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?

Open Access Research Methods Journals

oaThis post was inspired by a recent post on the Global Social Change Research Project site, which lists a lot of free resources for social research and evaluation. Having taken the Open Access Pledge, and given my specialism, I was particularly interested in OA journals on research and evaluation methods. So I have compiled all those I could find, through gsocialchange and elsewhere, that focus primarily on methods, are peer reviewed, and publish in English. (Some also publish in other languages, but I only speak and read English – a limitation – so, sadly, I am unable to include non-English journals.) Almost all are exclusively digital.

I was interested to find that many of these journals have quick publication timescales, sometimes only a few weeks from submission to publication. I was also very relieved to find that few ask for financial contributions from authors. When OA came in, I was broadly in favour – I do believe that research funded by public money should be publicly available – but I was worried that article processing charges (APCs) levied on authors would exclude many scholarly writers from publishing their work. I’m delighted to discover that this is not the case (at least, not in my field) and I’m grateful to all the universities and others that sponsor these journals. Also, where APCs are levied by these journals, they are only charged on acceptance for publication, not on submission, and waivers are sometimes available in exceptional circumstances.

As far as I can tell, only one of these journals, the African Evaluation Journal, is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics. Some other journals have their own ethical statements, or follow a specified code of ethics from an institution or association. But most make no mention of ethics, which in the current climate seems a little lax at best.

So here they are, in alphabetical order, with brief details.

African Evaluation Journal

Funded and published by the African Evaluation Association (AfrEA); no APCs.

Publishes high quality peer-reviewed articles of merit on any subject related to evaluation, and provides targeted information of professional interest to members of AfrEA and its national associations and evaluators across the globe. Aims:

  • To build a high quality, useful body of evaluation knowledge for development.
  • To develop a culture of peer-reviewed publication in African evaluation.
  • To stimulate Africa-oriented knowledge networks and collaborative efforts.
  • To strengthen the African voice in evaluation.

Art/Research International

Sponsored by the University of Alberta. No APCs.

A transdisciplinary journal dedicated to exploring and advancing art as research, and/or within the research process, across disciplines and internationally. It offers a space for art/research practitioners: to draw on working examples to discuss challenges, best practices, ethical quandaries, and new directions  for the practice of bringing art and research together; to explore the methodological ambitions and theoretical or philosophical underpinnings and issues of art/research practices; and to provide insights and critiques of art/research projects of other art/research practitioners.

Critical Approaches to Discourse Analysis across Disciplines

Published by CADAAD, which seems to be run voluntarily by academics from various universities. No APCs.

Publishes articles which investigate, from a ‘critical’ perspective, contemporary discourse and genres in social, political, public and professional communication.  Especially interested in articles which highlight, develop and apply new theoretical and methodological frameworks for critical discourse research or which assess established methods and assumptions.

Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods

Published by Academic Publishing Limited. APC of £250 (inc. VAT) on acceptance for publication – no submission fee.

Publishes articles and provides perspectives on topics relevant to research in the field of business and management. Aims to contribute to the development of theory and practice.

Forum: Qualitative Social Research

Supported by the Institute for Qualitative Research and the Center for Digital Systems, Freie Universität Berlin. No APCs.

Interested in empirical studies conducted using qualitative methods, and in contributions that deal with the theory, methodology and application of qualitative research. Innovative ways of thinking, writing, researching and presenting are especially welcome. They favour contributions with an inter-disciplinary and/or multinational perspective which was already manifest at the conceptualization stage, for example through co-authorship.

International Journal of Qualitative Methods

Published by Sage on behalf of the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology

APCs of $1,000-$1,750 on acceptance for publication – this funds the journal. Part payment and waivers possible in exceptional circumstances.

Publishes articles that report methodological advances, innovations, and insights in qualitative or mixed-methods studies. Also publishes funded full studies using qualitative or mixed-methods.

Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences

Funded by the University of Arizona Library – no APCs.

An online scholarly publication focusing on methodology and research design, measurement, and data analysis – providing a new venue for unique and interesting contributions in these study areas which frequently overlap.

