This article explores how literacy research is currently being positioned to address the political imperatives of the day, focusing on debates relating to the teaching of grammar. It takes the international debate about the value of grammar teaching as the context for exploring prevailing ambiguities and tensions in literacy research, arguing a particular view of what educational researchers should be trying to achieve, and which methodologies might be most appropriate to research that is of social benefit. How might researchers on literacy contend with conflicting social and political demands? How might they reffirm the need to engage in research that is both socially responsible and methodologically rigorous? The paper also seeks to problematise the notion of evidence-based research and to question research which is heavily shaped by academic or professional binaries. It will draw upon the authors’ recent experience of creating a research design to investigate the impact or otherwise of contextualised teaching of grammar to support writing development and it will suggest that literacy research needs to engage with the methodological tensions inherent in literacy research in a more pluralist way, drawing on theoretical and empirical understandings from socio-cultural, psychological and linguistic domains.