Creative Debate

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

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

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

Yes, honestly. I was DELIGHTED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Sole author, co-author, or edited collection?

When you have an idea for a book, before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard you have some decisions to make. One of those is: should the book be sole-authored, co-authored, or an edited collection? Having now been involved in producing several of both kinds, I have come up with some pointers which I hope may help less experienced writers.

Each of these formats has pros and cons. Writing alone requires no negotiation with co-authors, co-editors, or contributors, which saves time and effort. However, you need to be sure that you know enough about your topic to fill 80,000 words, and that you can find out what you need to know to fill any gaps. Also, you need to be sure that you can convey what you know to readers in an engaging way. If the peer review process works as it should, the reviewers will help you with this, but that is not something you can entirely rely on, because despite publishers’ best efforts it can be difficult to find reviewers for books, or to persuade them to write sufficiently detailed reviews. As sole author, all of the responsibility rests on you, so it is essential to be really sure that you’re up to the job.

Co-authoring can be a delight, if you have a co-author who is on your wavelength, and whose working style is similar or complementary to yours. I had this experience with Richard Phillips when we co-wrote Creative Writing for Social Research; we had a lot of fun, as well as some serious debates, and created a book we are both proud to have written. It is sensible to check out whether this will be the case before you take on any co-writing work. Co-authoring that goes wrong is time-consuming and stressful, and this can almost always be pre-empted. Being invited to co-author with someone else can be very flattering, but even so, find out about your co-author’s views and working style before you say ‘yes’. And if you develop misgivings, act on them, particularly at pre-contract stage when you can still pull out. Once you have signed a contract, withdrawing becomes more difficult.

When co-authoring with one other person goes well, it can be a delightful, intimate, enriching experience. There is also an argument for co-authoring in teams. I co-authored Creative Research Methods in Education with three colleagues, Narelle Lemon, Dawn Mannay, and Megan McPherson. Each of us brought different knowledges and experiences to the task, and I think the book is a much better book than it would have been if any two of us had co-authored alone. Also, more authors means less work, overall, for each person. We each led on 2-3 chapters, which meant drafting the chapter and then implementing feedback from our co-authors as we revised. This was a serious chunk of work for each of us, but significantly less work than sole-authoring a book or even co-writing with one other author. But, again, before you take on team writing, you need to have a conversation about working styles and expectations, and ensure you have a sufficiently similar approach. Also, with a team-written book, one member of the team needs to take responsibility for the final polishing stage, to ensure the ‘voice’ of the book is as consistent as possible.

Editing or co-editing a collection is useful when you are dealing with a topic where you want to hear from different voices, and/or different locations, or where nobody knows enough to write a whole book. I have just finished co-editing Qualitative and Digital Research in Times of Crisis: Methods, Reflexivity and Ethics with Su-ming Khoo. Neither of us knew enough about this to write a book, and we wanted to hear from researchers working in different fields and disciplines around the world. So creating an edited collection was the obvious way to go. I wrote a how-to post on editing collections last week so I won’t repeat that here. In brief: it is overall less work than co-writing, but there is still an amount of work to be done, including project management, writing or commissioning a useful introduction and conclusion, and quality control. Even though the bulk of the book will be written by other people, and the publishers will do some copy editing and proof-reading, it is your name which will be on the cover so the buck stops with you.

Disciplinary influences may come into play, as in some disciplines sole authorship is more common, while other fields are more inclined towards co-writing or edited collections. However, if you have a choice, think about what is best for you and for the book. If you are a complete control freak, you may only want to sole-author. If you are a devotee of team-working, you may only want to co-author or co-edit. But you also need to think about what is best for the book. If you have an idea for a book that really needs to be an edited collection, but you can’t stand the thought of creating one of those, you could always pass on the idea to someone else who might want to take it on.

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!

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!

