book blogging – pick it up, start it up

Barbara and I are at it again. Book writing, that is. We finished the first draft of the first three chapters of our new academic writing book back in May. That was at my place in Nottingham. Now here it is November already, and we’re together in Barabara’s house in Melbourne. And we have to pick it up where we left off after months away.

It’s a scary thing picking up and starting over. Will we know what we were thinking last time? Did what we do make sense? Will it all read like complete nonsense? What if we want to begin again – again?

Barbara and I looked at each other over our breakfast boiled egg this morning and agreed we probably wouldn’t write anything much on this first day. We’d look at where we were up to, get a general idea of what and where next, we’d talk and get back into it slowly. We were relaxed, it didn’t matter if we didn’t do a lot today.

Well, that decision lasted all of about ten minutes once we got into the office. Firstly, we decided to look at how many days we actually had together and whether it might be possible to get a full first draft done in the time I’m here in Melbourne. We have thirteen days, and four more chapters to do. Was three days per chapter feasible, we wondered. Yes, it was. It certainly was.

Our reasoning went like this… We’ve been known to write a chapter in two days, so three days per wasn’t a completely impossible ask. What’s more, and probably more importantly, if we didn’t finish a full draft this time we’d need to meet up again, probably somewhere in the middle of the world, equi-distant from both our homes. This would be expensive for both of us. Flights, accommodation, shopping… And really, we both have other things to do with our money and other places to go – we’d rather not shell out for more writing-related travel. We’d rather not spend another week together writing. Another week together yes, but writing no.

Our second, follow-on decision was that in order to avoid the need for another writing-meeting we had to find a way to finish now. And the only way to get a first draft done in the time we have is to produce something pretty rough.

Of course, this is not an entirely out-of-the-blue decision because we already know that we can finish off a text once we get to a first draft. We’ve done that before. We also know that we’re pretty good at email and skype co-writing once we have something to work from. It’s the writing from scratch that only works when we’re together. Being and working apart can work once we get some way along with the writing. It really seems better to have a full text with big holes in it than have something lesser but with more detail. We really don’t want to end up a chapter shy of the complete shebang.

Our strategy for the twelve days is therefore to write fast, and write rough. Write a chapter each three days. Write through and leave place markers where we need to go back and fill in the blanks. Don’t mind the gaps. The text can be imperfect. Just get on with it.

Proof and puddings…. How did we go with this?

Well, here we are at the end of day one and we have about a third of a chapter done, and some bits we can start on tomorrow. Let’s just see how we go, but so far the rough and ready strategy is looking good.

Posted in book writing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

what did I do? – the research diary

I’ve got an OK memory. Most of the time I can summon up the details that I need to remember, when I need to remember them – passwords, deadlines, the way home. But I do struggle to recall all of the films I’ve seen, I can’t quite place the name of a novel for love or money and I rely very heavily on Endnote to produce, on call, the details of the things I’ve read. And I am prepared to leave much of what I can’t remember to chance. If the novel was that unforgettable and riveting I’d remember it, right? If I need to tell someone about a television programme and I can’t quite pinpoint the title, I can probably find it via google. And if I do forget one of those very obscure and little-used passwords I can probably reset it.

But I can’t afford to forget the details of my research projects. In a long-term project that runs for over two or three years, there are a myriad of small decisions that get made along the way. They can’t be forgotten. They can’t be left to chance. They must be remembered somehow because all of us need to be able to talk about why the research is the way it is.  It’s VERY important to be able to retrace steps to justify, say, why this site and not another one, why these texts and not others, why these people in particular, why this number and not more or less.

Keeping track of these research project on-the-way decisions is crucial. In order to demonstrate that the research has been conducted rigorously you need to be able to provide a clear rationale for the choices that have been made. In order to establish the research results, you need not only to be able to say what was done and why, but also what wasn’t.

Now, some of these research decisions are deliberate. You choose to draw the line around the research somewhere. It can only go for so long. It can only cover a certain territory. You haven’t got enough person-power to do more than this many. These decisions are usually pretty easy to remember and everyone knows that you have to put them into your research design discussion somewhere, and that you have to refer back to them when you are making the claims at the end about what you ‘found’.

