Broken Academic Promises

broken promiseLast week I wrote a post begging established academics to keep their promises (or not make them in the first place). This started some interesting conversations with academics and independent scholars across Twitter and the blogosphere.

Peter Tennant, a healthcare researcher at Leeds University, responded on Twitter with sympathetic outrage.

Naomi Barnes, an independent researcher working towards a career in academia in Brisbane, Australia, shared her own experience.

Sarina Kilham, an academic from Sydney, Australia, made a good point about it being important for professionals to respect the value of each others’ time.

UK independent researcher Anne Cummins commented on the original blog post, simply saying: ‘This has happened to me too.’

Deborah Brian, an indie researcher from Brisbane, Australia, had a real horror story to tell.

An anonymous Australian academic, who tweets from a locked account as @snarkyphd, said: “I hire 20+ casuals /yr. Am clear when I can’t make promises, but lose great people to those who promise the world + don’t follow through.” And then: “What I observe is tendency to make promises to twice as many people as realistic so you don’t end up short staffed later on. So frustrating.” (I can’t embed her tweets in this post because her Twitter account is locked, but I do have her consent to share her words here.)

Naomi Barnes, in conversation with academic career guide Jo VanEvery, came back with another example:

Claudia Gillberg, a researcher in the UK and Sweden, broadened the debate further from her experience of living and working with disability.

Around this time I caught up with last week’s post from the Research Whisperer, written by Dani Barrington, on playing the academic game. She identifies ‘compromising my own values and the wellbeing of others’ as a common part of the ‘academic game’, which seems to parallel these conversations.

The last comment on my own post, last week, was from Jenni Brooks who is a senior lecturer in sociology in the UK. She says,

Thanks for writing this Kara. It’s important (but I confess slightly uncomfortable) reading for me, as someone in a permanent academic job in a university.

I realise that I’m often enthusiastic when I meet someone doing good work, and yes, if I’d love to work with someone, I will say. I hope that’s always accompanied by a qualification if there’s a chance things may never happen, but it’s quite possible that it isn’t, and that I too have promised things I can’t keep (I do always reply to my emails though, I promise!)

Being relatively new to a teaching (as opposed to research only) post, I’m still coming to terms with the ‘students above all’ mentality that means other things get put on the backburner sometimes, even if I’d rather they weren’t. For example, I was meant to be writing a funding bid with a friend in another university recently which, because of marking and other deadlines, just hasn’t happened. Neither of our jobs depends on it, so we’ll just do it later.

I wonder whether this very thing that you talk about does make me wary of working with people outside of the ‘university system’ though, whether that’s researchers, charitable organisations, or ‘service users’ (or whatever other appropriate term). I’m aware of the imbalance in funding/job security, and yes, it scares me if I feel in some way responsible for making sure someone else is paid – especially if I’m not entirely sure of how the system works. I’m also aware that this can (and has, in the past) made me seem ‘cagey’, and in some way like I’m trying to ‘protect university resources’, or ‘not share’ in some way.

I’m not entirely sure what my point is, but just wanted to say how thought-provoking your post was. I can see I need to do a lot of thinking about how to be a good ‘academic citizen’ (is that a thing?)

I think it is a ‘thing’. Evidently, so do many others. To be fair, independent researchers and scholars also need to be good citizens and colleagues. But as with all power imbalances, it is those who have the power who need to wield it carefully.

A Plea To Established Academics: Please Keep Your Promises

crossed-fingers-363478__340The university sector in the UK is in a shaky state at present. Several universities across England, Wales and Scotland have each announced over 100 redundancies, sometimes with the closure of a school or campus, and it seems likely that others will follow suit. Brexit is the reason most people give, though there may be other reasons too. The uncertainty is unsettling for mid- to late career academics, and very worrying indeed for early career researchers and doctoral researchers with academic ambitions. It’s also worrying for independent researchers, like myself, who work with academia.

There is a four-panel comic strip at PhD Comics called Things You Can Do In Academia That Would Get You Fired In The Real World. The ‘things’ listed are:

  • Abandon personal grooming
  • Be a jerk at other people’s presentations
  • Not reply to emails
  • Sit around and do nothing all day (quote: “it’s called writing”).

I would add a fifth ‘thing’:

  • Continually make promises you don’t keep.

