Progression in research

Every spring, I take the time to do some spring cleaning of my work files. For the last seven years, this has also meant going through lots of paper and hard copies of things and moving them into electronic form. This all started when I moved from Cincinnati to Tampa, and I refused to move two filing cabinets full of stuff. So I did end up moving a number of boxes just full of hard copies, and I have slowly, once a year whittled away at all those files. I am down to these files as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The last of the hard copy files. March, 2024.

That’s the bottom shelf of a cart that holds the stuff that keeps the internet working. And those files have sat there for years. Those two stacks used to be taller, like a foot taller on each side.

Anyway, to the point of this post, which is not about cleaning…..

I routinely teach a how to do research course for grad students. I have stopped calling it “research methods,” even though that’s its official title. “Research methods” is also the title of so many courses on research in the big tent of writing studies and in technical and professional communication. But, I don’t call my course that anymore because the emphasis in the course isn’t on methods (like the things we use to do research such as textual/rhetorical analysis or interviews or usability studies). Rather, the primary focus of the course I teach is understanding the process of research and building a strong research study design.

Over the last several years, the students have helped me work on this diagram. Refer to Figure 2.

Figure 2: A visual representation of the iterative and relational nature of the research process from idea to dissemination of results.

What I was trying to capture in this diagram is the progression of the research process and the emphasis on relationships and iteration. It still isn’t where it needs to be, but it does help with teaching the research process. Not to mention, the students always remember my explanation of it with me wildly doing circles with arms. It gives an easy point of reference for later in the term (or just later): “remember the circles” (with me doing the wild arms).

Again, I digress slightly….

Figure 2 is the latest in a long line of versions of this diagram. And in one of the folders I came across in my spring cleaning, I found a couple of the original visuals. Refer to Figure 3 and 4.

Figure 3: Draft 1 where I brainstormed categories (so to speak) and then attempted to visualize them.
Figure 4: Draft 2 where I attempted a different approach to the visual.

As students and colleagues can attest, I am (in)famous for saying “I need a visual.” In my own work, as seen here, and in my teaching, I often use the process of visualization as a way to explain or describe concepts and ideas. I have found it incredibly useful through the years. This is one reason I keep trying to get a visual that helps to represent research study design and its relational aspects.

These two draft versions come from ca. 2016 likely or maybe 2017 when I first started to try and capture the research process more formally. This thinking coincided with my work on the meta-analysis of TPC research (empirical and pedagogical/programmatic). Figure 2 is the most recent including changes made from the 2021 class of students.

Before I recycled the hard copies, I wanted to have an electronic record of this progression to illustrate how ideas start and then evolve. It’s important for teaching, of course, but it’s also an important reminder that research takes time and evolves. Recognizing that and reminding ourselves of that as research is crucial to producing better and more sustainable research.

Wishing you health, peace, and joy!

P.S. The stack on the left has all been recycled. 🙂