And sometimes this discussion has to cover the things that weren’t planned. For instance, you couldn’t get access to the site you wanted to. The people you wanted to talk to didn’t want to talk to you. The survey return was low. These disappointments and messy bits have to be tracked. The things you did to try to deal with them are part of your research account. PhD examiners are generally pretty forgiving about changes in original plans as long as they are explained – some journal reviewers less so. PhD examiners can actually see a lot about the doctoral researcher from their discussions of coping with mess and unanticipated obstacles.

BUT – well you knew there was going to be a but didn’t you – one of the places where people often forget to keep track of their decisions is when they get to their data analysis. While there is very little room to discuss data analysis in most journal articles, it needs to be part of the audit trail provided in a PhD thesis and in research reports. (The data-analysis-tracking-decisions-discussion doesn’t have to be in the main text, of course, it might be referred to and put into an appendix.) However, reporting the ongoing decisions about data analysis is often overlooked. Yet it can be an area where a lot of small choices are made. Why this theme and not others? Why this code? Why decide that this cross-tabulation would be the way to go, and not another… These analytic choices often take place over time, and they can easily get forgotten in the process of arriving at the final analysis.

These small choices can mount up to something very important in their effect on what has been seen and what can be said about the data. And if you begin the process of data analysis with some systematic trialling of different approaches, the record of those decisions will be important when you come to report back on how you got to the conclusions that you have.

Setting up a research diary to log the ongoing decisions you have made during a research project – including those about analysis –  is important. The research diary can be an important aide-memoire when you finally get to writing your text. And it helps you provide important reassurance to examiners and readers that you have been thorough and thoughtful in the way that you have approached all aspects of the research – not just the design of the project, not just generation of the data, but also in the process of making sense of what you’ve got.

I rely heavily on my research diary. Mine is a big digital folder with running records which I keep on key topics: reading, field work, data analysis. I’m often surprised how much I go back to these files to retrace my steps. The diary file is my external memory, and it’s much more reliable than the internal one!

So, diary on. A research diary might seem like unnecessary record-keeping some of the time, but it will repay the effort in spades just when you are least expecting it. After all, very few of us have 100% retention of everything we do, see, say and hear. Now, where did I put my keys?

 

 

 

 

Posted in data analysis, research decisions, research diary | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

devouring your data

You’ve read hundreds of books. You’ve waded through archival material. You’ve got mountains of surveys, folders full of transcripts, notebooks stuffed with barely legible field notes, and rather more photographs than you initially intended. Now what? How is it going to be possible to convert all of this material into something sensible? Where do you start? What is it you don’t know about data analysis ?

It’s not at all uncommon to feel deeply worried about getting started on analysing all your material. Thinking about what it might take to make something out of the pantechnicon of paper and digital documents produces deep chasms of doubt, a fug of anxiety and/or a crisis in self-belief.

Getting through this stage can be really, really tough. They don’t often say that in the methods books. It all looks rather simple and straightforward on the written page. Well, I’m here to tell you that too many of the books gloss over the messy reality that is beginning to make something out of your research stuff. It’s daunting.

Some people find the sheer volume of data produces a kind of paralysis. Not quite knowing where to start means nothing gets done at all. Other people start doing something, anything, in the way that they interpret the research methods texts to suggest – code, code, code. Others turn to a bit of software for support. Many read their data over and over, hoping that it will speak to them. Sometimes of course this does happen – but this is actually because the task of making sense of the material has occurred subconsciously rather than through a more explicit process. While I’m all in favour of letting the subconscious do the work, it is a bit of a risk on time-limited projects – it may take a very long time to produce anything. You usually have to try to hurry the process up.

I tend to think about data analysis in the same way as I think about inventing a new recipe. You have to be systematic. So at the start you work small, and try several things out one after the other to see what seems to taste good. So, let’s imagine you have a base ingredient, say potato, but then you have to sort out how to cook it and what to put with it. Potatoes stewed with walnuts? Disaster- nil points. Potato mashed with parsley – sort of OK but not really what you were after. Steamed potato dressed with bacon, spring onion and chilli oil? Now we’re starting to get somewhere.