The income of independent researchers depends on established academics keeping their promises. Given the number of imminent redundancies forecast in the UK higher education sector, there are going to be more independent researchers looking for work in the months and years to come. This post is a plea to established academics not to make promises, to colleagues in more precarious positions, that you can’t or won’t keep.

I have had many, many promises made to me by established academics, and I would estimate that over half are not kept. These kinds of promises have come through social media, at conferences, during my workshops, even at one-to-one face-to-face meetings specifically set up to explore how we can work together. I’ve never been an academic, so I don’t know for sure, but I would guess this is common, perhaps normal, within academia. When both of you have a secure salary, it probably doesn’t matter so much; perhaps it’s just a small irritation or disappointment when plans don’t come to fruition – or maybe sometimes it’s a relief. However, it’s a whole different deal when one of you depends on the other to follow through.

Unkept promises that come to mind include:

  1. “You must come and teach my students. Send me your CV and we’ll fix a date.” I send my CV, and never hear from the Professor again.
  2. “I’d love to write with you. Let’s do a journal article.” This is someone I would love to write with, too, so I say yes – then nothing happens.
  3. “I want to allocate some time in this funding bid for you to work with us on the project, is that OK with you?” Yes, I say, and agree to give input on the draft bid – then nothing happens.
  4. “I want you to come and speak at my event, and I have a budget to pay for your time and your expenses.” Great! Yes please! Then, guess what? Nothing happens.
  5. “Thanks so much for your workshop/seminar/class. The feedback was great. We’ll have to get you back next year.” Sometimes this does happen; mostly it doesn’t.
  6. “I’d be happy to give feedback on your draft article.” That promise is kept, and then, “I think you need to include a section on X,” which is the specialism of the academic in question. I agree. The academic offers to write the section and become second author; I accept with pleasure. I never hear anything further AND I ALREADY WORKED ON THAT ARTICLE FOR A WHOLE YEAR.
  7. “I’d like to give you an honorary position as Visiting Professor, which will mean I’ll be able to pay you to work with our students.” Sounds great, yes please. Only, er, it doesn’t happen.

What’s worse is that, while numbers 6 and 7 were one-offs, numbers 1-5 in the list above have each happened several times. I spent a couple of decades working as an employee in the private, statutory, and voluntary sectors, and I can tell you this doesn’t happen there. It didn’t happen in my independent research work, either, in the 2000s, when my clients were local and central government departments and charitable organisations. I’m not saying every professional promise made outside of academia is kept, but unkept promises are usually acknowledged, and the promisee kept up to date with reasons for the change of plan. At times I’ve had to chase by email asking for an update; I have always received a full reply outside academia, while within academia I have rarely received a reply at all. To be fair, some academics do communicate about their unkept promises, just as some manage to write, answer their emails, be courteous at presentations, and maintain a good level of personal hygiene. But too many do not.

Established academics, with a steadily increasing number of your colleagues in ever more precarious positions, you really need to be aware of this. Each of the promises above made my day and raised hope and excitement in my heart. Then, as the days, weeks, months went by with no further communication, the creeping feelings of disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment were sometimes hard to bear. And I’m an old hand at this. I think it’s going to be much more difficult for younger people who are desperately working so very hard to try to make a career in, or with, academia. So I beg you, established academics, please think carefully about the promises you make, and stop making promises you can’t or won’t keep.

Writer’s Block Debunked

writers blockI don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it’s an umbrella term for a whole bunch of problems, each of which has a solution. For sure, writing is difficult, and it is perfectly possible to get stuck. That happens to me all the time. But a complete block? I don’t think so. Seems to me ‘writer’s block’ is a lazy catch-all term which conveniently shifts responsibility from the writer to the ‘block’. That’s certainly not going to help.

Here are six of the things I think may be really going on.

Fear of failure. Writing for submission or publication can be terrifying. You’re working towards putting your work out in the world where it – and to some extent you – will be judged. What if people don’t like your writing? What if they don’t like YOU? This kind of fear can be paralysing.

Fear of success. Success equals change, and change is frightening, because it’s a leap into the unknown. This can be equally paralysing.

Boredom. This is a higher risk for long-term projects, or writing that has been imposed on you – say, by your manager, or a departmental imperative – that you don’t want to do.

Perfectionism. Novice writers sometimes think that writing is (or should be, or is for some people) as easy as reading. It isn’t. To write, you have to be willing to write badly first, and then make it good at the editing stage, sometimes through many revisions.

