Creative Data Analysis – Call for Chapter Proposals

I have wanted to make a book on creative methods of analysing data for years. I knew it wasn’t a book I could write on my own unless I did a load of research. I would have loved to do that, but I needed funding, and there are very few funds I can apply to as an independent researcher. I did try Leverhulme but got nowhere. Then I thought about an edited collection, which I probably could have done on my own but I figured it would work better with co-editors. And I wasn’t sure who to ask, so the whole thing stayed on my wishlist.

Then, back in February, I co-hosted a webinar for my publisher Policy Press on creativity in research. My co-hosts were Dawn Mannay from Cardiff University and Alastair Roy from the University of Central Lancashire. We had over 200 attendees on the day, and far more questions than we could answer, including several questions about creative data analysis. This reminded me of my wish to make a book on the subject, so I asked Dawn and Ali if they would co-edit with me. And they both said yes!

Over the summer we have worked with Philippa Grand, my lovely editor at Policy Press, to put together the call for chapter proposals. I am really pleased with what we have produced, not least because we managed to keep it to one page of A4. I can’t wait to see the proposals that come in – though I will have to because the deadline isn’t until 31 December. But I feel so happy about this book because I know researchers in all disciplines around the world are devising and adapting analytic methods in many creative and useful ways, and I am really glad to have an opportunity to help collate some of that information so it can help other researchers in the current and in future generations.

Having said that, there is a whole process to go through. Once we have accepted and organised the chapter proposals, we need to write a proposal for the book, which will be peer-reviewed before Policy Press make a decision on whether or not to publish it. Then we need to work with the chapter authors to help them produce their chapters to a good standard, and write a useful introduction and conclusion. After that the manuscript will be peer reviewed, and then we will need to support chapter authors with their revisions as well as making our own. Then the book will go into production, probably in late 2022 or early 2023, for publication in mid-2023.

After the frenzy of rapid publication last year, this seems almost glacially slow. And I am impatient! But I would rather make a good book than a quick book – I know it is possible to do both, but I also like having a life, so actually this is fine by me.

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 $87 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $87 – 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!


 

Should Academic Writers Create Companion Websites?

I am preparing to write the third edition of my first research methods book, and this has got me thinking about the companion websites that many publishers like authors to create for our books. There is very little information online about companion websites, such as how to create a good one or their pros and cons. I found one article on Google Scholar, but its central thesis was ‘don’t replicate material on companion websites which is also in the book’ which I would have thought was common sense. I searched my go-to resources, starting with the Research Whisperer, and found two mentions in passing, both in posts written by, er, me. Then I searched the Thesis Whisperer and found one mention in passing, in a post written by, guess who? Yep, me again. And Pat Thomson’s blog has no hits at all for “companion website”, but then I have never written a guest post!

It seems that writers don’t write much about companion websites. Though I did find two very helpful posts from the Textbook and Academic Authors’ Association blog, one by my friend and colleague Janet Salmons on what to consider when creating a companion website, and the other by the equally excellent Katie Linder on five questions to ask your publisher about their author websites. These posts are both well worth reading. But they don’t answer a question that has started to bug me: should we be producing companion websites in the first place?

One of the reasons for companion websites is to keep the size, and therefore the cost, of books down. In my view some publishers do this to the detriment of the books they produce. I have a great deal of respect for Colin Robson’s book on Real World Researchand have bought every edition. I was astonished when the fourth edition was smaller than the third, and even more astonished when I found that, unlike previous editions, it had no list of references or author index. I emailed the publisher, Wiley, to ask what had happened, and they told me those features were now on the companion website. The link was in the prelims and I had missed it. I find it incredibly frustrating to have to move to a website when I want to chase up a reference in a book. This is odd, as my next move might well be to find it on Google Scholar or an online book retailer, but it is so, and the net result is that I use the book much less these days.

Another reason for companion websites, ostensibly, is to be able to update resources between editions. I will hold my hand up and tell you right now that I have never done this; I’m too busy writing new books. And I often find dead or broken links when I’m looking at other people’s companion websites. According to Twitter, I’m not alone. I tweeted last week to ask for people’s thoughts on companion websites: whether they liked them or ignored them, and for recommendations of good ones. This generated several interesting discussions, but it was notable that many readers ignore or dislike them. Also, around half of respondents shared my experience of dead/broken links in companion websites run by publishers. Lauren Gawne and Dana McFarland both made the very good point that all companion websites should be added to the Internet Archive as soon as they are created, which would help to solve this problem.

