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!

Innovation in Academic Publishing

I often get emails from publishing professionals wanting to commission a book. Mostly I reply with a polite version of ‘no, go away’, because I already have loads of writing projects stretching far into the future so it would be idiotic to take on any more. But now and again something piques my interest.

During the holidays I received a message from a commissioning editor at Lived Places Publishing. This is a new venture, based in the US and working globally, aiming to make publishing more inclusive. They are setting up a Disability Studies Collection ‘to increase understanding and advance the social and economic inclusion of people with disability’ and they asked me to write a book for the collection. I replied, true to form, with a polite version of ‘no, go away’, but this time I also said I would publicise the venture on my blog. Because, although I don’t want to write for them at present, you might.

Disability is not the only area they are working on. They are also commissioning work for a Black Studies Collection, an Education Studies Collection, a Latinx Studies Collection, and a Queer and LGBT+ Studies Collection. All of the commissioning editors are experienced and claim to work supportively. They want to commission short books (40,000–50,000 words) that are useful for both education settings and the wider public.

Regular readers will know I bang on about the woeful rates of academic royalties from time to time. One reason I am choosing to publicise Lived Places Publishing is that they are working hard to make improvements for authors. To begin with, they are being entirely transparent about their approach to ‘revenue sharing’. They take 50% to fund the publishing house; 20% goes to authors as royalties; 10% goes to collection editors; 5% is dedicated to funding open access, and 15% is ‘set aside to owner’s equity to be used at the discretion of the ownership to fund the growth of the publishing enterprise once breakeven has been achieved’.

I have a lot of time for this approach. Partly because I am in favour of transparency. In the conventional model, authors can negotiate, but most academic publishers work to keep authors’ royalty rates as low as possible and don’t offer much wriggle room. Also, some forbid authors from discussing their royalty rates with others, so we can never find out what might be possible. And partly because 20% across the board is, in my experience, a much higher royalty than most academic publishers pay.

Of course the whole thing could be a scam, but I don’t think so, for several reasons. First, the commissioning editors are experienced and that is verifiable online. Second, it seems very well thought through and professional. Third, Lived Places Publishing are in a partnership with Newgen, and here I do have some personal experience. Newgen is also a young venture, just over three years old, offering project management services to publishers. They managed the production of Qualitative and Digital Research in Times of Crisis for Policy Press, and they were very good to work with: friendly, helpful, professional.

You can subscribe to Lived Places Publishing to get free articles, written by commissioning editors and authors, in your inbox. They say ‘Hold us accountable and challenge us to remain true to our convictions as we build Lived Places Publishing. If we’re successful, we’ll challenge the rest of the industry to amend their practices.’ And that is something I would love to see.

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!

How To Get The Best From A Busy Person: Ten Top Tips

There are lots of good reasons for getting in touch with someone you know by reputation, or perhaps from a passing contact on social media or (in pre- and, I hope, post-pandemic days) at a conference or other event. Maybe you want that person to come and speak at your institution. You could be researching elites. You might want to ask for specialist advice. These kinds of reasons are entirely legitimate. However, a good reason alone isn’t enough; you also need to handle the interaction effectively. Here are ten top tips to help you get the best out of your encounter.

  1. Be aware that the person you are contacting will be very, very busy. They already work more than full time and they get many requests from people like you.
  2. Do your homework. Do not ask the person a question you could find the answer to by using a search engine or searching the person’s own website or blog. Check out all of the existing resources online, thoroughly, before you make contact.
  3. Find out how the person prefers to be communicated with, then communicate that way. Some people love email; others hate it. Some like private messages on social media; some don’t. You will have your own preferences but, to get the best out of a busy person, use the method they prefer.
  4. Keep communication brief. If this is difficult, write the long version for yourself, then cut it down to the bones before sending.
  5. Don’t expect a speedy reply. If you haven’t heard anything within a week or two, send a short polite enquiry to check they received your initial message. If this is by email, forward the original beneath your new enquiry, to save them hunting.
  6. Be clear about what you want, and make that clear to the person you are contacting.
  7. Be clear about what you can offer. For example, if you want to invite someone to speak at your institution, make sure you clarify the terms of the invitation: who they would be speaking to, in what context, whether a fee is available, whether expenses can be paid, and so on.
  8. Don’t say ‘I see you have written a book on X so I wanted to ask for your help with X’. Read the book first, then get in touch with the author if you have unanswered questions.
  9. Make sure your request is realistic, which usually means short and one-off. A busy person is not going to provide individual mentoring support, spearhead your social justice campaign, or write your thesis or dissertation for you.
  10. Understand that busy people have to say ‘no’ much more often than ‘yes’, because there are limits to everyone’s time and energy – and be prepared to accept the answer ‘no’.

This post was inspired by the increasing number of inappropriate and/or badly handled approaches I receive. However, it is not intended to be entirely off-putting. If you have a reasonable request which you can communicate effectively, I would be happy to hear from you.

[This post struck quite the chord and led to some follow-on posts: one on the art of the “cold-call” email from the Thesis Whisperer, one on asking to share from the Research Whisperer, and one on the care in requests from the Wellbeing Whisperer.]