So it is with potatoes and with data. Start small, try things out one after the other to see what does which. Find the tasty combination.

I think it’s a really good idea to take a small clump of data and then see what you can do with it. Say you have a set of interview transcripts and you’ve asked the participants the kinds of questions so you’ve covered some common ground… now take just one of those common areas. Put all of the various answers from the transcripts together, numbering them carefully so you know where they came from originally. You can do this physically or you can cut and paste from digital files using a word search. Then try a few things out.

For example:

  • Take one of the transcript sections and read each separate sentence very carefully – how might each one be understood? If you think a sentence might mean a particular thing. See if you can find any indication that your interpretation is justified. What else is there that relates to this idea? If so, What might be going on?
  • Are there any common themes (messy, blurred) that cut across all of the data?
  • What metaphors are used?
  • Are there phrases in common across the data – are these indicative of some kind of shared framework or discourse?
  • What little narratives are there?
  • Look for reasonings – Who is doing what to whom and why?
  • What categories are used and what is included and excluded through their use?

Or you might take a section, a coherent cluster of answers, in a survey and look to see the various ways in which the numbers might be interpreted, represented and cross tablulated.

Or you might take one transcript only and work through it very carefully, before writing a sketch of the person, and their story/ies.

This is not a complete list of possibilities, of course. The point I want to make is that you have to start somehow, but this doesn’t mean starting anywhere. You do have to be very brave and plunge in, but you may very well not automatically know what and how to do the analysis first off. If you do, that’s great and you will just get on with it. But if you don’t, then you need to work out a way to proceed. You must generate a beginning analytic strategy so you can take a bite sized piece of stuff… this will then help you understand how to tackle the entirety.

Data analysis… As the saying goes – how to eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. The trick with data analysis to take that first bite – and it’s got to be big enough so you get to experience what it will be like to eat the lot, and not so big that you choke.

Posted in analysis, data | Tagged , | 9 Comments

research project blogging – the successful and the not so

This is a modified version of the contribution I’ve made to `Social media in social research: Blogs on blurring the boundaries. 

I reckon it’s a good idea to blog your research. It’s a way to tell people what you’re doing and how things are going. You can drum up a bit of interest in your project. Maybe you’ll get some useful feedback, get pointers to literature and arguments you’re not yet onto. Perhaps you’ll find some new networks and potential new research and writing partners. You and your blog might even be found by some of the people who are likely to use your results. That’s sounds great, right?

Yes, it’s all good in theory, but I’ve found it doesn’t always work out quite like that in practice. No, I’m not a blogging sceptic. This is my primary blog but it’s not about any particular research project. In fact, it’s more about the things that interest me about supervision and teaching  – so I write about academic writing, doing research and being a scholar. And I’m committed to blogging. I post twice a week without fail. I think of myself as a blogger. But I’ve tried several times to blog my research projects on specific purpose-developed sites, and I have to say that some of these efforts have been more successful than others.

The research project blog which I think was the most useful to me and to others was one developed for an AHRC funded cultural value project. It was a limited life project about a youth workshop in live art. My co-researcher Emily and I decided that we would put a range of materials online – some resources about the work we were inspired by, some details about the artists involved, the process of the two workshops and some emerging analysis. The posts on emergent ideas either grew out of conversations that we had or they were based on analytic work that one of us had been doing. We used these ‘emergent ideas’ posts as a way to play with potential theorisations. We were not committed to them, but were ‘trying things out’. This generation of possible perspectives on the research profoundly influenced the ways in which we arrived at our final ‘results’. The blog also generated a small readership interested in similar issues and it continues to attract them, even though the blog is now largely a project archive.