Some authors set up and run their own companion websites. Examples include Petra Boynton’s website for The Research Companion, Helen Sword’s website for The Writer’s Diet (thanks to Inger Mewburn for alerting me to this), and Andy Field’s website for his Discovering Statistics books (thanks to Rory Beaton for the info). But this is even more time-consuming than creating a website for a publisher to host.

I asked Policy Press for page view stats for the companion websites I had done for them. Not surprisingly as it’s my best seller, Creative Research Methods scored highest. But to my astonishment, second highest was Creative Writing for Social Research which only came out in January. And Research and Evaluation for Busy Students and Practitioners, my longest-standing research methods book, was trailing far behind the rest of the field. Which made me realise that if you’re creating a book for busy people, adding a website they have to go to for resources may be counter-productive.

However, there is the whole book size/price problem to consider. And some people love companion websites, especially teachers such as Beth Kelly and Karen Zgoda who like to find reflective or discussion questions, tasks for students, handouts, quiz questions, and even PowerPoints and videos based on the concepts in the text. Sandra Flynn is another fan and encourages her MSc research students to bookmark the companion guide to the core text (HE teachers, be like Sandra!). So evidently there is a place for them. And Mandy Shaw made an excellent point when she said that if they are hosted by a publisher, they need publicising by that publisher.

So, here are four good practice points for companion websites to academic books, and their creators and hosts:

  • Only create a companion website when there is scope to include material which is supplementary to, and cannot fit in, the book you are writing. If there isn’t, don’t bother, even if the publisher pleads; refer them to this post – it’s a waste of time.
  • If you want to be sure of the quality of your companion website, create and update it yourself – but be aware that this is time-consuming unpaid work which may benefit your publisher more than yourself.
  • If you are considering creating content for a publisher-hosted companion website, ask them some searching questions first, including how they promote their companion websites, whether the website will be open access, and how they ensure the websites don’t contain dead or broken links. If you are not happy with the answers, don’t create the content for the publisher; consider making your own website instead, or setting up an alternative resource such as a YouTube channel. (You would probably be well advised to have these conversations when you are negotiating your contract, or you may find yourself signed up for a big job you don’t actually want to do.)
  • If you do create a companion website, add all the pages to the Internet Archive at an early stage.

Steve Wright raised the topic of payment. He wrote some content for the companion website of a book he was not otherwise involved in. Steve argued for payment from the publisher on the basis that if they would pay him to do a proposal or manuscript review (which they would), they should pay him to write content for a book in which he had no commercial interest. He had to really push, but he did get paid in the end. And that got me thinking. Writing companion websites is very time-consuming and a big extra responsibility for a textbook writer. There is no flat rate for payment, so no incentive to create that content. Also, there is no royalty attached to page views, so no incentive for writers to promote their own publisher-hosted companion websites. Many academic writers – me included – seem to have accepted this unpaid extra work as something we have to do, without asking a lot of important questions of our publishers and ourselves. I hope this post will help to redress that balance.

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 $87 per month. If you think a day of my time is worth more than $87 – 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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethics And The Internet

I have always been quite careful about acting, and interacting, online. Where I have to log into a site, I only ever do that using my email address and a password, I never select options such as ‘log in with Google’ or ‘log in with Facebook’. Twenty years ago I used the same password for everything; now I have a different password for each online account or website. I have never given my phone number to any social media platform. I have very few apps on my phone and have never paid for anything using my phone. I never enable the ‘location’ function on my phone, and I have never installed a QR reader or scanned a QR code. For many years I have used Mozilla products Thunderbird for email and Firefox for web browsing (although I do have Chrome installed for when a site doesn’t work in Firefox) and for a few years now I have used duckduckgo for web browsing, because they don’t track you, rather than Google.

This is because I don’t trust the internet. Or technology more broadly. My friends laugh at my old-fashioned paper maps and printed travel tickets, but I prefer them because they never malfunction and the batteries don’t run out.

