How To Find A Collaborator

The question to ask first is, when might you want to find a collaborator? Some work needs to be done alone, such as most doctoral research. Some work is sometimes best done alone, such as writing an opinion piece for a high-profile blog. But some work definitely needs to be done in collaboration. Most research benefits from collaboration. When I am commissioned to do a piece of research alone or with one other colleague, I always recommend that the commissioner set up a small group of relevant people to advise and steer the research project. And writing often benefits from collaboration too. In fact academic writing is always more or less collaborative: even if only one person is named as the author, the work will have been influenced by other scholars, colleagues, reviewers, editors – the list is long. And if more than one author is named, the work is likely to have benefited from the sustained engagement of more than one person.

Some work really needs collaborators. Three colleagues and I wrote Creative Research Methods in Education, and it was a better book, as a result, than it would have been if any three or two of us had worked on the project. I often receive requests to collaborate with others on research, or writing or both. Sometimes they are from friends or colleagues, and I always consider those carefully. Narelle Lemon from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, suggested we work together on the education book when we first met in person. Sometimes requests to collaborate come from people I don’t know. The reception those ones get will vary depending on what the person is proposing and how they put that across. If the email is from a free email provider such as gmail, with lots of spelling mistakes, asking me to collaborate on research to help prove that hemlock cures cancer – and to contribute to the funding of that research – I will reach swiftly for the delete button. Conversely, if the email is from an organisational address, well written, and asking me to collaborate on work that is within one of my areas of expertise, I will respond – and if the enquirer mentions that they have a budget, I am likely to respond positively.

The best collaboration request I have had from a stranger came from Richard Phillips of Sheffield University. His initial message, in July 2018, simply said: “Dear Helen, I would like to explore the possibility of involving you in a workshop on creative writing and social research, and have a budget for this. It would be great to hear from you and discuss. Thanks, Richard.” Short, to the point, and very interesting indeed. I emailed straight back, and in his reply he told me he liked my book on creative research methods. Better and better! We spoke a couple of days later, met a couple of weeks after that, ran the workshop in November 2018, and our book on Creative Writing for Social Research was published in January 2021.

If you want to find a collaborator, the most important thing is to do your homework. If you want someone to co-write a journal article about the role of manicures in ex-convict rehabilitation, you need to find someone who shares that niche interest. And when you do find someone who seems suitable, make sure your potential collaborator likes to write; not everyone does. There should be no need to introduce yourself, because the person you are contacting should be able to find information about you online; if they can’t, they are much less likely to agree to collaborate with you.

Overall, people are more likely to agree to collaborate if you are their peer or above, the work you are proposing is within their areas of interest, and you have a budget. If you have nothing but passion for a project, it is still worth asking suitable people if they are willing to collaborate, but be prepared for rejection. Also, please be aware that offering to collaborate for free could put you at risk of being exploited. However much you care about an issue, it is equally important to take care of yourself.

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

A simple guide to ethical co-authorship

This post was originally published on the LSE Impact Blog in March 2021.

Ethical co-authorship is rarely discussed by authors and publishers, and even more rarely by research ethics committees. Yet co-authorship is a notorious site for unethical practices such as: plagiarism, citation manipulation, and ghost, guest and gift authors. For authors setting out on a collaborative writing project, two key aspects to ethical co-authorship need consideration: ethical co-writing and ethical co-publishing.

Ethical co-writing

Being invited to write with one or more others can feel flattering and exciting. Hold on, though, because before you co-write a single sentence, it is sensible to figure out whether you can work well together and to ask yourself some simple questions. Do you share enough priorities and values? If so, do you have similar working practices, such as attitudes to timescales and deadlines? While diversity of authorship will bring richness to your co-authored work, you need enough similarity to ensure that you can work well together. There is no shame in finding you can’t collaborate with someone; it doesn’t devalue your scholarship or theirs. But, it is worth ensuring you make that discovery early, rather than after you have already invested considerable time and effort.

Agree on the format for the work, and who will take the lead on each section or chapter. Different people can have very different ideas about format and structure, and again it is worth establishing this at the outset, rather than ending up with sections or chapters of wildly varying lengths and structures. This won’t impress reviewers and will create an unnecessarily large amount of work at the editing stage.