Creative Research Methods in Education

This week marks the publication of Creative Research Methods in Education: Principles and Practices, which I have co-authored with Narelle Lemon, Dawn Mannay and Megan McPherson. The book was Narelle’s idea, and she floated it when we met in person in Derby, England, in May 2017. To begin with Narelle and I were working with another co-author, Katy Vigurs, who had to drop out after a few months due to unforeseen personal and professional pressures, but remained supportive of the book and its authors. Katy also played a significant part in shaping the book and I’m glad to be able to give her credit for that here. After Katy told us she needed to step back, Narelle and I discussed whether to go ahead as a duo or recruit other co-writers. We both felt the book was likely to be better with another author or two, and decided to approach one colleague each: I asked Dawn from Wales in the UK, and Narelle asked Megan from Australia. To our delight, they both agreed to get involved, and work began in earnest in October 2018.

As Narelle is also from Australia and I am from England in the UK, our team had a delightful symmetry. Megan is a practising artist, and Dawn is the author of Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Narelle has co-authored several other books and I have also written and co-written several books. And we are all professional researchers too, so between us we have a lot of useful experience of research, writing, and related topics.

Creative research methods in education aren’t all that different from creative research methods in other disciplines, but we knew education-specific advice and case studies would be helpful for education researchers, whether they were new to research or more experienced, to help them understand how the methods could work in practice. And we also knew case studies would not be hard to find, because education researchers often take a similarly creative approach to research as they do to education. I had showcased the work of several education researchers in the first edition of my book on creative research methods, and I knew more examples would have appeared since I worked on that back in 2014.

Narelle has blogged elsewhere about why and how education researchers – and other researchers too – might use creative research methods. I’ve written about that on this blog, too; for more information click on the ‘research methods’ tag in the sidebar.

Our book is not the first book on creative methods for a particular discipline, though I think it is the first to be authored rather than edited. Creative Methods for Human Geographers is an edited collection from SAGE which came out in January 2021, and Creative Research in Music, an edited collection from Routledge, came out around the same time. I don’t have a copy of the Routledge book yet, but I do have the SAGE book. It covers a lot of the same principles and several of the same, or similar, methods to our book, albeit from a slightly different disciplinary viewpoint. It is interesting that the other two are both edited collections while ours is a co-authored book. I can see the point of an edited collection, because you can recruit contributors to write directly about the methods they use, but on the other hand, with a co-authored volume you get a more coherent narrative. I’m not sure one is ‘better’ than the other; I think either is justifiable.

I wonder which discipline will be next – and which will be after that… watch this space!

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 $85 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $85 – 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!

Coming Out As Autistic

Regular readers of this blog may remember that I received an informal diagnosis of autism in July 2019. Initially, I didn’t plan to seek a formal diagnosis, but then I learned about the “lost generation” of autistic people, mostly women, who were not diagnosed in childhood because the way their autism manifested didn’t fit the diagnostic criteria which had been developed from observing some autistic boys. As a lifelong feminist, I decided I needed to find out for sure so that, if I did receive a formal diagnosis, that would, if only in a very small way, help to redress that imbalance.

So I went to my GP in August 2019, armed with a copy of Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women, an excellent graphic novel by Sarah Bargiela and Sophie Standing. I had also taken the AQ10 test and scored 9 out of 10. My GP was kind, understanding and knowledgeable; he told me he had been through the process with other people. In September 2019 he sent me a 50-question test which I completed and sent back, though parts of it seemed rather out of date (Q: “Do you remember all the phone numbers you use?” A: “I used to but I haven’t had to dial a number in years, have you not heard of mobile phones?”)

Then I heard nothing for a year. I suspect the pandemic didn’t help. By summer 2020 I was getting antsy, and an autistic friend of mine referred me to an autistic friend of hers for advice. We chatted on WhatsApp and my adviser said she was sure I was autistic. She suggested I read two books: Divergent Mind by Jenara Nerenberg and Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism edited by Michelle Garnett and Barb Cook, to ‘find the fruits in my personal autism fruit salad’. This is an ongoing process, but so far I have identified:

  • A degree of alexithymia (impaired awareness of emotions)
  • Sensory processing problems (all sorts of ‘normal’ things I can’t stand: nightclub environments, labels in my clothes, jewellery hanging off me and clanking, the sound of a tap dripping, the feeling of most synthetic fabrics – I could go on)
  • Information processing problems (I have great difficulty in staying engaged with talk radio, audiobooks, podcasts etc; even if it’s something I want to listen to, I can’t concentrate and my thoughts drift off elsewhere, and I find TV boring)
  • Co-ordination problems (my balance is not good and I’m very clumsy; I need to investigate the proprioceptive and vestibular senses, and interoception, to see if I can figure out why).

