Books on Academic Writing Productivity

This is a review of six books that address productivity in academic writing (though some cover other topics too). They are listed in order of publication date. Page counts do not include prelims or appendices, indexes etc. All costs are recommended retail prices for paperback editions apart from Helen Sword’s book which is only available in hardback. Prices were taken from Wordery (who offer significant discounts on the prices shown here) apart from Jo Van Every’s book where the information was provided by the author.

Zerubavel bookThe Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books. Eviatar Zerubavel, 1999, Harvard University Press. 98 pages. £15.95.

Zerubavel is a professor of sociology in America. This book is short, readable, and practical, with a decent index, and is lightly referenced using endnotes. It focuses on scheduling writing time, timetabling writing projects, and managing deadlines, both self-imposed and external. The voice is authoritative with touches of humour. Some points feel a little dated now: for example, Zerubavel advises the reader to check their electronic mail before they start to get it out of the way (p 19), but then the volume of email most people received in the late 1990s was very much less than it is today. But most of the advice given in this book is still sound, including the take-away message: that all progress is good, however slow or fast, and perseverance is key to making that progress.

Silvia bookHow To Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. Paul Silvia, 2007, American Psychological Association. 132 pages. £15.95.

Silvia is a professor of psychology in America. He also focuses on scheduling, looking at goals, priorities, and ways to monitor progress, and again his book is lightly referenced. The voice is chatty, informal, often amusing, and the index is adequate. Silvia suggests setting up a writers’ support group as ‘a constructive source of social pressure’ (p 56). Only half of the book is focused on productivity, the other half addresses writing style and gives advice specific to writing academic journal articles and books. The short concluding chapter comes back to productivity and reminds the reader to set a schedule, get on with it, and keep making progress.

Murray bookWriting in Social Spaces: A Social Processes Approach to Academic Writing. Rowena Murray, 2015, Routledge. 135 pages. £29.99.

Murray is a professor of education in Scotland, UK, and has written several books on academic writing. She also conducts formal funded research into academic writing practices and this book is based on the findings from several projects. Although only one chapter of her book addresses productivity directly, it is a central theme. Her argument is that writing has a social aspect and that this can be leveraged to enhance motivation and productivity through goal-setting and progress management. The voice is clear and well-informed. This is a thoughtful book with a lot of detailed information on how to put its advice into practice. Sadly, the index rather lets it down, with only 32 main headings for a 150-page book, and no entries even for key concepts used such as leadership or containment. Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading.

Goodson bookBecoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing. Patricia Goodson, 2017, Sage (second edition – first edition 2011). 235 pages. £32.99.

Goodson is a professor of health education in America. She has developed the POWER model (Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research) from a study of academic productivity research, psychology and neuroscience literature on talent and elite performance, and the writing theory of Peter Elbow (1998). Her argument is that academic writing improves with practice. Her first eight exercises focus on productivity, and (among other things) they cover the now familiar areas of scheduling writing time and monitoring progress. I don’t find exercises in books particularly useful, so I simply read the book and benefited from the information conveyed by the author. If you like doing exercises from books you’ll benefit even more. The voice Goodson uses is warm and encouraging, and the index is excellent.

Sword bookAir & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write. Helen Sword, 2017, Harvard University Press. 206 pages. £17.95.

Sword is a professor of education in New Zealand. She is also a poet with a background in academic literature. Her book is based on a specific research project: she interviewed 100 academics around the world about their writing. From this research she developed the BASE model (Behavioural, Artisanal, Social and Emotional habits) which demonstrates the complexity of the writing process. Productivity is covered in the section on behavioural habits which is designed to help writers identify their own best time, place, rhythm and ritual for writing. As you would expect from a poet, the book is beautifully written, and it has a calm reflective voice. Sword has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of relevant literature to draw on for the ‘read a book’ sections at the end of the chapters. Also, her book has a very good index.