Journal of Modern Applied Statistical Methods

Published in partnership by JMASM Inc and Wayne State University Library System. No APCs.

Designed to provide an outlet for the scholarly works of applied nonparametric or parametric statisticians, data analysts, researchers, classical or modern psychometricians, and quantitative or qualitative methodologists/evaluators.

Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation

Published by Western Michigan University. No APCs.

Publishes work that contributes to the development of evaluation theory, methods, and practice.

Journal of Research Practice

Published by AU Press, Athabasca University. Funded by sponsorship. No APCs.

Aims to develop understanding of research as a type of practice, and to assist both research practitioners and research theorists to share their experiences with and ideas about research, so as to extend and enhance that practice in multiple domains.

methods, data, analyses

Published by Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. No APCs.

Publishes research on all questions important to quantitative methods, with a special emphasis on survey methodology. In spite of this focus they welcome contributions on other methodological aspects.

Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation

Funded by sponsorship. No APCs. Despite being a professional researcher and skilled internet sleuth, I was unable to find out who publishes this journal.

Publishes scholarly syntheses of research and ideas about methodological issues and practices, designed to help members of the community keep up-to-date with effective methods, trends, and research developments from a variety of settings.

Qualitative Sociology Review

Published by Lodz University, Poland. No APCs.

Qualitative Sociology Review publishes empirical, theoretical and methodological articles applicable to all fields and specializations within sociology.

Social Research Practice

Funded and published by the UK and Ireland Social Research Association; no APCs.

They welcome articles from anyone working in social research or social policy, whether as a producer or a user of research. Aims: to encourage and promote high standards of social research for public benefit, and to encourage methodological development.

Survey Methods: Insights from the Field

Published jointly by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences and Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences. No APCs.

Aim: to promote professional exchange on practical survey research issues and discussion on new and promising paths in survey research. Focus is on practical aspects of the daily work of surveying, including questionnaire design, sampling, interviewer training, fieldwork administration, data preparation, documentation and dissemination.

Survey Practice

Published by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. No APCs.

 Aim: to emphasize useful and practical information designed to enhance survey quality by providing a forum to share advances in practical survey methods, current information on conditions affecting survey research, and interesting features about surveys and people who work in survey research.

Survey Research Methods

Published by the European Survey Research Association with the Communication, Information, Media Centre of the University of Konstanz.No APCs.

Topics of particular interest include survey design, sample design, question and questionnaire design, data collection, nonresponse, data capture, data processing, coding and editing, measurement errors, imputation, weighting and survey data analysis methods.

Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry

Published by DergiPark. No APCs.

Publishes high quality and original research conducted with qualitative, mixed or action research methodology in educational sciences. Manuscripts required in both English and Turkish.

The Qualitative Report

Published by Nova Southeastern University. No APCs.

Methods may be qualitative, comparative, mixed, collaborative, action-oriented, appreciative, and/or critical in nature. Articles may be qualitative research studies, commentaries about the conduct of qualitative research, prescriptive pieces on carrying out qualitative research, “back stage” essays in which authors give a perspective on how they created and crafted a particular project, presentations on technological innovations relevant to qualitative researchers and their inquiries, and any other issues which would be important for practitioners, teachers, and learners of qualitative research. Scientific, artistic, critical and clinical approaches are all welcome.

And that’s the lot! If anyone knows of another OA methods journal I’ve missed, please leave a comment, with a link to the journal, and I’ll update the post.

How ethical is it to write a book?

indigenous-research-meth-cover_Three bloggers and tweeters had an online conversation in December and this post is a response to that discussion, which  began when Naomi Barnes, aka @DrNomyn, posted her thoughts on qualitative research. She wrote of the politics and power of research and knowledge, and her realisation that there are ethical implications to every decision she makes as a researcher. Naomi describes that as ‘a huge and sobering responsibility’.

Naomi tweeted the link to her blog post, which was picked up by Ian Guest, aka @IanInSheffield. He responded, first on Twitter and then on his blog. Ian’s concern is with southern-theory-cover_the ethics of representation, and in particular what and who is missing from accounts of research and communication. This leads to his interest in where knowledge shared online may go, and what impact it may have, beyond that which is visible in tweets and blog posts.