Running out of steam with a particular avenue or genre. Minette Walters is a successful author of psychological thrillers who published 12 books between 1992 and 2007, then didn’t publish another book for 10 years. She had become bored with writing psychological thrillers, but her publisher wanted her to carry on, presumably because they sold well. Now she has found a new publisher and is bringing out a historical novel. This can apply for non-fiction and scholarly writers, too, particularly if you’ve been writing in a specific area for some time and long to change tack.

Self-sabotage. If you say, think, believe that you want to write, but you’re not writing, then you are in some way sabotaging your own desires. This is a common human trait and probably links back to fear of failure, or perhaps fear of success.

Here are five potential solutions.

Freewrite. I love the technique of freewriting, and so do the doctoral students I teach it to. Here’s what you do. Set yourself a prompt, which must be in the first person and active voice, such as:

What I want to say is…

In this chapter, I want to argue…

I am writing this [thesis/dissertation/article/report/etc] because…

Then write for five minutes without stopping or correcting your work. This is only for your eyes so it doesn’t matter how scrawly or mis-spelled it may be. If you hesitate during the five minutes, write the prompt again, more than once if you need to, until it leads you somewhere else. Then see what you’ve got. You may well have a new insight or a phrase or sentence that you can use in your project. More importantly, though, you’ll have a load of words on a page, which – in five minutes flat – gives the lie to ‘writer’s block’.

Set small targets. Some people prefer word targets; others prefer time targets. Either is fine. Choose a target that feels easily achievable: perhaps somewhere between 100-500 words, or 10-30 minutes. Then set a frequency: once a day is good to begin with, or twice if you can manage that. And stick to it.

Switch projects. Working on more than one project is great because if you get bored, or stuck, you can move to another. I didn’t have a single idea for a blog post this morning, so I worked on a short story for a while till I came up with the idea of writing about writer’s block.

Keep a daily journal. Writing about your life, or some aspect of your life, for your eyes only, is a great way to convince your subconscious that you can write. This can be structured, or unstructured, as you prefer. For example, you might want to keep a journal of your dreams, or a ‘resilience journal’ where you write down three things you are grateful for and three things you did well each day, or a ‘reflective journal’ where you record what you have learned that day. Or you might just want to write whatever you feel like writing.

Go for counselling. If fear of failure, or fear of success, are really getting in the way – and, for some people, they can – then find a counsellor or therapist who can help you work on this.

If you have other solutions to share, please add them in the comment box.

Book Proposal for a Second Edition

kara-2nd-edWell, whaddaya know? You wait ages for someone to show you a book proposal, then two come along together. Three, in fact, as there are two book proposals for you to download from this post.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on this blog which included a link to download the book proposal for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. Since then, the second edition of my first research methods book has been published.

I’m fond of this book. It took me five years to come up with the idea of writing a research methods book for busy people who are trying to fit research in around their jobs, families, hobbies, and generally their whole lives. Then it took me another 18 months to write. The first edition had good reviews and one of the great satisfactions about producing the second edition, for me, is that I know it’s an even better book.

So here’s the proposal for the first edition of Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners: A Time-Saving Guide which I wrote back in 2011. You may find it interesting to compare with the proposal for my second research methods book which I posted a couple of weeks ago. One difference is that in the first book proposal I had much more idea about the content of each chapter than I did in the second. Counter-intuitive, right? It’s because they are very different books, drawn from different information sources, for different audiences (though I know some people have used and valued both).

Every book is a slog to write, there is no way around that. Luckily for me, it’s a slog I mostly enjoy. Also, each book seems to be a different kind of slog (at least, so far). The first book involved writing down everything I knew, looking to see where the gaps were, and figuring out how to fill them. The second book involved investigating a load of stuff I wanted to know about, then working out how to make it into a book. The third book, on research ethics, which I’m writing now, is involving more hard thinking than both the other two put together.

Producing a second edition is a slog, too, but it’s a much shorter slog. More enjoyable for me, too, as the part of book writing I like best is the part after the first draft has been churned out, where I have my raw material to mould and shape it into the best book I can produce. I did have to write one new chapter from scratch for the second draft, plus a few new sections, but even so, most of the work was the moulding-and-shaping kind.