When you decide on deadlines, always build in contingency time. Things go wrong in people’s lives, particularly during a pandemic, and those affected need time to deal with their difficulties. Be willing to compromise or, in a group collaboration, to be outvoted. If you want to have everything your own way – write alone – though you will still have to deal with others, reviewers and editors; to adapt a famous saying, the sole-authored paper is dead.

Encourage your co-authors to adopt ethical citation practices. This means avoiding citation manipulation, i.e. excessive self-citation, excessive citation of another’s work, or excessive citation of work from the journal or publisher where you want to place your own work. It also means ensuring a good level of diversity within your citations. Who are the marginalised scholars working in your field: the people of colour, the women, the Indigenous scholars, the scholars from the global South, the LGBT+ scholars, and so on? Make sure you read and cite their work, engaging in co-writing can be an opportunity to reassess what literatures have become central to your research.

When you give feedback to your co-authors, make it constructive: tell them what they are doing well, what needs improvement, and how they can make that improvement. When co-authors give you feedback on your writing, accept it gracefully, even if you don’t feel very graceful. Respond positively, or at least politely, or at worst diplomatically. Maintaining relationships with your co-authors can be more important and may even take precedence over being right.

Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. If you have a problem that is going to get in the way of your co-authoring, let your co-author(s) know as soon as possible.

Ethical co-publishing

Academic publishing is troubled by ghost, guest and gift authors, if you are in doubt, COPE provides a useful flowchart detailing these practices. Ghost authors are those who have contributed to a publication but are not named as a co-author, perhaps because they are a doctoral student or early career academic and a senior academic has decided to take the credit for their work. This is a form of plagiarism. Guest authors are those who have not contributed to the writing of a publication, though they may have lent equipment or run the organisation where the research took place. Gift authors are those who have made no contribution at all, but are offered co-author status as a favour. None of these practices are ethical. It doesn’t matter if some co-authors do more work than others, as long as everyone involved is happy with that, but you should be clear about each co-author’s contribution to the work, and outline that in a statement in the final draft.

Another ethical issue in co-publication is the order in which authors are named. This varies between disciplines. In economics, co-authors of journal articles are named in alphabetical order, while in sociology the co-author who has made the largest contribution is named first. Heather Sarsons studied this and found that the system used in economics has an adverse effect on academic women’s career prospects, while the sociology system does not.

However, this does not mean the sociology system is perfect. What if two or three authors have contributed equally? An alternative option could be to write enough articles or chapters for each co-author to have first authorship on one of them, but this isn’t always possible or desirable. Some scholars use pseudonyms to ensure that equal contributions are recognised. Economic geographers Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson published several books and journal articles under the joint name J.K. Gibson-Graham, some of which were ‘sole’ authored and some with other co-authors. Geographers Caitlin Cahill, Sara Kindon, Rachel Pain and Mike Kesby have published together under the name Mrs C. Kinpaisby-Hill, and Kindon, Pain and Kesby have collectively used the name Mrs Kinpaisby. Professors EJ Renold and Jessica Ringrose work together as EJ Ringold.

This isn’t always an option, though, as publishers are not always happy to take an unconventional route. Book publishers for instance, will usually want as first author the person whose name they consider most likely to help sell copies. And, journal editors are sometimes reluctant to name participants who have co-authored journal articles, even when they evidently want to be named.

Acting ethically while co-writing is easier than acting ethically to co-publish, because authors have more autonomy while writing. Self-publishing may present opportunities for more creative representations of co-authorship practices, but self-published work is not generally valued by academia. Bumping up against the structures and priorities of big business, whether a publisher or a university, can make it more difficult for people to maintain an ethical course. Perhaps the most ethical option is to place work with a journal or publisher that is not for profit, so you are not contributing to shareholders’ dividends but to organisations that invest any surplus back into research dissemination.

To some extent, co-authorship is an academic virtue in itself. Co-authors learn from each other and help each other develop as researchers and scholars. Co-authored work is often stronger than it would have been if sole-authored. If we can also co-author ethically, that will further improve the quality of our collaborations and our outputs.