Then Deborah Netolicky, aka @debsnet, joined in. She problematises the ethics of writing: how to represent the messiness of research (and life) within the inevitable neatness of writing, and how much – or how little – of the author’s self is, and/or should explicitly be, expressed in their academic writing.

research-as-ceremony-cover_Each of these points links to my current writing project: the book on research ethics which I have spent the last two years talking about and researching, and which, this year, I will actually write. Like Naomi, I’m aware that there are ethical implications to every decision I make as I work on this book. What I choose to read; what I choose to take from that reading; who I speak to; what I decide is significant from those conversations; how I select and place each word in the text; how I acknowledge my reading and conversations within that process; what I leave out, and why – Naomi is right, it is a ‘huge and sobering responsibility’.

decolonising-meth-cover_One of my proposal reviewers said, ” There is a considerable international literature on research ethics with which the author may not (yet) be familiar: Mertens and Ginsberg; Hammersley and Trianou; Tolich and Sieber; Posel and Ross; Iphofen; Israel; vd Hoonaard; Denzin, Lincoln and Smith; and even Stark; Schrag…” This was not a lack of familiarity – most of these are on my bookshelves or in my electronic folders – simply a lack of reference. But I am interested in the reviewer’s view of ‘international’ and – like Ian – in what, and who, is missing from that view.

Most of the work cited by this reviewer is written from Euro-Western locations. The chilisa-mertens-cram-cover_exceptions are Posel and Ross (South Africa) and Sieber and Tolich (New Zealand). Yet I would argue that these authors, too, turn a predominantly Euro-Western gaze on the topic of research ethics. For example, neither text addresses the impact of colonization on research worldwide, nor mentions the work to decolonize research methods or the Indigenous research being done in their country of origin. I am currently reading a different body of work which highlights this as a huge lacuna at best, and imperial epistemological violence at worst. Books on Indigenous research and decolonizing methods are opening my eyes to the value, power, and ethics of non-Euro-Western research practices.

decolonising-solidarity-coverSo of course I will include this body of work in my forthcoming book. To do that was an easy ethical decision: as soon as I knew the work existed, it was obvious that I should read and incorporate it into my own work. The hard part is how to do that. I guess I’ll figure it out as I write, but one thing’s for sure: it won’t be a tokenistic chapter or mentions in passing with a few footnotes.

Like Deb, I also need to figure out where and how to put myself into this writing. I am white, British, a descendant of some of the most predatory imperialists the world has yet seen. I benefit daily, hugely, from the legacy of colonization. I live in a country made rich on the profits of oppression, invasion, exploitation and slavery. I only speak English, because I only need to speak English, because my ancestors invaded so much of the land on this planet that now English is the most commonly spoken language worldwide. One thing I’m learning, in reading about Indigenous research, is that in many cultures worldwide, people value their ancestors as highly as their living relatives. For me, the dead are dead; if I was ever to have a relationship with my own ancestors, I would probably need to start by shouting at them for several years.

Sometimes I wonder whether I have any right to even write about this body of work. But then I think that the risk of perpetrating epistemic imperialism by leaving it out is worse than the risk of perpetrating epistemic violence through inept inclusion. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s even ethical to write books at all. I have discovered, since I began to write professionally, that being an author is a way of claiming authority. Is that ethical? I guess it depends on how you do it. My aim is not only to write about ethics but also to do so ethically. As Deb says, there will be ‘moments of awkwardness, uncertainty, openness, weakness, resistance, emotion’, and I want to reveal as many of these as I can. That, too, seems like an ethical approach. Yet I wonder how ethically I can write, given that I write with enormous privilege: access to structures such as universities and publishers, and social capital that is denied to most Indigenous researchers. I’m not arrogant enough to think I can write a book which will change that situation. But at least, perhaps, I can move the goalposts by acknowledging and including work on Indigenous research and decolonizing methods alongside Euro-Western methods and ethics. Also, I want to acknowledge the Euro-Western location of Euro-Western research methods and ethics, rather than maintaining the common assumption that these are the only methods and ethics on the planet.

fork-in-the-roadIt’s a tough and daunting task. I’m not even sure whether I’m going in the right direction – or whether there is a “right direction” at all. But I aim to consider all the ethical implications of each decision I have to make and, at each fork in the road, to choose the most ethical path. I think that’s the best I can do.