Another ‘good’ project blog was designed for a desk study rethinking the evaluation of community theatre. The three of us involved in the project carved the reading up between us. We developed a schedule of posts about key ideas, and these ranged across a wide range of disciplines. We duly wrote and posted 800 – 1000 words every couple of weeks. We were working with a group of local community theatre companies and our project concluded with a two-day workshop to discuss the various literatures and develop a heuristic for formative evaluation. We hoped that the blog posts would be a less time-consuming ask of the busy theatre workers – rather than read a hefty literature review they could just pick and choose the posts that were of interest to them. And indeed, most of them did read at least some of the posts before coming to the workshop. So the blog did what we hoped it would do. Like the live art blog this blog’s purpose was to generate ideas, rather than to communicate a set of settled ‘results’. We wrote with boundaried content and a core of target readers.

A more frustrating – and just completed - research blog began with a literature review. I was able to break a completed 20K (and very comprehensive if I do say so myself) literature review on alternate education into smallish self-contained chunks. However once these posts were up, I couldn’t do much more. No more blogging. I couldn’t write about any of the actual field-work or ongoing emergent ideas, even though that would have been helpful to the actual research analysis. That’s because the funders didn’t want to pre-empt the final research results. They planned a big launch – tada – of the final report. So I had to be very careful that I didn’t put anything up on the blog that could hint at what we ‘found’. It seems likely that this blog will be more useful as a static archive now the project has finished, when we’ve added the final report (it’s up) and some more of the worked data – the 17 case studies and thenacademic papers. So it’s really more of a website marking the research territory than a blog.

I’ve also tried the literature review based model with one other research project. This was a pretty disastrous effort as far as I am concerned – and I’ve not provided a link to it for that reason. You’ll just have to take my word for it. It’s not good. I posted literature work in progress. The posts were the actual workings of the content analysis we were doing. And it’s – well, quite frankly – it’s really, really boring. I can’t imagine anyone but the most dedicated researcher reading the set of analytic posts. I’m now convinced that blogging a show-and-tell data analysis is probably not the way to go. The posts are however great evidence to back up the final research report; it’s an audit trail to convince any sceptics about the rigour of the process we used to conduct a meta-analysis. But it’s a crap read. And I won’t be doing that kind of research blog again.

I have also posted on this patter blog about my ongoing ethnographic research at Tate and this seems to be tolerable to the usual patter blog readers as long as it doesn’t go on for too long. A week at a time is about enough away from the usual content. But these diary posts have proved to be a very helpful reminder to Tate participants and our research partnership, it’s a process for remembering what happened sometime ago. It also is an audit trail, but a much more readable one.

So what can I conclude from these variously successful attempts to blog research? What will I do in future and what will I abandon? Well, I still reckon that, in principle, blogging research projects is a good idea. I know that the process can be helpful in developing and testing out ideas, and can work as an aide memoire. A project blog can also be a useful way to connect with partners and to provide resources for face-to-face activities. It can, under some circumstances, be a good way to let interested people access an otherwise over-large literature review. However, there can be problems with what funders want to do and what might happen on a blog, and there are clearly issues to do with readability and the premature revelation of results which I need to not forget (that’s one big indelible ink note to self).

I will still go on blogging my research wherever possible, bearing these potential problems in mind. And I’m sure there’ll be more issues I haven’t yet come across. However, I am now wondering about project blogs when the research is finished and the blog becomes a static archive. What happens to them. Should they stay or should they go? And of course how many project archive blogs might a busy researcher end up with? These finished blogs perhaps need a big home where they can be housed and contextualised. They need an overall URL as well as their own little signatures. Solving that problem is now well and truly on my ’to do’ list.

Posted in academic blogging | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

tactics for proof-reading

I am one of the world’s worst at proof-reading my own work. I’m quite good at revising, but not so good at the final checks. Regular readers of this blog will sometimes spot the odd proofreading omission  – the good news is that I usually pick it up, albeit often after a few days :( .

Proof-reading isn’t an easy thing to do – most writers are inclined to see what we thought we’d written, rather than what we actually have. We miss the odd spelling mistake, missing comma, over long sentence, the too often repeated word. It’s hardly surprising we miss these slip ups as most pieces of writing that are ready for proof-reading have been through multiple drafts and revisions. The proof-reading trick is to try to make the text appear unfamiliar and strange, almost as if someone else had written it.