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

The Wonder Of #CRMethodsChat

I have been running a creative research methods Twitter chat most months since May 2019. It lasts for an hour, usually on a Tuesday, and the time varies from 8am to 7pm BST/GMT to try to accommodate people in as many time zones as possible. The chat is often very lively, with a mix of regular chatters and new people. I have also heard from a number of people who appreciate the chat but prefer to lurk rather than to join in. A regular chatter recently described it to me as ‘a very special community of people’, and I would agree: a friendly, creative, supportive bunch, all ready to share ideas and learn more about creative research methods.

In recent months I have hosted all the chats from my own office, but before the pandemic I often hosted chats from hotel rooms in various countries and once even from a train in Ireland (Iarnród Éireann have great wi-fi). After each chat I curate the tweets, and any relevant links, into a Wakelet for those who couldn’t attend at the time. Chats to date, with links for any you would like to follow up, are:

14 May 2019 Inaugural Twitter chat about creative research methods

11 June 2019 Creative methods of data analysis

9 July 2019 Creative methods of dissemination

10 September 2019 Visual research methods

8 October 2019 Embodied research methods

12 November 2019 Using social media creatively in research

14 January 2020 The future of research methods over the next 10 years

11 February 2020 Performative research methods

30 June 2020 Participatory textile making as a creative research method with co-hosts @StitchingTgthr and Amy Twigger-Holroyd

21 July 2020 Teaching creative research methods online

15 September 2020 Using online methods in research and teaching

20 October 2020 Remixing research methods with co-host Nikki Pugh

17 November 2020 Research ethics in a pandemic with co-host Christina Silver

8 December 2020 Creative and collaborative research with co-hosts Narelle Lemon and Janet Salmons

28 January 2021 Creative writing for social research with co-host Richard Phillips

24 February 2021 Creative methods of analysing data with co-host Julia Puebla Fortier

27 April 2021 Creative research methods across disciplines with co-host Dawn Mannay

1 June 2021 Creative methods of gathering data with co-host Louisa Lawrie

15 July 2021 Embodied inquiry with co-hosts Nicole Brown and Jennifer Leigh

5 October 2021 Making participants comfortable when using creative research methods with co-host Suzanne Culshaw

You will notice that for the last year I have always run the chat with a co-host or two. This is because the chat has become increasingly popular and is now really too busy for one person alone to manage. There is a lot to do: responding to tweets; keeping an eye out for tweets intended for the chat where the tweeter forgot to include the hashtag, and retweeting them with the hashtag to bring them into the chat; finding links to share – sometimes even with two or three of us it is absolutely non-stop. So far the quietest chat was the one on performative research methods in February 2020, with just 43 items in the Wakelet (“items” = tweets and links – in Wakelet you can’t click on a link in a tweet, so I track down the link and include it separately). The busiest one to date was embodied inquiry in July 2021 with 288 items. That chat ran at an average of four tweets a minute, or one every 15 seconds. Two other chats had over 250 items each, two more had 200–249 items, six had 150–199, four had 100–149, and the other five had under 100 items (all of those five were in the first year).

People have various reasons for co-hosting. Some have a book or other output to promote which is relevant to creative research methods. Some want to find out more about a topic, or form a special interest group. The main reason I am writing this post is because I would like more co-hosts for the chat. If you’re Twitter-literate and you just fancy helping me out from time to time, that would be fine by me! But whatever your reason, I will be happy to hear from you.

Co-hosting is easy: we agree the date/time for the chat and the questions to be used; in the run-up to the chat I will send out some promo tweets and tag you so you can retweet them if you like; then attend the chat itself and help people to feel welcome and interact. If you want more detailed information before you decide, there are a couple of blog posts on the topic: one from me on the Research Whisperer blog including reflections on the first #CRMethodsChat, and one from Pat Thomson, full of characteristic wisdom, about the #VirtualNotViral chat she runs with Anuja Cabraal. There may well be others, too; if you know of any please comment on this post with a link.