Jo Van Every bookFinding Time For Your Scholarly Writing: A Short Guide. Jo Van Every, 2018, self-published e-book. $3.75. (paperback coming soon)

Van Every is an academic career guide in England, UK. I am grateful to her for the review copy e-book that prompted this blog post. Her book is full of practical advice on how to identify and manage writing time, whether that time is measured in minutes, hours, or days. Van Every covers the topics of scheduling and goal setting that are common to many of these books and, as with them all, the book is well written in itself. Like Zerubavel and Silvia, it is lightly referenced. The book has a lovely consistent voice, like that of a friendly, supportive, knowledgeable auntie; someone who is on your side and has helpful advice to offer. Van Every includes information about other resources: books – including those by Helen Sword and Rowena Murray mentioned above – and online resources. There is no index in the e-book, but that doesn’t matter because you can search it electronically.

Each of these books is full of wisdom. Perhaps you may think you have learned all you need from this blog post: schedule time, set goals, monitor progress, persevere. At one level it is that simple. But if you’re looking for ways to increase your writing productivity, I’d recommend reading one or more of the books I have reviewed. I hope this post will enable you to choose the book or books that suit you best.

Let’s Talk About The Index

indexDo you ever think about the indexes of textbooks and reference books? Do you ever wonder how they’re created? Because they don’t appear as if by magic, and as yet no software has been invented that can extract a good quality index from the text of a book. It takes human intellectual effort to figure out how readers will want to use a book, and so which words and phrases and ideas from the text need headings or cross-references in the index.

The best indexes are created by professional indexers. In the UK they are likely to belong to the Society of Indexers (SoI), which also provides training and accreditation for would-be indexers. The SoI’s distance learning course includes four assessed modules, online tutorials, an online workshop, and practical indexing exercises and assignment. The SoI also provides a conference, various workshops, and online resources for members and non-members. There are equivalent organisations in other countries, such as the American Society for Indexing, the Indexing Society of Canada, and the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers.

As a reader, I care a lot about indexes. A good index makes it so much easier for me to use a textbook or a reference book. Even if I’ve read a book thoroughly and taken notes as I went along, there’s almost bound to come a time when I want to look up something I remember reading but didn’t note down. Some academic publishers, such as Sense Publishers, don’t seem to provide indexes at all. I find that hugely frustrating, digging around among 240 pages of text to try to find the paragraph or two that I want to read again.

Other academic publishers pass the responsibility of creating or paying for an index on to the author. That can lead to indexes of variable quality. Here’s a photo of one from a Palgrave Pivot book, Writing Anthropology by Francois Bouchetoux.

Writing Anthropology index

That is the entire index for the whole 120-page book. Palgrave is an established publisher which has published many fine books, some of which have excellent indexes. The author of this book is evidently highly intelligent, with many skills, such as writing; it’s a worthwhile book. But I don’t think indexing is in his skillset.

Some authors can produce good indexes. Pat Thomson is one, but she’s in a minority. Yet publishers still try to persuade authors to create or pay for indexes. As authors don’t get paid for writing books, and academic books earn much less for authors than they do for publishers, this seems both wrong and stupid to me. Wrong because an academic publisher should accept the financial responsibility of providing a good quality index, stupid because if they don’t then their book is less useful so fewer people will recommend it to others. I am not the only person who takes the quality of an index into account when writing reviews online (as I plan to demonstrate, next week, upon this very blog).

Several times in my life I have been in discussion with various publishers who have tried to pass the responsibility of creating or paying for an index on to me. Each time I have argued that they should pay for it because I have neither the skills nor the budget, and the lack of an index will reflect more poorly on their reputation than mine. Each time I have won the argument. So if you are a writer in this position, fight your corner. And if you’re a publisher, be like non-fiction publisher Mango Books.

Round of applause!

Why and How to Negotiate with Academic Book Publishers

poor writerThe academics I have met who write books seem to assume one of two things. The first assumption is that publishers are doing authors a favour by publishing their books. The second is that the royalties offered are a set figure. Both of these assumptions are wrong.

