Supporting a doctoral candidate to write a research proposal – encasing the research question.

Geof Hill – The Investigative Practitioner

Writing or identifying a research question is foundational to undertaking research or investigating. The specificity of the question varies in relation to the paradigm or belief system that underpins the ways in which an inquirer/investigator practices research, but without a question to focus an inquiry, a researcher/investigator may flounder! Any research or inquiry involves searching for some new knowledge – although what counts as new knowledge is a contested space

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/how-can-you-tell-when-there-has-been-a-contribution-to-knowledge-in-a-doctoral-research-study/]

The research question could be quite general, particularly if the area of investigation is poorly known; a broad question enables an inquirer to look at what is known to help focus on what might not be known. The research question could be quite specific, recognizing what is already known about an issue from other published research, and identifying elements of those inquiries in which there is still space for additional or more focused inquiry.

There are two elements to formulating a research/inquiry question:

The first is a thinking process that involves reflection, not only on your topic but on how you became interested in this topic. An inquirer may often experience a period of ‘troubling’ (Schön, 1983, 50) around the issue they are intending to investigate that leads them into a desire to undertake a more formal inquiry. Sometimes this ‘troubling’ can involve traumatic events associated with the issue, that in the inquirer’s lived experience warrant not only their resolving their dilemma, but of making that exploration available to the wide community. One such example that comes to mind is Howard Brown’s experiences of witnessing a friend’s murder that led into his victim advocacy.

High profile Aussie victim advocate Howard Brown is now the one who needs support through his health battle (nine.com.au)

The second element is a writing one in which an inquirer/investigator writes or presents an argument for undertaking an inquiry. This written argument is an opportunity to demonstrate to a reader what you know about what is known about the topic. Often this declaration is referred to as a literature review. Sometimes a broader term of discourse review is used to describe a literature review …

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2022/05/09/what-fruit-goes-with-gin/]

…as this term acknowledges that discussion or discourse about the topic being investigated exists in media other than print, such as the social media.

If very little appears to be known about the issue you propose to investigate, not only would you need to demonstrate to a potential reader of your proposal that there is limited knowledge about the topic, you may also need to explain how you have come to ‘know’ that there is limited knowledge published about this issue, thus discussing the ways in which you searched for literature about your topic. The expansiveness of your search can support your claims that

  1. Nothing is known about a topic.

2. There are contested areas in discussing a topic.

3. There are some gaps in the literature about a topic which make it worthwhile pursuing an investigation.

An alternate extreme is that there is a lot known and published about the topic you propose to investigate, so the challenge in arguing for yet another investigation, is to show how what is currently known frames a potential area of something unknown. In this case, your research question and indeed your research proposal, need to show firstly that you are aware of what is known and secondly, that you can organise and arrange that knowledge to show that there is something still not known.

In some instances, what is currently written about an issue not only explores the issue, but proposes a way to classify and categorise what is currently known. These elements of the discourse show chronologically how a topic has been investigated and then adds an additional framework to help new researchers manage the large amount of information. A good example of this is Dirks and de Jong’s (2022) review of the organisational literature about ‘trust’ that they have organised into ‘waves’ of literature.

In other instances, particularly with practices, it can be shown that chronologically there is a sequence of policies that have informed how a practice is articulated in print and delivered in practice. Such a situation might call for a look at how the policy discussions shaped the practice that is being investigated. Elsewhere in this blog I have referred to this as policy provenance

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2021/07/18/supervising-a-policy-provenance/]

For example, a practice may be under investigation and, in discussing the way in which policy has shaped the practice, it becomes evident that this may have been at the expense or the deficit of individual power in that individuals were disempowered through some of the policies being focussed on this practice – such a discussion would set the scene for a space for exploring not only the lack of power, but the ways in which stakeholders could be empowered or have been empowered.

The act of framing a research question also provides an opportunity for venturing into academic writing. The research proposal is a genre of academic writing and acts as a springboard for an inquiry. I define the research proposal as an extended argument that addresses how a proposed topic can be understood in the context of available literature, and, given this understanding of the focus issue or practice, how the particular topic can be investigated. It identifies

  1. The issue or practice that is being investigated;
  2. What is known about this issue such that a viable space for what is not known or researchable can be identified;
  3. A proposal for a way of investigating it.

It is often the initial writing requirement in a potential research candidate’s journey and is usually submitted within the first year of full-time candidature.

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/analysing-the-research-proposal/]

On the strength of a research proposal, a candidate is often given the go ahead to undertake the proposed inquiry.

