location – another metaphor for writing about your research

There are a lot of geographical metaphors used in research talk. We routinely speak about fields of study, mapping the literatures, surveying the literatures. Location is another one of those borrowed-from-geography metaphors and it’s one I‘m particularly fond of.

Locating is a relational practice. You are always located somewhere and the ‘where’ is always near some things and far away from others. Locating also happens in time as well as place, so location is a now, a ‘this moment’.

Locating research occurs in relation to one, some or all of –

1. a personal trajectory. There is a reason we are interested in this particular topic – it arises from our experiences, networks, relationships, occupation… these have led us to this point. Our research is located in the now of this life pathway.
Thesis and book introductions very often discuss this kind of located-ness and its importance. Methods discussions then outline how it has been accounted for via reflexive practices.

2. a policy and/or practice context. Many research projects directly address policy and practice contexts. The research is shaped by, and the research seeks to exert influence over, this policy/practice location.
It is not uncommon to see journal articles discuss a specific policy/practice location in an early section called background or context. This could take various forms including an historical sketch, a policy chronology, a media analysis etc.

3. a research agenda. Very often our research builds on previous projects.
In papers, these prior results are not spelled out in full, but the key points relevant to the current writing are elaborated in a separate section or in the introduction itself.

4. the literatures. The literature work that we do is in part to find our location in the field of study. We usually want to draw on, and speak with those near us. Sometimes we also want to shout out to those further away.
A thesis may well have a distinctive literatures chapter, or discussion of texts may be distributed throughout various chapters. It is always present in the conclusion where the contribution is elaborated.

5. an ongoing discussion in a journal or other publication. It is always important when writing a journal article to locate the particular article you are writing in relation to the interests of the journal’s readers and in relation to any ongoing asynchronous conversation that has been going on over several issues.
This location is usually flagged up in the introduction, and is one way to arouse readers’ interests – connect to them by speaking to your and their shared location.

Barbara and I always talk about the importance of locating your work in order to specify the conversation you are in and the contribution you want to make to it. When we run writing workshops we work with structured abstracts which we call Tiny Texts. The first move in a Tiny Text is always to LOCATE the piece in one or more of 2-5 above. This means the writer must think right from the start about their potential contribution and who is interested in knowing/reading it.

Location, location… as important in writing research as in real estate.

PS This post is a response to a question about why papers sometimes have sections called background. I do answer questions if I can….

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in abstracts, academic writing, journal, literature review, location, metaphor, Tiny Text and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to location – another metaphor for writing about your research

  1. Pingback: The reference list: does length matter? | Scott Eacott, PhD

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