I promised to report back on how my collaborative writing for the digital research methods text for Sage was progressing, so here are three observations thus far.
- Working with someone who thinks differently from you is great but challenging. The great part is that collectively you have more to contribute because you look at things from different perspectives. The challenging aspect is because this different world view offered by your writing colleague results in you questioning and revisiting your own knowledge and beliefs, in research methods terms I have had to re-appraise my ontological positions. So as I am writing with someone from a quantitative predisposition, I have been asking myself where my underpinning beliefs about research stem from, do I still hold the same beliefs now as previously etc – all of which is fairly important when writing a text about digital research methods.
2. Words as numbers. We set ourselves a target of 5000 words per day between us during our face to face writing time, generally we achieved this with a couple of lower days and a couple of higher days. These were 5000 new words rather than the editing or rewriting of existing text and I have become the word count enforcer in order to help us feel a sense of accomplishment on a day by day basis. Seeing the overall word count grow is satisfying, yes it is a draft but it is new material which as this stage is important.
3. Words and meaning. Some of our most lively and heated discussions have been around words and their interpretation – I resolutely refuse to have the word ‘object’ used in relation to research, instead we have settled for research ‘phenomenon’. Similarly people involved in research can not (in my view) be termed ‘objects’ or ‘subjects’ – as it de-humanizes research participants, something which actually my co-author agrees with me on. Until we started writing and using words we did not have these discussions about how value laden or how open to interpretation key research vocabulary is. We are also now back in discussion about the title of our text as neither of us are very keen on Sage’s proposed title (currently under wraps) as we feel is does not do the subject and content justice.
In the next progress reflection, structure and writing styles will be centre stage, as well as our caffeine intake.
I was delighted when Innovations in Digital Research Methods edited by Peter Halfpenny and Rob Proctor recently crossed my desk. Whilst many research students believe Research Methods to be a necessary but boring compulsory element of their studies I am doing my utmost to promote the exciting times we now live in in terms of digital’s positive disruption to how and what we research.
A wide range of contributors from British, Australian and American based academics have co-created the insight in this useful textbook published by Sage. Like me, the authors believe that the landscape of research has fundamentally shifted with the advent of digital technologies and they set about outlining the new e-social science landscape. Acknowledgement is made in chapter 2 of the increasing blurring of qualitative and quantitative data and the trend in treating qualitative data quantitatively in the analysis stage. Warnings about a potential overreliance on computer driven analytical tools and algorithms that lack transparency is an apposite reminder in chapter 3 with an interesting discussion on text mining in chapter 8. The new sources and types of data are outlined in Chapter 4 with explicit consideration of the dangers of the ubiquity of data and its convenience in collection versus the need for rigor. There are sensible suggestions made for future directions, such as an increase in use of mixed methods – which I am definitely seeing in my PhD students and in some conference presentations.
The nascent state of how we ‘show’ data through visualizations including real time geo-mapping of people’s movements in urban areas, citizen science creation of Open Street Map provides practical illustrations in chapter 11. Unsurprisingly, ethical issues within digital research methods now have greater complexity than ever before and the grey areas and abuses are presented through case studies in chapter 12 including the infamous Facebook experiment.
This text book is a well balanced and considered response from active researchers grappling with the realities of researching and justifying their research in the digital age. The reference list and the online resources at the end of each chapter are valuable to the novice and experienced researcher alike. This book will be marked as ‘essential’ on the reading lists for my Research Methods and for Digital Marketing Strategy courses.