Even writing the proposal for the second edition was less work than writing the proposal for the first edition. That was mainly because I could copy-and-paste some of the information across from the first to the second – though not all. I had to come up with a credible rationale for publishing a second edition: why it was needed, what new value it would offer. Here’s the proposal for the second edition, so you can compare them for yourself.

If you have one or other edition of the book, you may like to compare the relevant proposal with the finished product. You’ll see that there are changes between one and the other, which demonstrates that the proposal is not inflexible.

When my research ethics book is published, which should be some time next year, I’ll post the proposal for that one too.

Second Edition: Official Publication Day

Cover of Research and evaluation for busy students and practitionersWhen a book is first published, it’s a strange and slightly confusing time. Exhilaration, panic, longing and impostor syndrome all collide in a big smash of emotions. There’s often a formal launch – sometimes more than one – and an anxious wait for feedback from readers and the first review.

Publication day of a second edition feels very different. I know it’s a good book, otherwise it wouldn’t have got to the second edition stage. Most of the reviews were good last time, and I’m confident that it’s a better book this time around, so with any luck they’ll mostly be good again. There is no formal launch, just a day of whooping online and then back to business.

While the impostor syndrome isn’t striking this time, I do feel a bit fraudulent, as I’ve actually had my copies for three weeks, and I know the pre-orders went out around the same time as I’ve been getting emails from readers since a week before Easter. But today is official publication day, so today is the day the blog post happens.

I say ‘the blog post’ but actually there are four, including this one. On Petra Boynton’s blog you’ll find the story of my career as an independent researcher and writer. Over on the Research Whisperer blog I talk about the process of writing the second edition. There wasn’t much information online when I started work on mine, so I hope that post will be helpful to others in the same position. And on my publisher Policy Press’s blog I add my two penn’orth to the debate about whether academia is (or should be) ‘fast’ or ‘slow’. I’ll keep this post short, in the hope that you’ll have time to read at least one of the others.

I’m also holding a Twitter competition for a signed copy of my second edition. Tweet your motivation or inspiration for doing research, using the hashtag #researchinspo, before 10 am GMT on 27 April. Then I’ll put all the names in the hat and pull out a winner, to whom I will send a signed copy, wherever they are in the world. Good luck!

There’s no formal launch this time round, but I’ve got the Prosecco chilling for a little celebration after work with a couple of good friends. Until then, I’ll be cracking on with the next book, because that’s what writers do.

Want to see my book proposal?

Creative research methods in the social sciences [FC]Writing academic books can seem like a mysterious ‘dark art’ to those who haven’t done it, but there is lots of help available. I’ve written before about how to succeed in writing academic books, but I didn’t say anything in that post about the book proposal. Yet it’s a key part of the process.

If you are a novelist, you have to write your whole book before you talk to an agent or a publisher. If you are an academic writer, you can forget about agents (there aren’t any, at least not in the UK, and only about two in the US) but the good news is that you don’t have to write the book before you can get a publishing contract. You do, though, have to write a proposal.

A publisher worth their salt should have a book proposal form, guidelines, or similar on their website for you to download. The guidelines from my publisher, Policy Press, are here. The publisher is also likely to want a sample chapter, particularly if you have no track record as a book author.

From time to time, aspiring academic writers ask whether they can see one of my book proposals. Of course, I say, give me your email address and I’ll send it over. This happened again last week and it occurred to me that I could write a post here, and include an embedded pdf, to make an actual book proposal available to anyone who would find it useful.

I need to say a few things about the proposal first. It is the version that made it through the Policy Press acquisitions process and led to a publishing contract. There was an earlier version which was sent out with a draft chapter for peer review. This is normal with academic book proposals, and also hugely helpful. I got four sets of comments on this proposal, and was able to make it significantly stronger as a result.

In this proposal, the outlines of what will go in each chapter are quite brief. That was OK for this book; headings gave the reviewers and the publisher enough information to go on. Other books would need more details. For example, the proposal for the research ethics book I’m currently writing has a full paragraph for each chapter. (I’m not ready to share that proposal yet, as it’s currently out for peer review; watch this space!)

Finally, the publisher’s acceptance of the book proposal doesn’t mean you have to write the book in exactly the way you said you would. Publishers understand that writing is a creative practice and books change and grow in their creation. Of course it has to be in line with what you’ve proposed. It would be unusual to make significant changes to the overall structure, for example – but what you put in a chapter might change as you read and think and write about your subject.

