specific team is cited, as opposed to one defining article. To continue this thread we’ll pick one. Since Berninger et al.’s 2006 article is cited in the introductory paragraph and asserts that handwriting is “language by hand,” it lays the rhetorical groundwork and is crucial to the article, so let’s follow that one.
“Berninger, et. al. “Early Development of Language by Hand: Composing, Reading, Listening, and Speaking Connections; Three Letter-Writing Modes; and Fast Mapping in Spelling.” Developmental Neuropsychology 29 (1): 61–92.” Again, very specifically titled. Berninger and company describe a five year study of two age groups (1st until 3rd graders, and 3rd until 7th, with overlap at the 3rd grade) to examine how children develop language-by-hand. Berninger&co. are different than Bara and Marie in that they cite much of their own work as reference for the theoretical framework in which they’re working in. Bernnger et al have over twenty years of work in the subject, so this makes a fair bit of sense, especially since they’re pioneering things.
I would argue that Berninger’s entire body of work cited in the 2006 article is the most important, since they’re clearly building upon prior research and experience they’ve done personally to found the study. And from there, one could imagine them using older work again, a constant cycle of taking what they know, testing it, and refining it with new ventures. The
(1996). “A process approach to writing development across the life span.” informed much of the theory involved in designing the five year study.
So we have a relationship going, particularly within study based fields. Someone does something and makes definitive findings. They then continue doing more work, taking along their previous studies as backing and theoretical foundations. Others then may use this theoretical framework for their own studies and purposes, either to refute or build upon the original study further. In the study based field it’s a lot like a communal Lego project. The first person builds something with shape, and then others look at it and then add on more blocks, continually using what came before as foundation for their own work. This lends credibility to what they’re saying (they’ve done research, they’ve cross referenced, they’re using the right names) as well as gives them knowledge to work upon. Since these are studies with things to prove, the works they cite are referenced and explained lightly, used more as justification and foundation for the study: the wheels on the bus, essentially. You can keep going with this style of exploration until you reach a Patient Zero, the first person to ever try something in the field, and even then they likely based their work off of something in a tangentially related area. Thus it never actually ends: the sum total of human knowledge.
Which is neat.