New Year’s Resolution: Open Access Only

open-doorHappy New Year, all my lovely readers! I hope you’ve had a wonderful break and that any resolutions you may have made are the life-enhancing rather than the punitive kind.

My resolution for 2017 is that from now on, I will only write academic articles in my own time for open-access journals. If someone wants to pay me to write an academic article, then I’ll be open to submitting that article to a journal of their choice. (It has happened once in my life, so far.) But otherwise I’m going OA.

I can’t afford to do that with books, as I’m finding that academic self-publishing doesn’t pay, while academic traditional publishing does, a bit. (My trad pub royalties for the year 2015-16 finally broke four figures, which felt GREAT.  The actual figure was £1,627.20 which is a month’s money for me. Though it did take five-and-a-half years of dedicated writing and promo to reach this point… at that rate I should be able to give up the day job in 2071. When I’ll be 106 years old. Oh well!)

Articles for academic journals are much easier and quicker to write than books. They’re also good for testing and refining small ideas. I enjoy writing them, so I’m not going to stop. But I am planning to reduce the number I write to two a year, and publish those in OA journals or not at all.

This is primarily an ethical decision. Early in the days of OA publishing, although I liked the prospect from a reader’s viewpoint, I worried that many writers would be excluded because of the costs. I think that is still the case in some quarters, but I have found that reputable OA journals are often willing to waive their fees for independent researchers, and some don’t charge fees at all. Also, I would like my work to be more widely accessible, including to people who are temporarily or permanently outside the academy, or in parts of the world where it’s particularly difficult for people to access paywalled academic journals.

There are many more open access journals around now than there were five years ago. When I was working on the first edition of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners, in 2012, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed 22 journals covering social work. Now it lists 125. There are similar levels of increase in other subject areas, and there are now 9,000 journals on the site as a whole. Yet the DOAJ only lists journals that are peer-reviewed or otherwise editorially controlled; they don’t list predatory journals. They promote best practice in OA publishing and have high ethical standards.

I feel ashamed to say that I have never published an article in an OA journal. To begin with I was advised on where to publish by academic mentors, then I wanted to publish in the journals I liked to read. Now I want to read more OA journals as well as publishing in them. I’m not going to rule out citing work from paywalled journals – yet – but I want to focus on finding and using more OA journals, rather than going straight to the usual suspects all the time.

I do have a couple of articles in the pipeline with paywalled journals, so it’ll be a while before I get to assess the impact of my New Year’s resolution for 2017. Nevertheless, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting adventure!

Second Edition Finished!

Pages from Research and evaluation for busy students and practitioners FC.jpgI mentioned before that I’ve been working on the second edition of my first full-length research methods book. And I’ve just finished! It’s been quite a chunk of work. I’m sure some people turn out second editions that just have a few new paragraphs, some updated references and a different cover. Not this one. This second edition has a whole new chapter, several new sections, lots of updated references, and all the work that goes with shuffling the old bits to make the text cohere and the narrative flow smoothly around the new bits. We’ve even updated the cover – isn’t it lovely?

I’ve also corrected a few small errors (ahem) and tried very hard not to make any new ones (fingers crossed). Luckily I’ve had help, from friends and colleagues, my lovely editor and others at Policy Press, and the useful constructive criticism I collected from some of the kind people who took the time to write reviews of the first edition. Many books have just one name on the cover but I don’t think any book worth reading or using can really be produced by one person entirely alone. It’s too complex a task. In these days of indie publishing, authors can do more themselves, and have more control of the process, if they choose. I support that – I even do it, at times – but I would still use beta readers and a professional editor, as a minimum. Plus there are all the people I bounce ideas off as I go along.