I suspect the first assumption exists because academics need publications so badly that when someone agrees to publish their work it can feel like a massive relief and a cause for celebration. Yet publishers would not exist without authors. Nevertheless, publishers are hard-headed business people, and they are not going to publish a book if they don’t think it will turn a profit.

The second assumption may exist because we live in a society of set prices in shops, set salaries and fees for work, and so on. The notion of haggling is unfamiliar. So you need to know that the royalties a publisher proposes to give you are generally a starting point for negotiations rather than a fixed offer. In a moment I’ll give you some pointers on how to handle these negotiations, but first let’s look at why it is important to negotiate.

Publishers often belong to parent companies that are very, very rich. For example, the company Informa plc has four operating divisions: business intelligence, academic publishing, knowledge, and events. Its academic publishing division covers the humanities, social sciences, and STEM subjects, and includes publishers such as Taylor & Francis, Psychology Press, Cogent OA, and Routledge. In 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, this division made an adjusted operating profit of £187.2million. Informa as a whole made an adjusted operating profit of £416.1million.

Here’s another example. The RELX Group plc is ‘a global provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries’. This company includes the publisher Elsevier, which primarily publishes academic books in STEM subjects, as one of its four divisions. In 2017 Elsevier made an adjusted operating profit of £913million. The RELX Group as a whole made an adjusted operating profit of £2,284million.

It is evident that academic publishing is very, very profitable for these companies, and their shareholders. Yet authors, who may work for years on a single book, are to be content with royalties of a few hundred pounds a year – or less?

One reason this power imbalance hasn’t been important before now is that most, if not all, academic authors used to be in permanent academic roles with more than adequate salaries and time to write books within their day jobs. Yet, as we know, these days more and more academics are in casual and precarious roles, and have to write books in their own time. Even those with permanent jobs are often so over-worked that they, too, have to write their books outside working hours. Also, some people writing scholarly books are not in any academic role, but are independent researchers, unemployed, retired and so on.

Authors are contractually prevented from discussing their own royalty rates. However, I can tell you that the Textbook and Academic Authors Association conducted an anonymous survey of academic authors in 2015. They found that average royalties for print books ranged from 9–14%, and the highest royalty reported was 30%. I can also tell you that, in the UK, academic writers earn the lowest annual averages from their books of any type of writer.

Clearly publishers do need to earn money from the books they publish, to pay for their staff, buildings, printing, marketing, and all the other costs associated with their business. They also need to make a profit (or, if they’re not-for-profit, a surplus) to reinvest in their business and, if a plc, pay dividends to their shareholders. However, do they really need profits of hundreds of millions of pounds, from the often unpaid work of academic authors?

I believe we should be negotiating harder for higher royalties on our scholarly books. I have done this myself, successfully, with different types of publisher. Here are some tips. First, forget about feelings such as gratitude or repulsion, and treat the deal as a business transaction. Position the conversation as a business deal by saying something like, ‘As we haven’t done business together before…’ Second, ask for more than you think they will agree to. There’s a chance they might say yes, and if not you are leaving space for them to make a counter-offer lower than your request but still considerably better than the original offer.

The publisher is likely to specify separate royalty rates for hardbacks, paperbacks, and e-books. You can negotiate really hard on e-book royalties. Publishers’ costs for e-book production and handling are much lower than for print books. They don’t have to pay for paper, printing, storage, shipping, or returns. Also, they don’t sell as many e-books as print books. This means they can give more here.

If you get stuck on a figure that doesn’t seem enough to you but the publisher won’t budge, you can ask for a ‘riser’. That means after, say, 1,000 copies have been sold in that format, your royalty will go up by a few percentage points. This is often easier for publishers to say yes to because if they sell 1,000 copies, they have already recouped most, all, or more of their investment in your work, so then they can afford to pay a higher royalty. It’s probably not worth asking for a riser for hardbacks, as they don’t sell many copies, but it is well worth giving it a go for paperbacks, especially if you’re writing a book that is likely to have a wide readership.