Also I have a couple of the auto-immune health conditions which are common in autistic people – in my case, asthma and fibromyalgia. And there’s plenty else besides: literal thinking; ability to focus intensely on a task of interest; inability to remember left and right, or which way to turn a screw to tighten or loosen it; plain speaking; strong dislike for bright lights and loud music; repetitive thoughts (they can be really annoying); silent counting (that’s very soothing); very acute sense of smell (not always a blessing); and lots more.

My adviser also suggested I join a couple of Facebook groups for autistic women. She explained that self-diagnosis is accepted in the autistic community – I later discovered this is not least because some people in some countries can’t get an actual diagnosis, e.g. because it’s not covered by health insurance (oh I do love the NHS). So I joined the groups and found them hugely helpful, though ironically I haven’t been on FB in recent months, because I can’t stand the new design, because, yes, I’m autistic!

The assessment was done by the Adult ADHD and Autism Service of my local NHS Healthcare Trust. The process began in early December with a phone appointment which, to my surprise, was a battery of personal questions. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) Tell me about your family, your early childhood, your schooling, your friendships… The woman asking the questions was very kind, but it was, as one friend said, like therapy without any actual therapy. Then the Service emailed me a form for ‘someone close to me’ to fill in, which asked about my ability to engage socially (not bad in some circumstances), whether I take things literally (hell yeah, gets me into all sorts of trouble), my response to changes of plan (noooooo!!), and so on. The form was completed over the winter holiday and sent back at the end of December.

Then on 22nd February I had a video appointment with a mental health nurse. He told me the assessment was multi-disciplinary and that, although in this appointment I would only see him, he had consulted with his colleagues. Then he asked me another whole bunch of questions, some of which I had already been asked by the woman on the phone, and finally told me I am autistic. “There is no doubt,” he said. He also explained that they don’t give classifications, just a diagnosis, but I don’t care what kind of autistic I am, it’s enough to have a word to explain a whole lot of things I have spent my life being unable to understand.

Over the last couple of weeks I have come out in person to my family, friends, and colleagues. A few people knew I was going through the assessment; most didn’t. I know I have been extremely lucky that almost everyone reacted positively and supportively. Several friends said things like ‘I don’t know anything about autism but I know you and I love you and please tell me all about it when we speak’, which was fine by me. Many were genuinely interested, which was nice. And some colleagues floored me with the level of their support and care.

Now I am coming out in public. I am happy and proud to be autistic.

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!

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!

Why We Need To Cite Marginalised Writers

I have been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It is a carefully researched, intelligently structured and well-written book, and I am a lifelong feminist, yet I find it difficult to read. Its subtitle is Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men and it sheds light on areas of discrimination I hadn’t even considered, like the design of outdoor spaces. And with the areas of discrimination I had considered, after reading this book I have to acknowledge that I hadn’t considered them enough or worked hard enough to tackle them. This is thoroughly uncomfortable, and I value the discomfort for helping me to think and act.

Having said that, it is not always easy to know where and how to act – or to act effectively even if you do know. I have witnessed prejudice and thought ‘I should challenge that’ but not figured out how to do so effectively until after the event. Sometimes I have challenged prejudice and that challenge has been ineffective. Understanding all the different forms of discrimination, and how they manifest, is probably impossible, particularly as knowledge in these areas is developing all the time. And the structural fault-lines of inequality that run through our societies are too big for any individual to change; those need collective action. But there are actions we can make as individuals, safely and effectively, which will make a difference.

In Euro-Western academia, the upper echelons are dominated by white, middle-class or upper-class men (that’s on p 95 of Invisible Women, not that I think anyone disputes this any more). There is tons of research to demonstrate that people of other genders are disadvantaged in academic careers, particularly if they choose and are able to have children. Even if they are performing well, academics who are not white men are less likely to get jobs, have their work cited, gain promotion or tenure (pp 95-6). And we know it’s not just academics from non-male genders and/or working class backgrounds who struggle, but also academics of colour, disabled academics, queer academics, Indigenous academics, unemployed academics, trans academics, and so on. We also know about intersectionality, so we understand that an academic may be working-class and disabled and trans, and that their struggle will be even harder.

