CLS Student's Research Examines Linguistic Factor in School Shootings

by Emily Smedley

CLS Student's Research Examines Linguistic Factor in School Shootings
Emily Smedley, PhD student in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society

As a recipient of the CHSS Summer Fellowship, I used my summer research period to focus on revising and refining the methodology chapter of my dissertation proposal. My dissertation proposes using a content analysis to study school shooters with an emphasis on linguistics. 

Through an iterative revision process with my dissertation chair, Linda Merola, I continued to work on crafting this chapter into a clear step-by-step guide to the methodology I plan to use for my research. I also began creating the content analysis instrument that I will use in my research. Creating the content analysis instrument involves defining each of the variables I will examine in my research in such a way that a reader can understand how and why I categorized an item.  

For example, one of my 11 variables is conjunctions. To define that specific variable, I formed a general definition of conjunctions, developed a list of the different types of conjunctions, and then filled in the specific words that correspond to those types. Later, when I am coding data, I will use that list to identify conjunctions in the documents I am examining 

I also defined the parameters for cases eligible for inclusion in my study. This process involved selecting and applying a definition of school shooters to use in my study before searching the school shooter database for case studies that fit my specific criteria, while recording which cases were not eligible and why notAfter examining all the case studies in the database, had formed a complete list of eligible and ineligible cases. The scholarship allowed me to devote my effort, time, and attention to my dissertation proposal to prepare for a defense this fall! 

The methodology chapter represents the “how-to” portion of the research. It is imperative that this chapter be a succinct description of how the research was conducted so that the results can be evaluated in the context of the methods used and so that the research can be replicated. I elected to use a content analysis for my research because it allows me to do an in-depth examination of each of the school shooters included in my study. As a result, I can analyze details of the school shooters’ case studies (for example, linguistic variables) that may be overlooked in studies that paint broader strokes.  

Once I have defended my dissertation, the results may be used to thwart potential school shootings generally and to stop the potential perpetrators sooner. By focusing on the linguistic aspect of school shooters, my research also seeks to begin filling a knowledge gap. Past research has focused on the school shooters’ psychological and social factors while generally ignoring linguistics. Adding a linguistic component allows for a more comprehensive investigation of school shooters. Future research may seek to replicate results or to apply these results to cases of thwarted school shootings.