So here’s a few tactics that can help:

  • Leave the text for a week or so before reading it. It is then less close and immediate and the time may allow you to get some distance on it.
  • Print it out. If you’re used to reading the text on the screen, then printing it out can give you a new view.
  • Print it out in a new font. You’ve looked at the text in your usual font for long time – changing it might provide you with a new look.
  • Read the text aloud. This can help you to hear klutzy syntax, missing and misplaced words … and you might also spot commas and full stops in the wrong places. However, like reading, writers often say what they think they have written so this isn’t fool proof! One way to deal with this is to
  • Ask someone else to read the paper for errors. Get them to mark the things you need to check. If you co-author, then this is something that you can do for each other.
  • Use a ruler to guide your reading, either silent or out loud. The ruler forces you to read line by line rather than skip through.
  • Use the computer to check for obvious grammar and spellos. Even if it picks up things that you don’t agree to, it still allows you to look at selected bits of text more closely.
  • Circle all of the full stops and check each one. This forces you to look at whether the stops are in the right place but it also shows you sentences, short and long. Holding the paper at arms length allows you to see how many sentences you’ve crammed into one paragraph – are there too many or too few do you think?
  • Check your known common mistakes – keep a list of the things you do incorrectly and use this as a check list

The most important thing of course is not to rush. Rushing almost always means that there are things you won’t see. Taking time to proofread is particularly important if you are sending a paper into a journal or submitting a thesis. Sloppy proofreading gives the critical reader the impression of very sloppy scholarship. This is not something you want someone who sits in judgment on your work to think. So do, do make the time it takes … Proof-reading matters.

Do you have any additional tactics that you use with proof-reading?

Posted in proof-reading | Tagged , | 19 Comments

on bread and blogging

My partner bakes bread every week. He’s no amateur at this kneading and raising business, as he owned a bakery and cafes for quite long time. His bread is made with a sour – the sour is simply wild yeasts in a mix of flour and water – rather than shop-bought yeast. Every sour is different; they can vary in texture, from thin and runny to thick and gluggy, and they have slight differences in taste too. The sour is responsive to the environment; temperature and moisture for example affect the amount and balances of acids that are produced – that’s the sour taste that gives sourdough its name.

Keeping a sour requires a baker to develop a parental attitude. The sour needs to be fed regularly – more flour and water every few days. Bakers call these additions ‘refreshments’ and the sour will die if it doesn’t get them. The sour grows between bakes so that some of it can be removed on baking day, with enough left over to keep the process going. Most serious bakers keep their sours for years, although there is some debate about whether this is good/possible.

Our sour generally sits in a cloth-covered jar on the kitchen counter. Now here’s the thing. The sour is alive. It’s not the same as the mixer or the toaster.  It’s a living thing in my kitchen. Mostly it just goes about its business. I imagine it skulking there next to the coffee maker, quietly eating and expanding.  But as it gets close to feeding time I feel it looking up from under its cloth hat, its gaze fixed and intense - ‘Refresh me now or I die’, I imagine I hear it saying in thick, acid tones.

The sour requires that its human keepers maintain a continued low-level consciousness of its needs. When we go away for the weekend we either have to feed it up beforehand, give to it someone to look after, or put it in the fridge to slow down its digestion and growth. If we go away for more than a few days we usually put it into a coma in the freezer in its plastic cryogenic container. There is always a moment of anxiety about whether it will wake up, and the sour is rather sluggish for a few days after as it recovers. Some additional refreshment is always required post freeze as payback for the unexpected suspension of activity. I am sure that the sour vengefully keeps us wondering whether it will have recovered sufficiently by baking day to provide the appropriate amount of leavening.

I’m telling you about the sour because I tend to think about this blog in a somewhat similar way. The blog isn’t on a counter under a cloth hat, but sitting somewhere on a server. But, like the sour, in order to stay alive the blog requires things of me. The blog, like the sour, needs feeding at very regular intervals.

