Poetry of the Social Sciences

Innisfree Poetry Bookstore in Boulder, Colorado

Image by Coffeepusher (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


I wanted this year’s National Poetry Month post to reach beyond the humanities.  In the social sciences researchers have been using poetic techniques to interpret and represent their data.

Woodley (2004) describes how poetic devices can aid in analyzing an interview transcript.  Line breaks, for example, call attention to phrases which merit a second look.  Similarly poetic white space better conveys an interviewee’s silence than does conventional punctuation (p. 53).

Lahman et al (2011) demonstrate different ways to represent research poetically: free-form, elegy, or haiku (pp. 891-893).  Each form highlights different aspects of the data.  They also encourage researchers to try research poetry even if early attempts are not perfect (pp. 894-895).  Through practice comes growth.

These are but two examples of poetry being used in the social sciences.  They also concern how we present information, which is an aspect of information literacy (ACRL, 2000, p.13).



Association of College & Research Libraries. (2000).  Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Chicago, IL: Author.

Lahman, M.K.E., Rodriguez, K.L., Richard, V.M., Geist, M.R., Schendel, R.K., & Graglia, P.E. (2011). (Re)forming research poetry. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(9), 887-896. doi: 10.1177/1077800411423219

Woodley, K. (2004). Let the data sing: Representing discourse in poetic form. Oral History, 32(1), 49-58. Retrieved from http://www.ohs.org.uk/journal.php