Occasionally an academic publisher will offer a small ‘advance’ of a few hundred pounds. This is not an extra advance payment, it is an advance on royalties which the publisher will claw back from your royalties until it has been fully repaid. If a few hundred pounds would make a real difference to your work for the book – enable you to buy other books, for example, or to travel for meetings or to interview people – then by all means accept. But do be aware that it’s not extra money, they’re simply rearranging the offer.

Bear in mind that the person you are negotiating with, usually your commissioning editor, will not have the power to make the final decision. Keep your relationship with them as cordial and professional as possible, and make your case as clearly and concisely as you can, because you need them to advocate for you within their organisation.

In many ways this is the simple part of the negotiations. Once you agree the royalty figures, the publisher will issue a draft contract. It is a really good idea to get independent professional advice on the contract, because it will be hard to understand its implications unless you have specific legal expertise. In the UK, you can join the Society of Authors as soon as you have a draft contract, and specialist vetting of that and any other contract you receive is included in your membership fee. They will tell you which points to negotiate on, and how.

Does all this negotiation sound icky to you? Get over it. You are going to work really hard on writing your books. It makes sense to do all you can to make your books work as hard as possible for you.

How To Market Your Academic Book

Norwich market by Lane

Norwich Market by talented artist Lane Mathias

If you’re going to write an academic book, you need to be prepared to do some marketing. Otherwise it will sink, without so much as a bubble, deep into the ocean of published academic books. Of course if all you need is the publication on your CV, then don’t waste your time on marketing. But if you’ve written something you actually want people to read and use, you need to get to grips with the whole marketing thing.

 

There are three main categories of sole-authored academic book: monograph, textbook, and trade book. A monograph usually has quite a narrow topic, perhaps just one research project. Its audience will be small, primarily academic peers and perhaps a few doctoral students, and its royalties will be low or non-existent. A textbook is probably for undergraduates, maybe also early stage postgraduates, with a potential audience of millions and, if you’re lucky, significant royalties. A trade book is anywhere in between. You need to know which yours is to help you figure out who your readers might be and so how to market your book.

Your publisher’s marketing department should help you. After all, it’s in their interest to sell as many copies of your book as possible. But they can only help up to a point, because they have a lot of other books to try to sell as well as yours. It’s worth having a chat with them, and finding out what they can and can’t do to help you. For example, they should:

  • Post information about your book online well ahead of its publication date
  • Market your book to relevant retailers, including bookshops and online retailers, and wholesalers, and to academic libraries
  • Include your book in their catalogue and on their flyers for specific events such as conferences in your field
  • Send out review copies, including to people you find who are willing to write reviews or can otherwise promote the book to a significant number of people
  • Take your book to academic conferences, display it along with other books on their stand, and offer a conference discount.
  • Promote your book via their e-newsletter and social media channels
  • Give you a jpeg of the cover for your own use
  • Make flyers for you to take to conferences and seminars

Realistically, though, a lot of this will happen around the time of publication. They won’t ignore your book thereafter, but they simply can’t push all of their books all of the time. So, if you want your book to be widely read and used, you need to market it too.

I have no background or training in marketing; I’ve been learning on the job since my first research methods book came out in 2012. I’ve been lucky to have had terrific support from the marketing department at my lovely publisher, Policy Press, though I know not every academic writer has this experience. I have learned some things you can do to help raise awareness of your book. These include:

  • Add information about the book to your email signature
  • Add information about the book to any web pages featuring you, such as your profile on your employer’s website and your LinkedIn page
  • Send information about the book to any e-lists you subscribe to
  • Send information about the book to your professional association(s) to include in their e-newsletter
  • Ask your employer for help publicising your book through their website, newsletter, and other publicity channels
  • Write one or more blog posts featuring the book for blogs with big readerships in your field, and publicise the blog post(s) at and after publication through your social media channels
  • Create a video about the book or some aspect of the book, upload to YouTube or Vimeo and publicise through your social media channels
  • Create a podcast about the book or some aspect of the book, upload and publicise through your social media channels
  • Publicise the book itself through social media – don’t keep saying ‘buy my book’, but promote any good reviews or positive comments you receive
  • Write an article for the mainstream media based on, or featuring, your book
  • Make sure your book cover appears on any PowerPoint or other presentation you give, and mention it in the presentation