The blog is always a presence in my life, and never far away from my thinking. As it gets closer to the regular publication dates, I imagine it watching me, tapping out a precise and impatient rap of virtual question marks, waiting an answering response on the keyboard. “Is this the week when you have nothing to say? I always knew that this would happen. I knew you couldn’t keep it up. I knew that you’d let me down eventually.” You see my blog has a kind of inbuilt paranoia, it knows that some time in its future I will be a bad parent and neglect it. It just doesn’t know when.

And I do have to think ahead about the blog’s needs, just as with the sour. I pre-prepare for periods away from my desk. I try to have a few posts for emergencies so that I don’t find myself looking empty-handed at a hungry blog on a portable screen. I dread having nothing to offer it. I’m reluctant to put the blog into a deep-freeze hibernation over summer for fear that once out of the habit of regularly feeding/posting, I’ll find it hard to get back to. I worry that the blog will languish, become a dried husk, a mere archive of its former self, if I don’t keep up with its refreshments.

Refreshing the blog is not as easy as managing the sour and its appetite. Blog post ideas are not available out of a packet and tap as are flour and water. Coming up with each and every post requires some kind of stimulus – a question, a bit of reading, some teaching, a conversation – these spark the blog-thought that turns into the post that will keep the blog going.

That’s how this post happened. I was minded of the way that I thought about the blog when someone recently commented that I’d attributed agency to blogs. Blogs don’t do things in the world, the commenter said, writers do.

I’m afraid I don’t agree with this. While I understand the point being made, it does seem to me that there is some power in the blog itself, some kind of agency and some pull that is exerted on me. And any blog can have a life of its own outside of its origin. Just because a writer wants a blog to do and mean particular things, it doesn’t mean that it will. Unlike the sour which remains captive within its glass jar, the blog is a more mobile and promiscuous object altogether – one able to be moulded and taken up by others who encounter and read it.

All blogs are dependent on their writers of course, but they do also seem to have lives of their own… and appetites.

Posted in academic blogging, blogging, blogging about blogging | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

academic writing and quotations

A guest post from Helen Colley from The University of Huddersfield.

I just got an enquiry from a colleague about whether the university has guidelines for research theses in relation to formatting quotations, whether from the literature or primary data from respondents. At first sight, this might look like a fairly mundane technical question – but there is far more to it than that! The question rang all my bells about how technical questions such as this can only be answered by going back to the philosophical underpinnings of our research, and our own quest for an appropriate authorly voice.

I’m always a bit bewildered why this particular question about formatting quotations comes up so often (and I get to see so much weird and wonderful formatting!). Doctoral researchers have presumably read scores if not hundreds of journal articles and books. Almost all of these use exactly the same protocols, so the answer is easy: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, i.e. just copy the same protocol you find everywhere else in the literature. You are becoming a researcher, so emulate the practices expected of researchers by publishers! This relates to the issue of learning to write by reading as a writer – analysing how other writers have constructed their texts and how we can emulate them, rather than just focusing on the content of their findings. Anyway, that’s a whole other issue… So let’s start off with some technical basics and how I approach them in line with publishers’ (and readers’) expectations.

Quotes from other authors of 3 lines or more should be in an indented paragraph, separated from the main text by a line space above and below, NO quotation marks, NO italics, citation comes after the final full stop of the quote and must include page number(s). This looks like this:

    [M]uch of that literature fails to account sufficiently for the socio-cultural and socio-political context characterised today by the crisis of neo-liberal capitalism. The neoliberal belief system focuses on the individual as consumer in deregulated markets, including the labour market…(Benozzo and Colley, 2012, p.305)

In the original text, the quotation starts with a clause that is not necessary to reproduce when quoting it, therefore ‘much’ is not capitalised in the original – that is why it appears as ‘[M]uch’ in my quotation here: I’ve altered it to be grammatically correct in the context of my own text, and the square brackets show that I’ve changed the original. Also the original text has a colon and continues further after ‘labour market’ – but again, that is not relevant to my use of the quotation here, so I have an ellipsis of three full stops in a row ‘…’ to show this. If I had left out something in the middle of the quotation, I would show the ellipsis in square brackets like this: […]