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!

Getting Creative with your Thesis or Dissertation #4

I have written three previous posts on ‘getting creative with your thesis or dissertation’. Today I am featuring a doctoral dissertation from the US focusing on hip-hop which is presented in rap, a European geography doctoral thesis on how to live ethically in cities, and a Canadian education masters’ thesis presented as a comic.

A.D.Carson is a rap artist and a scholar of hip-hop who did his PhD at Clemson University in South Carolina, US. Clemson has an innovative cross-cultural, transdisciplinary PhD program in rhetorics, communication and information design. Carson joined the program to investigate whether certain voices are treated differently, such as whether an identifiably black voice might be regarded as authentic, or ignored, or accepted as scholarly. It didn’t make sense to Carson to write about this when he could present an actual voice. So he created his PhD dissertation as 34 rap songs and called it Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes and Revolutions. Carson is respectful of hip-hop scholars who listen to and write about hip-hop, rather than creating music. He also thinks there should be a place for scholars who want to rap their scholarship, to present their work through the medium of hip-hop. This is, if you will excuse the pun, music to my ears. Carson has put a short introduction to his doctoral work on YouTube and it is well worth viewing if you are interested – or you can listen to his entire thesis. He is now Assistant Professor of Hip-Hop at the University of Virginia.

Elona Hoover did her PhD at the University of Brighton in the UK. Brighton has a Centre for Research in Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics, which offers interdisciplinary research for environmentally and socially just societies. She investigated ways of living ethically in hard concrete urban environments. Hoover produced a written and audio thesis with a variety of creative elements. She makes use of several different fonts, such as a hand-writing style font for text taken directly from her field notes, and a typewriter font to distinguish notes for the reader. The written thesis has a companion soundtrack composed from her 143 field recordings. Some tracks are to be listened to with full attention, others are to accompany the reading of parts of the written thesis. She uses poetic writing, improvisation, and music-making as both practices and themes in her thesis, and also uses photographs to illustrate her work. Overall, Hoover aims to ‘take seriously the different kinds of knowledges that might be generated through diverse creative practices and sensory engagements’ (p.114).

I think it is interesting that Carson and Hoover both did their PhDs in transdisciplinary spaces. The boundaries and overlaps between disciplines often promote creativity. There is also, though, considerable scope for creativity within disciplines, as our third example shows. And at different levels, too – for the first time in this series of blog posts, I am including a masters’ thesis (as they are called in the US and Canada).

Meghan Parker studied art at masters’ level at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. As she is a high school art teacher, it made sense for her to focus on the teaching of art in her masters’ thesis. An accomplished visual artist herself, Parker chose to draw some of her assignments, and ended up producing a 236-page graphic novel called Art Teacher in Process: An Illustrated Exploration of Art, Education and What Matters. She told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that it is ‘about why visual literacy is important, why art education is important, why the arts are important’, and it also has a strong ethnographic element. Like Carson, she questioned why a thesis has to be written in words on paper. Evidently, it doesn’t!

All three of these scholars have produced research outputs which are enjoyable and accessible to people outside their academic fields. Meghan Parker has now turned her masters’ thesis into a book, Teaching Artfully, which was published this month and which I would recommend. There is much to learn from these examples, not only for people who might want to take similarly big strides, but also for others who may want to take lower-level, but just as creative, approaches in their work.

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!

Ten Top Tips For Editing A Collection

I am delighted to say that the print book I have co-edited with Su-ming Khoo from the National University of Ireland has gone into production. Qualitative and Digital Research in Times of Crisis: Methods, Reflexivity and Ethics is due to be published by Policy Press in October. Regular readers will remember that we also co-edited three rapid e-books for Policy Press on Researching in the Age of COVID19 which were published last October. So now, with these experiences fresh in my mind, I have written this blog post to offer advice to others who may wish to create an edited book.

Editing a book means soliciting chapters from others, arranging them into a collection, and writing or soliciting introductory and concluding chapters. It also means a whole bunch of project management. You need to write a proposal for a publisher, which will go through peer review and so may need more work depending on the reviewers’ comments. You need to write a call for chapters that you can circulate via your networks and social media to attract contributors. You need to review and assess proposals for chapters, and – if you’re lucky enough to receive more proposals than you need – decide which to include and which to reject, and why. Even if you only receive as many as you need, it is not sensible to publish poor quality work simply to fill space; it would be better to seek more proposals. If you don’t receive enough good quality proposals, you may have to revise or abandon your idea for the book.

Sending out a call for chapters is always a little bit nerve-racking because you simply have no idea what will come back. Su-ming and I, and our editor at Policy Press, originally planned one rapid e-book; we thought we had a good chance of getting 15 proposals of high enough quality. In fact we received over 100 submissions, many of a very high standard – and we didn’t want to waste those good submissions, which is why we now have three e-books and a print book.

So, here are my ten top tips for successful editing or co-editing a collection of chapters into a book.