Then there’s the more unofficial kind of marketing. This blog is, in one sense, a marketing tool. It’s other things too – a place to keep my professional musings, for a start – but marketing is part of its purpose. This is marketing by providing something of value (or at least doing my best to do so!). Another method I use is to mail signed bookplates to people who have bought copies of my books. That’s counter-intuitive marketing: in theory, I should be wooing people who haven’t yet bought copies. But I think it can help, because it will improve the likelihood of people talking to others about my work.

Another unofficial kind is marketing through networks. This is unpredictable and you always need to be alert for opportunities. For example, at an academic event recently I met a Prof from a university where I don’t have any contacts. We were talking about graphic novels in research, and I remarked that I’d written about that in my last book on creative research methods. The Prof was interested and asked me to email over details of my book. I did so a few days later, and received a reply saying, ‘Thank you for this. I will raise it with other staff for dissertations as it looks useful.’ So that should at least have sold a copy or two for their library, and with luck it’ll make its way onto more course lists.

I need to figure out what else to do, though, because my royalties this year were lower than last year: £1,236.70 as against £1,627.20. That’s quite a drop, and disappointing in a year when I published a second edition and had lots of positive feedback on both books. There are two tried-and-tested ways of increasing royalties that I know of. One is to write more books, and I’m working on that. The other is to do more marketing: not only for my books, but also for the journal articles I’ve written and co-written. More on marketing those next week.

Analysing Data For Your PhD: New Book Launch!

ADFYPhD_darkbrown_neurons_LC_RGBToday sees the launch of the third in my Phd Knowledge series. The subject of data analysis is close to my heart. It is at the core of our work as researchers, yet it’s often poorly understood. Doctoral students can find themselves facing the analysis of a sizeable amount of data without really knowing what it is they’re supposed to do. My new e-book, Analysing Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, is designed to help in this situation – or, if you read it in time, to prevent you reaching such a stressful impasse. This book follows on from the previous books, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know and Gathering Data For Your PhD: An Introduction, but it works equally well as a stand-alone volume for anyone who only wants to delve into this part of the process. It is concise – around 10,000 words – and clearly written (says my editor – in fact, he said ‘As usual, this was a beautifully written little document to work on’). And, as with the others, it costs less than the price of a coffee: £1.99/$2.99 and equivalent prices in other jurisdictions.

But wait! There’s more! To celebrate the launch, and in recognition of the new academic semester starting soon in Australia and New Zealand, I have reduced the price of Starting Your PhD to £0.99/$1.49. This is a time-limited offer for one week only, so get downloading. And happy reading!

 

Gathering Data For Your PhD – New Book Launch!

GDFYPhD_red_data_LC_multi_RGBYou may remember that just two months ago, on this very blog, I announced the start of my indie publishing career. I’m publishing a range of short e-books for doctoral students, and the first one was Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, launched on 8 September. I’m delighted to launch the second one today: Gathering Data For Your PhD: An Introduction.

Again, it’s around 11,000 words, and is suitable for all doctoral students, whether studying for a scholarly PhD or a professional doctorate. Here is the blurb:

You can’t do research without data. But what kind of data will help you answer your research question? Where can you find that data? And how much data do you need? If you’re doing doctoral research, particularly in the social sciences, arts, or humanities, this book will help you answer those questions. It offers an overview of traditional and innovative methods of gathering quantitative, qualitative, secondary and primary data. The book also outlines the pros and cons of devising your own method of gathering data, and lists a range of resources for further exploration of the methods that interest you most.

Just like the last book, it’s available for the price of a coffee: $2.99/£1.99/E2.99 or thereabouts – exact prices may vary slightly with different distributors. Talking of which, it’s available (or will be any minute) from all the major players: Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Nook etc.

