My Research

My research program has two distinct lines of inquiry. First, using text analysis on big data sets within a variety of communication contexts I study the language people use in their stories and social interactions. Second, examining computer-mediated domains (e.g., social networking sites) I study the romantic communication behaviors people engage in over the romantic lifespan. Below I outline these two lines of research in more detail.  

Language and Narrative
A guiding principle of my research is that narrative structure can be mathematically assessed through language itself. To do this, I have focused on developing a reliable methodology to quantitatively map a story’s structure. Indeed, I recently developed a new analytic text analysis tool, the equally sized parts segmentation strategy, to help build a theoretical model in which to track the structure of narrative. I applied this new analytic text analysis tool to a corpora composed of over 65,000 narratives and identified three common narrative processes that were shared across these narrative texts. In a sense, my research has found evidence that a common structure exists for narratives.

Although I identified that basic processes exists for narrative, there is still some confusion and disagreement about what makes a good narrative. In my future research, I hope to distinguish between a good and a bad story by using similar analytic text analysis strategies used to uncover narrative structure.

Romantic Relationships
My research program has also explored a range of topics related to how people use technology to form, maintain, and end romantic relationships by studying their behavior on social networking sites. In one such study, I explored different strategies people used online to cope with their breakup. Specifically, people were asked to write about their technology use on Facebook after ending a relationship with a romantic partner. To cope with the breakup, people reported modifying online relationship statuses, “unfriending” ex-partners, deleting photos, and limiting profile access in order to manage relationship termination. This manuscript entitled “Navigating romantic relationships on Facebook: Extending the relational dissolution model to account for social networking environments” was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

In addition to maintaining an active research agenda, I have had the pleasure of working with some of the best and brightest undergraduates in the country. For the past two summers I have helped organize undergraduate research teams to work on a variety of research projects for the Pennebaker Lab. For instance, two summers ago I worked closely with a team of 6 undergraduate students from around the country to help update dictionaries to be used in the new Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) text analysis software program. Today, I have several undergraduate research assistants helping collect and prepare data for analysis. In general, my research assistants have gained hands on experience using linguistic software programs and helped work on several projects. 

In the past, I have also been lucky to mentor two undergraduate students through UT’s Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE) program, a program that helps undergraduates learn more about graduate school by pairing them with a graduate student for one academic semester. One of my former IE students Sarah Penny recently completed Journey of Jobs, a two year long project she started in the IE program. Her research explores the different the way people’s outlook on life has been shaped by their jobs.