Quotes from primary data should usually be in an indented paragraph, separated from the main text by a line space above and below, NO quotation marks. (Short quotes can be incorporated into the main text in inverted commas, but do not have to be.) Italics should NOT normally be used unless there is an exceptional reason why, and if they are, this should be explained in the methodology. Citation comes after the final full stop of the quote, like this:

    I get lots of enquiries from students and supervisors about formatting formal texts such as theses and progress reports. (Helen, Director of Graduate Education)

There is no common rubric about any citation format for research respondents - this is something that the researcher should think through in relation to their overall methodology and how they, as an author, think it is best to present the quotes to their reader: (a) to engage them with the overall text; and (b) to ensure the reader has sufficient information about where the quote has come from to make a judgment about its internal validity and the strength of the evidence it presents as a warrant for the findings. For example, in an in-depth narrative study with just one or few respondents, it is usual to use a pseudonym to give a sense of the person, and often to add a descriptor(s) depending on the design of the study and what the reader needs to know about how that quote relates to the overall data set in the study. The example below might be appropriate for a very small narrative study, where the reader has had and is very likely to remember who the respondent is.

So let’s imagine we are doing a study of PGR students and their perceptions of writing. A quote from a very small-scale narrative study with four respondents, whom you have already described in detail, might look like this:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha)

If the study were still qualitative, but a bit larger, and included e.g. full-time and part-time EdD, PhD and MA by Research students, and those distinctions were important for the study, this would be appropriate:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, FT)

If a key issue in the study is the perceptions of students on different programmes, in different disciplines at different stages of their study:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, Humanities, PT MA by Res, Year 1)

If the study included multiple interviews with research students because it was tracing change over time, then it would be helpful also to note which of the interviews it was e.g.

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, interview 2)
    OR
    I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, 3rd year interview)

If there are many respondents, e.g. from a survey, and the reader is therefore unlikely to remember pseudonyms, or you may not have names attached to the responses, then it would be better to replace the ascription with a numeral one:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (PGR45)

Again, depending on the research questions, you might need to add to ‘PGR45’ which programme they were on, which year they were in, and/or which of multiple interviews with that student it was, so it will look more like a code, and instead of ‘PGR’ you could use M for MA by Research, P for PhD, E for EdD e.g. (M45 Y1, i/v1). The reader doesn’t need a sense of the individual person, but might be looking to see that the data comes from a good spread of respondents rather than from just the same ones over and over again.

All these decisions are things to be noted, with your justifications as to why you have made these choices, in your research journal – and you need a paragraph about it in your methodology chapter, so your reader understands what format you will be using (especially important if it appears as a code) and why.

There is also, of course, a big issue in terms of presenting qualitative data, and whether we present it ‘raw’ (with all the ums, ers, false starts, ungrammatical speech etc) or ‘cooked’ (tidied up a bit to read more coherently). This partly depends on research design – if you are doing discourse analysis, you’ll definitely need all the ums and ers and timed pauses etc. But if not, it can just make people look inarticulate on the written page when in fact they are just speaking the way that all of us do in everyday talk. On the other hand, sometimes we have a piece of data where the uncertainties or contradictions of what someone is saying can only be conveyed by including the ums and ers and false starts etc., and the reader needs to see that. And sometimes, the only way we can convey the authenticity of respondents’ voices is by using their actual speech, warts and all (see Geoff Bright‘s work where he directly transcribes the strong dialect and vernacular of his respondents in Nottinghamshire’s former pit villages). Harry Wolcott discusses these kinds of choices in excellent detail in his book ‘Transforming Qualitative Data‘, to which I always refer students on these matters.

Like all seemingly technical questions, then, this one about how to format primary data quotations and cite them is an opportunity for supervisors to lead doctoral researchers back to think about the philosophical and authorly implications of their overall methodology, and the fact that there can’t be any single common rubric for how we present our data, including even the form of the citations we use – we have to think and make choices about it. Those choices should be coherent with our overall methodology but also to think about our reader and what they need to know for the data to be really meaningful to them and allow them to make judgements about the strength of the evidence presented in support of the research claims.

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