I am not in a position to give work to an academic who needs it, or to bestow promotion, or tenure, or employment rights. But one thing I can do is read and cite work by marginalised scholars. And so can you. This is particularly important if you are a white middle- or upper-class male, because your work carries more weight whether you believe it, or like it, or not. But it is very much worth doing whatever your own attributes.

If you haven’t thought about this before, analyse your most recent bibliography. How many of the people you cite are men? How many are middle- or upper-class white men? How many are women, people of colour, disabled, queer, trans? This may take some time as it will not be obvious from people’s names alone. In some cases you are likely to know the answers, in others you may have to do some digging online. You’re not likely to find all of the relevant information, but you should be able to find much of what you need.

In most fields it is reasonably easy to find work to cite by women and by academics of colour. It can be more difficult to find work by others such as Indigenous academics, particularly in some fields, and trans academics. Every citation counts. Of course their work does need to be relevant to yours; I’m not suggesting you perform scholarly contortions to ram in a citation. Having said that, though, reading beyond your own field or discipline can be surprisingly useful. And the work of marginalised scholars may be invaluable for the insights only they can generate and the connections only they can make.

A lot of marginalised scholars, understandably, work on their own area. So to find disabled academics you could check out disability studies, and trans studies for trans academics, and so on. But then, crucially, investigate the scholars you find there to see what other work they are doing. And when you find marginalised scholars doing work that is relevant to your own, use your authorial power to amplify their voices.

There are many more marginalised scholars around than you would think from reading the standard literature, and the numbers are growing. In a 2019 article Emmett Harsin Drager said they were a member of a Facebook group with over 500 other trans-identified doctoral students, some of whom will now be post-docs – and no doubt that Facebook group is larger now.

Citations are not the only way forward. If you have the power, it is also useful to invite marginalised scholars on to panels, in to study groups, or in research teams (as paid staff, not volunteers). There are some useful articles here on how to include Indigenous researchers and Indigenous knowledge in academia/research. But citations are a way in which every single one of us can 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!

The Ethics of Writing

An earlier version of this article was originally published in ‘Research Matters’, the quarterly newsletter for members of the UK and Ireland Social Research Association (SRA). The SRA has its own blog with topical peer-reviewed articles by and for researchers. They are also interested in contributions from readers so, if you fancy writing a guest post, you could give them a try.

Most professional writers believe that the way we think and feel influences the words we choose to write, and understand that the words we choose to use can influence the thoughts and feelings of others. We need to become, and remain, aware of this, or we risk misusing our authorly power.

A generation or so ago, English terminology in common use reflected the dominance of men in Western society. A woman could be fired from her job in the US for being pregnant as late as 1978, and UK pubs could refuse to serve women as late as 1982. But at the same time, women had begun to take roles traditionally assigned to men, which led to some linguistic oddities. I remember feeling rather uncomfortable with being designated the ‘chairman’ of a committee, in the late 1990s, when ‘chairperson’ or simply ‘chair’ would have served.

There were fierce arguments between those who did not accept that language influences thought (still a contentious hypothesis), and those who believed that traditional language use supported the discriminatory status quo and therefore should be challenged. Some people went further than I thought was sensible, such as by replacing ‘history’ with ‘herstory’ (I can see the point of that kind of change in some circumstances, but the etymology of ‘history’ suggests it’s much more about the ‘story’ than the ‘his’) or ‘woman’ with ‘womyn’ (I didn’t get that one at all). This kind of terminological tinkering led to the phrase ‘political correctness’ being used to discredit all attempts to replace sexist terms with existing, sensible, neutral terms. I still wince when I see reports of women ‘manning a stall’ – what’s wrong with ‘staffing’? But it’s now quite usual to speak of a ‘police officer’ rather than ‘policeman’ or ‘policewoman’, and a ‘flight attendant’ rather than an ‘air hostess’ or ‘steward’. These changes in terminology have moved in parallel with increasing opportunities and equality for women in the Western world.