Although I don’t trust technology or the internet, I do value them highly. I am writing this on my beloved laptop and will publish it on the internet for you to read. I enjoy social networking online and all the convenience and pleasure the internet offers in modern life. I am also aware that it comes at a higher cost than most of us realise.

This has been studied in depth by Carissa Véliz, whose book Privacy Is Power demystifies the data economy by explaining how much data is collected on each of us through our interactions with and on the internet. It is a lot more than you think. Data being shared about you includes highly personal information about how well you sleep, who you sleep with, how much you weigh, what you like to eat, whether you smoke or drink, what you buy – and more. Much MUCH more. That data is used to inform corporate decisions about whether to give you a job, or a loan, or a tenancy, or insurance. We have no idea which pieces of data about us inform those decisions, and no way to check if the data being used is even accurate.

Véliz says we didn’t realise what was happening, that it crept up on us because it is a new kind of power. We are used to some types of power – economic power, military power – but this was an indirect kind of power. Internet giants such as Google and Facebook sell access to their users and the ability to influence us through advertising. The services they offer are mostly free at the point of use, and they are also enormously exploitative and potentially very harmful. We didn’t have much choice about being drawn in, and even less so during the pandemic. But knowledge is also power, and finding out what is going on means we can make choices about how we use the options available to us.

Some people feel as if they have no choice. And indeed our choices may be constrained by all sorts of factors. But we all have some level of choice about which technological tools we use and how we use them. I haven’t used Facebook, in the conventional way, at all this year. I have logged on now and again, briefly, to find specific pieces of information I can’t find elsewhere. No checking on my ‘friends’, or participating in groups. And mostly I haven’t missed it. I logged on recently to find out about the dates for my local monthly market, and saw that it was the birthday of someone I had forgotten existed. Some of my real friends and colleagues are on Facebook, but a lot of interaction was along the lines of rather dutiful ‘likes’ of things I didn’t like, or wishing a happy birthday to people I don’t know.

I needed a new smartphone recently. I know my smartphone is a spy in my pocket, but at least I can leave it at home or in my hotel room if I choose – and sometimes I make that choice. I do not want any other personal or domestic electronic spies such as a fitness tracker, or an Alexa or equivalent, or a smart car, or home appliances operated by the internet. I can see the point but it feels, to me, like giving up too much control for what I get in return. The smartphone, though, is a different matter. So on my new phone I installed the few apps I like, one of which is Instagram. And I found, to my horror, that Instagram now only allows me to disable push notifications for a maximum of 8 hours. So to keep my phone free of push notifications, I had to interact with Instagram three times a day, or I would get irritating little pop-ups saying ‘Mizzlepoop, who you may know, is now on Instagram’.

I have uninstalled Instagram from my phone. I can still access it on my laptop, though of course I can’t post there. I may put it back on my phone, briefly, to make a final post. Or I may not.

I enjoyed Instagram. I liked it for keeping up with some of my real friends and family, and for learning more about what some marginalised people face. I learned a lot from following Indigenous people, people of colour, and trans people on Instagram, as well as from following people in different countries and continents. But I am not about to let a social network dictate what I can and can’t see on my own phone.

I have also started using Signal, and intend to move over there from WhatsApp at some point – I still want to use WhatsApp for a couple of things, but most of my messaging is now on Signal, and (thank goodness) I have always managed to avoid using WhatsApp for anything professional.

I want to do more. I now log out of Facebook and Instagram when I do check in on my laptop. I want to stop using Google Calendar and Google Docs – there are good alternatives, though I may have to persuade colleagues about the Docs one. I don’t think there is a sensible alternative to Google Scholar (if I’m wrong please tell me in the comments), but I want to reach the point where I can log off from Google and only log on when I need to use Google Scholar.

I may never be in control of all my own data, but I can certainly give less of it away. This helps to protect me against identity theft which can cause enormous problems. I can also use technological tools more safely, such as by using unique passwords and updating them regularly. This again helps to protect me against becoming a victim of crime. An article in the news only last weekend told of how a couple were accused of online child abuse because they hadn’t changed the password on their wi-fi router and someone had committed the crime by using their network. This caused multiple and lasting harms to the couple and probably to others too.

It is hard to educate ourselves about these things because they are both opaque and seductive. I am very grateful to Professor Véliz for her 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!

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!