The proposal I would like to share with you is for my second research methods book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide. If you have access to a copy, you can compare it with the proposal and see how the book developed from my original plans. And here is the proposal itself. I hope you find it useful.

How Independent is an Indie Researcher?

independent womanI have always loved being independent. My parents like to tell the story of the time when, soon after I learned to walk, they took me for a picnic in a local park. My father put me down on the grass, and I got to my feet and toddled away. My mother looked anxious, and my father said, reassuringly, ‘She won’t go far.’ But his confidence was misplaced, because I headed determinedly off into the wide green yonder, and he had to do a quick sprint to bring me back before I came to grief.

When I began researching, I called myself a freelance researcher, or a consultant researcher. I didn’t start calling myself an independent researcher until Immy Holloway told me I should, at a terrific research methods conference in Bournemouth in 2006. (The same conference where I met the incomparable Ken and Mary Gergen, as a result of which they kindly wrote the foreword for my creative research methods book.) As soon as Immy suggested the phrase, I took to it immediately. It seemed to suit.

I love working independently. Particularly at the moment, when I’m mostly home-office-based and writing – though after a few weeks I’ll be pleased to have the meetings and teaching that are scheduled then. But for now, I’m really happy sitting alone at my desk, looking out at the garden growing into spring, listening to the birdsong and the squeals of next door’s children on their trampoline, and writing this blog post.

You know, though, I’ve been thinking recently that despite being officially an independent researcher, I’m actually very dependent. For example, I am completely dependent on others for my income. If nobody chooses me, or not enough people choose me, to do available work, I will go under – particularly as there is so little research funding for which indies can apply. Also, I often need to ask for favours, from small (please can I put your name down as a referee for this research tender?) to large (please will you write a foreword for my book?). As an independent writer, I am dependent on readers for reviews, whether official written ones on websites or in journals, or unofficial verbal ones – the coveted ‘word of mouth’ (at least, it’s coveted if the words are complimentary). More worryingly, I am also dependent on readers to help get my books translated into other languages. My publisher tells me that this usually happens when a bilingual academic makes a proposal to a non-English publisher and offers to support the translation. I am only fluent in English, and although I have good international networks, they’re mostly in English-speaking countries. Unlike institution-based scholars, I have never been able to afford to go to a conference outside the UK where I might make contacts with bilingual academics who could help with translations, perhaps in return for other favours. As a result, I know very few people who I can ask to help with translations. (If you know anyone in the social sciences, arts, or humanities who might help, do tell me please!)

I remember when my supervisor and I were planning my viva. I knew who I wanted for my external examiner, but my supervisor over-ruled me, because she didn’t know the person I wanted, and she did know someone else who she thought would be good (and was). She said she was sure he would do it because he owed her a favour. I have learned since then that a lot of academia seems to work through giving and calling in favours. In such an environment it feels odd to call myself ‘independent’.

The book I’m writing is on research ethics. In the Indigenous research paradigm, reciprocity between researchers and participants is a key ethical principle. However, in the Euro-Western paradigm, researchers have found that attempting such reciprocity where there is an imbalance of power is difficult and can even have dangerous consequences (Israel 2015:137-8). I can’t find much work on reciprocity between academics, and what I can find addresses reciprocity between countries or disciplines and doesn’t say much about power imbalances. I haven’t found anything about reciprocity across the walls of the academy, where there is undoubtedly a power imbalance. I’m glad to say that, in my own experience at least, academics have mostly been courteous and often generous with their help and support for my work, even though, as an indie, I can’t reciprocate in all the same ways that I could if I was based in an institution. This potentially makes me even more dependent, because I have less to offer than salaried mid-career academics. As I progress in my work, will this power imbalance grow? Will it adversely affect the reciprocity on which my entire career depends? Or am I needlessly worrying about something because it feels insecure, when in fact it doesn’t really matter?

Writing The First 10,000 Words

writing deskYesterday I hit 10,000 words of the first draft of my research ethics book. That’s a huge milestone which has taken me two years to reach (though most of that was preparation – I started the actual writing earlier this year). I still have around 65,000 words to write, but having the first 10k safely on my computer and backed up is an enormous relief.

The photo shows one side of my desk, this morning. The other side looks much the same, piled high with books, some of them open and face-down to keep a place. Although I have spent two years thinking about this book, talking about it, interviewing people around the world, and reading reading reading, I am still reading – and re-reading – more than I write. So far I’ve mostly been reading books, but yesterday I started delving into journal articles, and of course there are gazillions of those to explore.