However, there is some newer terminology that I think is unhelpful for some sections of society. For example, in the Guardian a couple of years ago the non-fiction writer Steven Poole gave a thoughtful analysis of the unintentional difficulties caused by the phrase ‘first world problems’. He showed how the reductive use of ‘first world’, with its implicit opposition to the ‘third world’ (itself an unfashionable term these days), enables some people to condescend, patronise, humblebrag, sidestep compassion, and generally dehumanise pretty much everyone else. Another one is the new-ish way of designating something as somehow poor by saying ‘it gets old really fast’. I am getting old, rather faster than I would like, and I am becoming increasingly aware of the discrimination and difficulties experienced by older members of our society. I would prefer colloquial usage of the word ‘old’ to have positive connotations. And several chaps of my acquaintance have objected to ‘mansplaining’, not being proponents of the phenomenon that clumsy construction purports to name.

Terms like these swiftly become stock phrases, akin to clichés. And clichés are evidence of lazy thinking. All this has implications for us as writers. Writing is a creative process, and that includes writing for research. Stories must be told, words and structures chosen, and these processes involve a lot of decision-making. Researchers of all kinds earn our livings with our brains. I would argue that we have an ethical responsibility to avoid the lazy clichés and express our new thinking in fresh language. Also, we should try to remain aware of the potential effects of our creative choices on our readers. My examples have focused on gender, socio-economic status, and age; other terminology can be demeaning to different groups such as people of colour or people with mental health problems. It is our responsibility to ensure, as far as possible, that we don’t use language in a way that supports any discriminatory actions or practices.

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!

Open Access Research Methods Resources

Last week Anna Fazackerley wrote an article in The Guardian about the current price-gouging practices of some academic publishers who have hiked the price of e-books used by university students, in some cases by around 500%. I was aware of this from discussions on Twitter, though I am glad to say none of my own books are affected; they are all reasonably priced.

I realise, though, that my idea of a reasonable price for a book will be completely unaffordable for many people. So I thought I would gather some of the excellent open access resources from my field of research methods.

The National Centre for Research Methods, here in the UK, has a large and growing body of searchable open access resources on their newly revamped website. This covers quantitative and qualitative methods, conventional and creative methods – not quite every method under the sun, but close; an excellent collection that is well worth exploring.

The Global Social Change Research Project curates a lot of open access resources, more on quantitative methods with some qualitative methods. It is searchable and the links down the left-hand side of the page are also useful for navigation.

The British Library’s Social Welfare Portal is very useful for anyone interested in UK social policy: its development, implementation, and evaluation. You can search for ‘downloadable content only’, which should be OA, or ‘all social welfare content’, which is likely to include some paywalled items.

Then there are a whole bunch of open access research methods journals, covering quantitative, qualitative, and creative methods.

Quantitative journals include the Journal of Modern Applied Statistical Methods, the Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences, Survey Research Methods, Survey Methods: Insights From The Field and Survey Practice. The first four are peer reviewed while Survey Practice is editor reviewed.

Social Research Practice is the peer-reviewed journal of the Social Research Association, and it includes all kinds of methods.

Then there are three good qualitative journals, which also include reports of creative research methods. They are Forum: Qualitative Social Research (FQS), The Qualitative Report, and Qualitative Sociology Review. The first two are multi-disciplinary, and all are peer reviewed.

Art/Research International is a multi-disciplinary peer reviewed journal focusing on arts-based research.

The publishers I work with are Routledge, SAGE, and Policy Press. They represent a cross-section of academic publishing. Routledge is part of Taylor & Francis which is part of Informa, a global multinational. SAGE is an independent publishing house. Policy Press is an imprint of Bristol University Press (BUP). Routledge’s profits mostly go to Informa’s shareholders, and BUP is not for profit. Nevertheless, BUP creates open access resources such as a blog, podcasts and webinars – but these understandably focus on all the topics it publishes, not only research methods. SAGE majors on research methods and reinvests some of its profits into resources for the communities it serves. It offers loads of free resources on research methods, an online research community called Methodspace, a research methods resource centre, and lots more which you can access through those links.

So although some publishers are shamelessly taking advantage of the pandemic, others are working hard to help those affected. No doubt there are more resources than those I have listed here. If you know of others, please share them in the comments.

This blog, and the monthly #CRMethodsChat on Twitter, is funded by my beloved patrons. It takes me at least one working day per month to post here each week and run the Twitterchat. 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!