  1. Figure out your timescales. You need to work out when you will issue your call for chapters; when you want submissions; when you will respond to those submissions; when you want draft chapters; when you will respond to those draft chapters; and so on. Factor in peer review, holiday periods, and time for contingencies.
  • In your call for chapters, be clear about the theme or themes you want the book to address; how you expect the submissions to be structured; and give a word limit – we asked for 500 words.
  • Be prepared to receive submissions that don’t address the theme, are not structured as you have asked, and ignore your word count. We received at least one ‘submission’ which was several thousand words long and seemed to be a rejected journal article. We didn’t accept it either.
  • Deliver bad news as kindly as you can. Give a little feedback on why you didn’t accept the submission, if you have the capacity to do so. We had to turn down around 50 submissions so we were not able to give individual feedback – but we gave some generic feedback, and a couple of people emailed back to ask for individual feedback so we did what we could to help.
  • Make sure you plan your own time carefully so you can meet your own obligations to the collection. Publishers work to tight production schedules and missing their deadlines is unhelpful.
  • Either commission, or write, as good an introduction as you can. This should set the scene for the collection, drawing lightly on relevant literature to orient readers for what is to come. It is a helpful convention to give a short overview of the content of each chapter, but do keep this as brief and readable as possible.
  • Either commission, or write, as good a conclusion as you can. The conclusion should draw together the threads from the various chapters, maybe offer some advice on learning or good practice, and point the way to the future, perhaps by identifying gaps that still need to be filled or scope for development of the work done to date.
  • Be prepared to offer extra support to authors who are inexperienced or disadvantaged – or both. Make time for this in your schedule and/or ask them to submit drafts early for feedback.
  • Read all the draft chapters carefully and give feedback alongside the peer reviewers. Peer reviewers’ input can be invaluable, but they are reviewing the whole book and the amount of attention they will pay to individual chapters is highly variable. Also, their name will not be on the book’s cover, and yours will, so do whatever you need to do to ensure that the quality of the book is good.
  1. Also check the final versions – don’t assume that the chapter authors will have implemented the suggestions appropriately, or that their final versions will be free of errors. Yes, the chapters will be copy-edited and proof-read by the publishers, but, again, you have a role here in quality control.

Co-editing means you can share the workload, which can be a huge help. Also, when you need to deliver bad news, being able to say we have decided to reject your submission, we are not happy with the standard of your work, and suchlike means there is much less scope for the recipient to view the rejection as a personal insult. I guess the downside is you also have to share the royalties, but those are highly unlikely ever to amount to much on an academic edited collection, so in most cases the benefits of co-editing will far outweigh the disadvantages.

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 than $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!

Dealing With Unsolicited Emails

I get so many emails. GDPR has helped a bit; the number of unsolicited emails from random businesses has dropped, and those I get usually have an ‘unsubscribe’ option. Some of the emails I get are emails I want, such as emails from clients, publishers, family, and friends. In an average working day, depending on what I’m dealing with at the time, I am likely to send 30-60 replies myself; on a busy day it can be over 100. I know some people receive and send many more emails than I do, but for me this is a lot, and the number has grown gradually over the years. Back in 2009, when I was also busy, I was sending 10 replies on an average day.

For years now I have received increasing numbers of messages from readers, and students, and others who want my help. They send me emails, and Twitter DMs, and Insta DMs, and messages on ResearchGate and LinkedIn, and probably messages on Facebook too but I never did sign up to Messenger so I don’t know about those ones. I like to help, when I can, and often I am able to answer a question or point to a useful resource. But the volume of messages has reached the point where I need to change my approach.

I tweeted about this last week and was surprised by the number of replies – and, in some cases, the content. One person suggested that this may be due to supervisors or lecturers or managers suggesting that novice researchers should network in this way. If you are a supervisor, lecturer, or manager who is doing this, please stop it immediately! It places a huge and inappropriate burden on people.

The most common suggestion on Twitter was ‘delete and move on’. That surprised me too, though I can understand why people do this; there are times I have been tempted. But I don’t feel comfortable with this option, so I’m going with another suggestion: the template reply. Here is what I plan to write:

I receive too many requests for help and advice to answer them all individually, so I have created this standard response.

A significant proportion of the questions that come to me could be answered by using a search engine. For a mainstream search engine, I recommend duckduckgo as an ethical option. For scholarly search engines, the Directory of Open Access Journals is useful, or of course Google Scholar.

Many of the other questions I am asked are about independent research or academic writing. I put information about these and related topics on my blog. My blog is searchable for specific terms, and also has more general tags you can click on such as ‘independent research’ or ‘writing’ to bring you all the posts on that topic.

The answers to a small number of questions can be found in one or other of my books. I realise these are not a free resource unless you can get them through a library, but they are all affordable by Euro-Western standards, and you can check the contents on the publishers’ websites.

So why am I posting this here, you may ask? Because now I have a link I can share in response to the Twitter DMs, and the Insta DMs, and the messages on LinkedIn and ResearchGate, and no doubt other messaging systems tech companies will devise in the future.

I am sorry to have to do this, and I have held out as long as I could. But I can’t cope with the current level of demand, and I know it will only continue to increase unless I take action.

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 $74 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $74 – 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!