As a result, it’s taking me a full day to write 1,000 words. It feels frustrating to be building my argument so slowly, but I know it’s inevitable at this stage. I read, and think, and read, and think, and sometimes the reading and the thoughts coalesce into a sentence, and I write it down. Then I read some more, and think some more, and so on.

When I teach writing to doctoral students, they often express frustration at the slow pace of their writing. I tell them it’s common, even for experienced writers, and they look at me with sceptical faces, as if they think I’m trying to soothe their feelings rather than telling them the truth. But it is true. I’ve written a masters’ dissertation, a PhD thesis, 2.5 books, and several journal articles, and this is how it is, especially at the start of a long and difficult piece of work. I’m sure the pace of my writing will speed up later, especially when I get to the easier chapters, but for now all I can do is plod on.

Another myth is that writers start writing at the beginning and carry on until they get to the end. Unusually for me, I did draft the first chapter first, and then drafted most of the second. But I have also written 491 words of chapter 3, 60 words of chapter 6, 18 words of chapter 10 and 36 words of chapter 14. This is because, as I have been reading, I’ve come across sections that have been relevant to those chapters, and at this stage it’s easier to create a new document and write a sentence or a paragraph in there than to add to my already copious notes.

I’m doing the early chapters first, this time, because they’re the hardest. The first part of the book has five chapters of context-setting: research ethics, political ethics, institutional ethics, professional ethics, societal ethics, individual ethics, the connections between them, and case studies. The second part has nine chapters about research ethics in practice at each stage of the research process and will, I think, be much easier to write. I often counsel students to start with an easy part, whatever they most feel like writing, and have usually done so myself. This time, though, the later chapters will need to draw on the earlier chapters, so I have to write the harder part first. (Though I do start with the easiest part within each chapter.)

Luckily for me, I’m home-based for the whole of April. I have some client work to do, but I should be able to spend quite a lot of time working on the book. My aim is to get the difficult chapters drafted by the end of the month. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Let’s Talk About The Money

cashbox-1642989__340As the end of the financial year is imminent, it seems a good time to talk about money. Turns out I had a bumper year in 2015/16: my company made a profit of over £36,000. That’s the most this decade. Part of the reason was I won a good-sized research contract, which is the first time that’s happened in this decade. I won a lot of work in the 2000s, and did a fair bit of sub-contracting too, but since the change of government in 2010 I’ve mostly been the sub-contractee. Which is fine by me, actually; it’s a lot less hassle, and I like working in teams.

When you run your own business, one year’s profit doesn’t tell the whole story. You need to look at the last five years to get a sense of where you’re at financially. My worst years were 2011 and 2012, and those are now receding into the distance, thank goodness. Here are my profit figures for the last five years:

2016: £36,168
2015: £8,594
2014: £26,939
2013: £12,357
2012: £5,261

The profit on a business does not constitute your income, because you have to pay tax. I’m happy about this because I appreciate the public services they fund (though I wish more would be spent on schools and hospitals, and less on armaments and wars, but that’s a discussion for another time). Here’s the tax I’ve paid on the profits above:

2016: £7,271
2015: £1,719
2014: £5,316
2013: £2,486
2012: £0

This is corporation tax, not income tax. I also pay tax on my income, but nowhere near as much, because my income is quite small. It’s usually a few hundred pounds (I would give the actual figures but I haven’t kept records).

To really get a sense of the full story, we need to look at the averages of these figures. The average profit my business has made over the last five years is £17,862, and the average tax I’ve paid over the last five years is £2,491. So, on average, I’ve had a surplus of around £15,000. From this, I have to put money aside for business expenses such as professional subscriptions and training/conference costs (so now you probably understand why I am rarely able to pay for conferences). Then I can give myself an income.

Through 2011-13 I paid myself very little from the business, but since late 2013 I’ve been able to pay myself £1,000 per month. This provides me with a comfortable living, mainly because I’ve paid off my mortgage, don’t have children, do have a partner who earns a similar amount, and am happy to live fairly cheaply.

It’s strange to see that the odd numbered years are less lucrative than the even numbered years. If I wasn’t a fan of empirical methods, I’d probably start reading something into that, especially as 2017 looks set to follow the pattern.