This seems a perfect time to launch my latest oeuvre, as it’s the first ever Academic Book Week here in the UK. There are loads of events and discussions happening all over the country. There’s very little, though, about indie publishing – perhaps because Academic Book Week mostly involves traditional publishers and booksellers. I want to emphasise here that I don’t see indie publishing as a rival to traditional publishing, though I guess there may be some booksellers who wish digital books had never been invented. I love p-books and I don’t want, or expect, them to disappear. But I think there is also room for e-books in academia, and it surprises me that so few academics and alt-acs are taking up this opportunity.

Starting Your PhD – New Book Launch!

SYPhD_green_SQmarks_noblend_LC2_RGBI’m launching my Top Secret Project today. It is a short e-book (11,000 words) called Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know. I published this e-book myself, under the Know More Publishing imprint (see what I did there?!), which I set up for the purpose. The book is available via Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, Scribd, and Inktera. So as well as being an indie researcher and writer, I’m now an indie publisher too!

I wrote three drafts of the e-book, each of which received feedback from a small group of different beta readers, including people who might do a PhD one day, current doctoral students, and experienced supervisors. The final version was professionally edited. I am very grateful to my beta readers and to my editor, each of whom provided input which improved the book’s quality. And you can buy the fruits of all this labour and experience for the price of a coffee: approx £1.99/$2.99/E3.29 or equivalent (actual prices may vary slightly due to circumstances beyond my control).

So why did I take up indie publishing, you may ask? There are times I’ve been wondering that myself over the last year or so, as it’s been a massive learning curve. I think if I’d known how much work was involved, I probably wouldn’t have started the process. But now that the curve is beginning to flatten out, I’m very glad I did. There are a number of reasons I decided to publish independently. In no particular order, the main ones are:

  • I spotted a gap in the market that a short e-book would fill
  • I’m intrigued by indie publishing; it seems to fit with being an indie researcher and writer
  • Short e-books are increasing in popularity
  • I wanted to offer good quality and affordable help for doctoral students

I expect you’re wondering whether I’ve done all this work just to produce one short e-book. No, I haven’t. ‘Starting Your PhD’ is the first in the ‘PhD Knowledge’ series, with other volumes of similar length to include:

  • Gathering Data for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Analysing Data for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Writing Your PhD: An Introduction
  • Research Ethics for your PhD: An Introduction
  • Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know

The second volume is scheduled for publication in November, and I aim to publish the others in the course of 2016.

ALLiEthicalAuthor_BadgeThis is an exciting new venture for me. I’ve had loads of help already: from friends, colleagues, people I’ve met online, and the Alliance of Independent Authors. I’m proud to be a member, and would recommend them to anyone; their closed Facebook group is an invaluable source of support. Also, I’m particularly pleased that they have a code of ethics for indie authors, with the guiding principle of putting the reader first – a principle that guides all my writing.

With that in mind, I need your help too, because there are some things you can do for potential readers that I can’t: tell them about the book, and write honest reviews to help people decide whether the book would be useful for them. Of course I can tell some people, but with my traditionally published books, I’ve had access to an established publishing firm which employed a range of professionals to help spread the word. As an indie publisher I am my own marketing, distribution, and sales departments. So it would be enormously helpful if you could talk about this e-book to people who might find it useful: people considering doctoral study, people embarking on doctoral study, or people supporting someone else through their doctoral study. When I say ‘talk’ I mean the virtual kind too, i.e. tweeting, blogging, Facebook etc. And I absolutely can’t, and wouldn’t, review the book I’ve written; that would be most unethical, so I’m completely reliant on others to give their honest opinion in a way that will help prospective readers decide whether it’s worth investing a few of their hard-earned coins.