You might think the work is done at the point when I email the typescript off to the publisher. If only! These days, if you write a textbook, you need also to write a companion website. So these last few weeks I’ve been devising discussion topics and essay questions, quizzes and scenarios, and searching out resources to add to the companion website for the second edition.

There are still tasks ahead: respond to queries from my editor, respond to queries from the copy editor, read the proofs, probably other things I’ve forgotten. Then there will be marketing, in the New Year, ahead of publication in April. I’ve learned a lot about marketing in the last few years but I still know very little, and I’ll be interested to learn how to market a second edition.

But before all that, I’m off on my travels! A stop-over in Tokyo this weekend, Sydney next week, then Melbourne the week after for work. I’m aiming to blog at least once when I’m away, and will be interested to see who’s around to chat to on Twitter when I’m usually asleep. My aim was to finish the substantive work on the second edition before I left the UK, and I’m very glad I have.

Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know

fyphd_teal2_flags2_multi_lc_rgbAs you know from my last post, the fifth e-book in my PhD Knowledge series is out. And so is the sixth! Phew!! I’m done!!!

I know, right? You wait ages for another e-book launch, then two come along at once! The sixth e-book is Finishing Your PhD: What You Need To Know. The final phase of doctoral study can be one of the most challenging phases, even though you’re almost there. This e-book has been vetted by expert beta readers, themselves in the final stages of the doctoral process.

While doctoral study doesn’t start (or finish) in line with the academic year, I find it satisfying that I managed to write and publish all the e-books in my PhD Knowledge series in time for the new semester. I’m also really happy that the first in the series, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is – and always will be – free to download. (Pretty happy about the reviews, too.) One of the things that book is designed to do is to help people figure out whether or not doctoral study is the right thing for them to do. I loved my PhD years, but it’s a massive commitment, and it’s not right for everyone. I know people who have worked towards a doctorate for years before they realised it wasn’t what they should have been doing. If I can help just one person to avoid that kind of frustrating and painful experience, the book will have been worth writing.

That series was last year’s new venture, now I can turn my attention to this year’s new venture: supporting late-stage and post-doctoral students with their writing. More information about that in my next post!

Research Ethics For Your PhD

REFYPhD_purple_compasses_LC_RGB.jpgWhile I’ve been away on holiday (yes, lovely, thank you!) a lot has been happening on the writing front. To begin with, the fifth e-book in my PhD Knowledge series is out. For my new followers (hello, new followers!) this is a series of six short e-books, each around 10,000 words, for potential and actual doctoral students in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. Although the titles mention PhDs, the books are also relevant for those doing professional doctorates such as EdDs, DBAs and so on. These e-books are designed to be readable by anyone with internet access – you don’t need a separate e-reader, you can download free software such as the Kindle App for your laptop, tablet, or phone. The first e-book in the series, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is free to download, and the others are each around the same price as a take-away coffee. They are: Gathering Data For Your PhD, Analysing Data For Your PhD, and Writing Your PhD. I have produced them separately to keep them affordable, and so that doctoral students can have the information and advice they need, when they need it, rather than having to buy a whole big expensive book all at once.

The fifth in the series is Research Ethics For Your PhD: An Introduction. Whether or not you have to go through a formal process of ethical review, your examiners are likely to want to see evidence that you have at least considered ethical issues during your doctoral research. Research ethics is a large and complex topic. This e-book offers a straightforward introduction that will help you decide how far you want and need to engage with ethics during your doctoral study.

Some people think ethics is a dry, boring subject. I find it endlessly fascinating because, for me, it’s about people and the choices they make. I’m working on a full-length book about ethics and I’m determined that it won’t be dull and turgid; I want it to be lively and readable, even – if I can manage it – compelling. I lead on ethics for the UK and Ireland Social Research Association and, due to my interest in ethics, Dr Katy Vigurs asked me to collaborate on a journal article. Which has just been published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology! It’s called Participants’ productive disruption of a community photo-elicitation project: improvised methodologies in practice; there are some free downloads available and you might get one if you’re quick.