I’m sure some independent researchers make more money than me, and I’m equally sure others make less. I could probably earn more if I chased work harder, but I like writing books. This means that as long as I have enough work to keep me going, I don’t chase moStreet harbour-wardsre work, instead I spend my time writing. And the books are beginning to yield something of an income, after six years of hard graft; I can now rely on a four-figure sum arriving each year, and that’s a month’s money, maybe two months this year if I’m lucky.

We don’t talk about money much, but I think we need to, because this is the reality behind our high day rates. I’m not complaining, though; quite the reverse. I feel very lucky that I can support myself by doing the work I love. And I can even afford holidays. Right now I’m in the Canary Islands having a wonderful time, and not missing the British March weather at all!

Mixed-Methods Data Analysis

concentric circles slide 2Following my post last month about using concentric circles for gathering research data, I had a question from a reader. Nieky van Veggel asked me, “How would I analyse the outcomes of this method?” This is a good question and, like many good questions, it has more than one answer.

First, you can do quantitative analysis: counting and measuring. If you have the participant at the centre, you can count the number of people, agencies, or whatever it is that they have drawn or placed around the concentric circles. Then in either system you can measure the distance, or distances, between the fixed central point and the drawn or placed point(s) chosen by the participant. Once you have the raw numerical data from your counting and/or measurement, you can use statistical calculations as appropriate to your sample size and sampling technique.

Second, you can do qualitative analysis. You can look at the types of relationships depicted and sort those into categories and themes. You can cross-tabulate relationships with other participant attributes, e.g. age or gender. You can also cross-tabulate with any other data you have collected to see if there is a relationship.

Third, you can do both. Then you can synthesize your qualitative and quantitative analyses – or, at least, you can try. There are too many ways of synthesizing data to give full details in a blog post, but you can find more information, references, and examples on pages 106-109 of my book on creative research methods. This post is designed to give you an overview of the subject.

Data synthesis, or data integration as it is also known, can be useful in a number of ways. For example, it can be used to triangulate your data, or to enrich your analysis, and it can yield results which could not be obtained through the analysis of any single dataset. The findings of each single dataset will help to answer your research questions up to a point, but bringing those findings together may give a fuller explanatory narrative. However, integrating findings from different datasets can be one of the most challenging aspects of mixed-methods data analysis. Therefore, it makes sense to have a rationale for doing this, rather than trying to do it for its own sake.

Broadly, when you try to integrate your data, one of three things can happen:

  1. The findings from the different datasets agree. Sadly this is not as common as you might think.
  2. The findings from the different datasets agree in some respects but not in others. This is probably the most common outcome, and requires hard thinking and more analysis to try to resolve the disagreements as far as possible, with further research required where resolution cannot be reached.
  3. The findings from the different datasets do not agree at all. This almost certainly indicates a need for further research – which is not always a palatable message for research managers, commissioners, or funders.

When you write up your data integration process and findings, you need to show how each element relates to the others. The danger with this is it can make your article or report rather ‘methods-heavy’, so be concise where you can.

Australian researchers Reesa Sorin, Tamara Brooks and Ute Haring did some research into children’s understandings of their physical environment. In the process, they developed an analytical procedure using three different methods to analyse a dataset made up of children’s artworks and stories. They began with a quantitative technique: content analysis. This involved identifying the main features of children’s drawings and putting them into categories such as animals, houses and trees. Then they counted the number and frequency of items in each category, reasoning that the more frequently something appeared, the more meaningful it was to children. The other two methods were qualitative. One was interpretive analysis, in which they identified more categories, this time based on the presentation of each drawing, its mood, and the messages in the story the child had told about their drawing. The other qualitative method was developmental analysis, which suggests that stages in the development of children’s artworks can be correlated with their ages. So the content analysis outlined the features of the drawings, the interpretive analysis added depth by showing multiple meanings, and the developmental analysis added ages and stages. The researchers concluded that this combination of analytic methods can ‘provide deep insights into young children’s understandings’ (Sorin, Brooks and Haring 2012: 29).

Data analysis is at the core of our interpretive work as researchers, yet it is rarely discussed and often misunderstood. You can’t learn how to analyse data from a blog post, but it may help you to figure out what some of your current questions are. And I hope, Nieky van Veggel, that this post will provide a step on the way to ticking off another item on your impossible list. Good luck!