I am aiming to set up chats in advance, so if you have a book coming out any time in the next year or so, or you’re doing – or supervising – doctoral studies and you want to know about some aspect of creative research methods, or you have a project on the horizon that might benefit from increased knowledge of creative methods, please do get in touch via Twitter or my contact form.

This blog, the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and the videos on my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved Patrons. Patrons receive exclusive content and various rewards, depending on their level of support, such as access to my special private Patreon-only blog posts, bi-monthly Q&A sessions on Zoom, free e-book downloads and signed copies of my books. Patrons can also suggest topics for my blogs and videos. If you want to support me by becoming a Patron click here. Whilst ongoing support would be fantastic you can make a one-time donation instead, through the PayPal button on this blog, if that works better for you. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!

Creative Debate

Last week I received an email alert which led me to a blog post reviewing my book on creative research methods. It turned out to be a rather lovely review by an artist-researcher, ending, “Whereas my art had previously researched and voices what already is (even if somewhat invisible), now my research uses art to call for a change, even just a little one.”

This kind of feedback is, as you can probably imagine, an absolute joy to receive. I was even more chuffed when I checked out the writer, Janette Parris, online and found out that she is an experienced artist, with her very own Wikipedia page, who has exhibited all around the UK and overseas. She specialises in collaborative work and public engagement, and she makes comics! In fact I must have seen some of her work before, because her online comic was in Comics Unmasked at the British Library, and I went to that excellent exhibition. I may even have met her, if she has attended one of my courses…

Then the very next day I got another email alert saying Janette Parris had published another blog post focusing on my book. I went to read it, and do you know what? She disagreed with a point I had made, and I was SO PLEASED.

Yes, honestly. I was DELIGHTED.

I often encourage students on my courses to argue with me. They rarely do.

There are two reasons I need people to disagree with me. One is, and I hope you are sitting down as you read this, because it will no doubt astonish you to discover: I am not always right. When I am wrong about something, I want someone to tell me. The other is that thinking moves on and I try to keep up. So even when I am right one day, I may no longer be right the next day, or month, or year, and when that time comes, I need to know.

Of course argument needs to be constructive. I don’t relish the kind that goes Did! Didn’t! Did! Didn’t! (unless I’m attending a pantomime, in which case I’m well up for it). The argument put forward by Janette Parris is: my point that the research method should fit the research question is insufficiently nuanced. She privileges the twin roles of passion and practicalities in choosing a research question and then research methods, arguing that there are often several methods which could be used and researchers have to choose between them. I think she makes a solid case here, and I have made a note to revisit her post for more consideration and perhaps citation when I prepare the third edition of my creative methods book.

Janette Parris’ research question is about “whether the requirement to write an academic essay in an art degree is useful and necessary”. Anyone who has read the previous post I published on this very blog will know that there are a few examples of people using alternative formats and techniques at doctoral level, and one or two at masters’ level, in various disciplines. (I haven’t yet come across alternative options at undergraduate level; if you know of any, please tell me in the comments.) Although there are now enough precedents I can advise students to use to build an academic argument if they want to do something similar, this is also still definitely rare enough to be a good reason for Janette Parris to do the research she proposes.

She intends to use an alternative format herself to present her research findings. I hope I get to find out what it is. She isn’t on Twitter, and she doesn’t engage in dialogue on her blog, but maybe she will write about her plans and choices online. Her post says that, with enough time, she could have answered her research question by co-creating a musical. I wonder if she might manage to do that in future. I am not a great fan of musicals, but a co-created research musical is something I would love to see. Maybe one day…

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, and my YouTube channel, are funded by my beloved patrons.  It takes me more than one working day per month to post here each week, run the Twitterchat and produce content for YouTube. At the time of writing I’m receiving funding from Patrons of $86 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more that $86 – you can help!  Ongoing  support would be fantastic but you can also make a one-time donation through the PayPal button on this blog if that works better for you. Support from Patrons and donors also enables me to keep this blog ad-free. If you are not able to support me financially, please consider reviewing any of my books you have read – even a single-line review on Amazon or Goodreads is a huge help – or sharing a link to my work on social media. Thank you!