I have other writing news, as well, but that will have to wait for the next post. I hope you, too, have had a pleasant and productive summer, and I wish you all the best for the new academic year.

Getting Creative With Your Thesis Or Dissertation

draft thesis picMost doctoral theses and dissertations are produced as a block of printed paper, with the final version bound into a book. Those studying arts subjects may present a shorter written work that forms the theoretical framework for one or more artworks presented alongside the written work as part of the thesis or dissertation. These artworks could be, for example, a collection of poems, a piece of prose fiction, a short play or screenplay, a performance piece such as a dramatic monologue or interpretive dance, an art exhibition or installation, a musical arrangement or composition, or experimental work crossing artistic boundaries.

In recent years some doctoral students in non-arts disciplines have begun to take a creative approach to their theses or dissertations. For example, Anne Harris from Australia, an education researcher, was awarded her doctorate in 2010. She presented seven video films as part of her thesis on the educational experiences of Sudanese refugee women in Australia. Each film accompanies and complements one chapter of her written thesis.

Nick Sousanis, another education researcher, studied the importance of visual thinking in teaching and learning at Columbia University in New York. He was awarded his doctorate in 2014, and chose to present his doctoral dissertation as a 132-page graphic novel called Unflattening, which was published in 2015 by Harvard University Press. Benjamin Dix, a British visual ethnographer, also used the graphic novel format for presenting his thesis on complex human rights testimonies. He was awarded his PhD in 2016 and has received Arts Council funding to convert his thesis into a graphic novel.

From Canada, Patrick Stewart, a First Nation architect, wrote a doctoral dissertation called Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge with almost no capital letters or punctuation, as a form of resistance to the unthinking acceptance of English language conventions. He received his doctorate in 2015.

Even some hard scientists are taking a creative approach to writing their dissertations or theses. For example, Piper Harron, a doctoral mathematician at Princeton University in the US, was awarded her PhD in 2016. She named her dissertation The Liberated Mathematician, and included in each chapter a section for ‘the layperson’, another for ‘the initiated’, and a third for ‘the mathematician’ – and a whole lot of jokes.

(I didn’t know all this till I asked on social media. From Facebook, thanks to Research Companion members Rebecca Ashley for information about the work of Benjamin Dix, and Melissa Terras for pointing me to Piper Harron’s dissertation. From Twitter, thanks to @librarykris for reminding me about Nick Soudanis, @ndarney for highlighting Patrick Stewart’s work, and @meganjmcpherson for directing me to the work of Anne Harris. Which just goes to show that social media is awesome.)

If you’re going to take some kind of creative approach to the presentation of your thesis or dissertation, it’s best to plan ahead if possible. However, some doctoral students may not realise until late in the process that they both want to, and can, do something a little different from the norm. If this applies to you, depending on what the difference is that you have in mind, it may still be possible. Producing a whole graphic novel at a late stage might be too big an ask – though if you are a talented artist and writer, maybe not. However, options such as weaving data excerpts in with your writing, or using a particular kind of format or structure for your dissertation or thesis, could be implemented in the last months of doctoral study.

Also, if you want to be just a little bit creative, it may be possible to take an experimental approach to a single chapter or section of your thesis or dissertation. I did this with my thesis: I wrote a chapter, on reflexivity, as a fictional story. That was an interesting challenge for me, and my examiners appreciated the change of pace. Alternatively, you could use a metaphor to draw your argument together. For example, Australian education researcher Deborah Netolicky, who was awarded her PhD in 2016, used themes and characters Alice in Wonderland as an extended metaphor to help structure her thesis. Or, again, you could do this in a smaller way, in a single chapter or section.

I would have liked to use a fictional style for my whole thesis, but my supervisors deemed it too risky. This was over 10 years ago, before I could ask social media – and even if I had been able to ask, I doubt many examples would have been available. Maybe not any. So I have drawn together the examples in this blog post in case any doctoral student feels creative but needs some evidence of precedent to comfort a nervous supervisor. If you know of other relevant examples, please share details in the comments.