Doing a PhD – or a professional doctorate; the e-book is applicable to either – is an enormous undertaking. It can be really difficult even to start on this long, complex process, much of which is incomprehensible at the start. I began mine, back in the early 2000s, with a complete false start which cost me a year and a lot of wasted time and effort; I ended up at a different university with a completely different topic, supervisor, and discipline than I’d originally planned. I guess that is another reason I wrote the e-book: to help others make a more sure-footed start, and to save them timchampagne launche and effort.

If this works for you, please do let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter where I always love to hear from my readers. But for now: I declare my indie publishing career in general, and the Starting a PhD e-book in particular, open!

Creative Research Methods

Creative research methods in the social sciences [FC]I have always been interested in creative research methods: not at the expense of traditional methods, but to augment them. I have used a variety of creative methods, when appropriate, such as storytelling and photo-elicitation for gathering data, fictionalisation and photo-essays for writing research, and drama for presenting findings. I have also combined methods where necessary, used technology in research, and worked within a participatory framework where possible.

A couple of years ago, for reasons I can’t now remember, I went looking for a book on creative research methods. I searched all the usual online booksellers but couldn’t find anything that fitted the bill. So I decided to write one.

In the process of writing this book, I read hundreds of journal articles, book chapters, sometimes whole books. I didn’t read everything there is to read – that wouldn’t be possible – but I learned a lot. And it slowly dawned on me that the field of creative research methods could be conceptualised as having four broad categories:

  1. Arts-based research – e.g. visual arts, performance arts, textile arts
  2. Research using technology – e.g. social media, apps, computer/video games
  3. Mixed methods research – traditionally qual+quant, but also quant+quant and qual+qual
  4. Transformative research frameworks – e.g. participatory research, feminist research, decolonising methodologies, activist research

Clearly I am not suggesting that these categories are mutually exclusive. In fact I did find some examples of research employing tools from all four categories. But they do provide a useful way of thinking about the subject for now (I say ‘for now’ as the field is developing fast, so may need a new conceptualisation in time).

I found many fabulous, inspiring, examples of research across all of these categories and from all over the world. There are over 100 boxed examples in my book, with others scattered throughout the text, and I still didn’t have room to include everything I would have liked to cover. I also realised that ‘creative methods’ doesn’t always mean ‘innovative methods’ (though it often does). It may mean being creative with traditional methods, such as by combining those methods in an unusual way or taking a new look at an existing method. For example, in recent years researchers using focus groups realised that they could get more out of the data by analysing the interactions between people in each group, as well as the content of the text yielded by the transcripts.

I’m delighted to say that even though the book isn’t out yet, it has received a good reception from academics around the world. It has been described, among other things, as an ‘inspiration’, a ‘treasure trove’, and ‘ground-breaking’. And most wonderful of all, especially as my first degree was in psychology, my creative research heroes Kenneth Gergen and Mary Gergen have very kindly written a foreword.

So publication day is 10 April in the UK, May 15 in the US. Here’s a very short book trailer I made for you.

If you would like a copy, you can buy direct from the publisher, Policy Press, at a 35% discount, by signing up to their monthly e-newsletter. This applies wherever you are in the world, and the discount is on all their books, not just mine. They publish some excellent work so I’d recommend checking this out.

If you want to know more about creative research methods, I hosted a twitterchat on 26 March, on the #ecrchat hashtag, and the storify is here.

The book will be formally launched at a one-day conference at the British Library Conference Centre on 8 May. The conference has four workshop streams and I’ll bet you can guess what they’re on… yep: arts-based research, research using technology, mixed methods research, and transformative research frameworks. There seems to be a real appetite for this topic, as we had an unprecedented number of abstracts – four for each presentation – so we have a terrific selection of workshops. Over half of the places are already booked. So if you’d like to come to the conference, please don’t leave it till the last minute, as it is likely to sell out. I hope to see you there!

A sweet tweet

These are the kinds of tweets that warm an author’s heart – thank you, Amanda Taylor!

(It also shows one of my lovely bookplates, designed by Carol Burns. If you’ve got a copy of my book and would like a signed bookplate, please get in touch and let me know. No charge.)