Sometimes an issue or practice that is the focus of an inquiry has emerged from an individual’s ‘troubling’, and so a research proposal might rightfully include a provenance document (Hill and Lloyd, 2018) that details this engagement with a problem. Similarly, when an issue or practice has been influenced by policy, there may be a call to include a policy provenance (Davies, 2008).

A good contemporary example of a topic inviting a provenance document would ‘gender equality issues in U.S.A.’ which has been shaped in part by the Roe vs Wade US Supreme Court decision about abortion rights, a decision recently  overturned in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court ruling. The example might draw reference to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the US Supreme Court judges whose legacy is linked to gender equality.

Two additional sections are becoming evident in more contemporary examples of research proposals.

The first addresses the ‘so what?’ question – why is research into something that has been argued researchable, relevant or worthwhile? (Selwyn, 2014). The second is the inclusion of a project plan which details how a researcher will undertake their proposed plan of action.

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/analysing-the-project-plan-within-a-research-proposal/]

One of the job expectations in supervising a candidate in their early stages might be to support a candidate in the venture of writing a research proposal, and the more you understand about the role and purpose of the research question within the academic writing genre of a research proposal, the more you are able to support a candidate as they undertake both the reflective and the writing elements of the endeavour.

Not every proposed research question gets answered. Sometimes the process of undertaking an investigation changes the very question that is being explored.

Davies, C. (2008) Understanding the Policy Process. In Fraser, S. and Matthews, S. (Eds) The Critical Practitioner in Social Work and Health Care. London, U.K.: Sage.

Dirks, K. T., & de Jong, B. A. (2022). Trust Within the Workplace: A Review of Two Waves of Research and a Glimpse of the Third. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 9(1), 247-276. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-012420-083025

Hill, G. and Lloyd, C. (2018). Articulating practice throughprovenance. Action Research. http://arj.sagepub.com/  

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. U.S.A.: Basic Books.

Neil Selwyn (2014) ‘So What?’ …a question that every journal article needs to answer, Learning, Media and Technology, 39:1, 1-5, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2013.848454

Posted in Analytical tools for the early months of candidature | Leave a comment

Supporting a doctoral candidate as they swap ‘modes’: ‘helping to bat for the other team’

Geof Hill – The Investigative Practitioner

At the outset of a candidate embarking on their research journey, they may not be aware of some of their perceptions of research.  This issue was raised in an earlier blog about exploring a candidate’s expectations about research [supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/looking-at-the-expectations-a-tool-for-starting-out-the-candidature/]. As with any practice, a new practitioner carries into their experience often unilluminated beliefs and expectations – for example, researchers embarking on their first research degree may believe that all research involves statistical data or that all of the discoveries must be able to be generalised.

Sometimes, a research supervisor may need to intervene to facilitate a candidates’ progress and expand their understanding of research. One of the effective strategies they can utilise is to expose the candidate to different types of literature – not only literature about the topic or issue they are investigating. This ‘education’ might involve contemplating a shift in their mode of research from quantitative to qualitative when they may not have even realised that their perception of research is dominated by a quantitative view or a positivist view of research. Given views held by some researchers about the ‘correctness’ of scientific method, this shift may also entail dealing with the idea that their colleagues and peers feel that they are ‘batting for the opposing team’.

These experiences of differences were what I experienced as I embarked on my research journey. I had been introduced to research via the discipline of Psychology, and through that lens saw research as mostly statistical thinking. I was not even aware then that what I had was a positivist view on research. As I undertook my first research degree, I learned not only about a revolution in research (Guba and Lincoln, 1982) that generated a whole range of alternative ways of undertaking research, but I found that the alternate ways I had chosen were not always well regarded. Action Research (Reason, 1988) the basis for my first research study into practice, was in the 90s seen as a minority alternative. Years later in my career, and now established both as a researcher and a journal editor, I recognised these same issues in a paper submitted to the journal for consideration, in which the authors articulated their move away from the positivist dominance in Engineering into a way of looking at practice that had them embracing a pilot study in an Engineering investigation. My answers and comments to their writing took me back to my own first research experiences and some of the literature to which I was exposed in those early years exploring Action Research.

  1. Illuminate the paradigm wars. In order to understand how one can shift in their practice, it is important to understand the dominant ways of any practice, as well as the revolutions that changed or challenged that dominance. For me, the iconic writing is Guba and Lincoln (1982) in which they illuminate the dominance of a positivist paradigm underpinning research practice and argue for an alternative in naturalistic inquiry. A similar argument for adopting reflective practice as an inquiry paradigm is presented in Donald Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner where he argues for a shift from ‘technical rationality’ (his term for positivism) to reflection-in-action.
  2. Illuminate the writing opportunities that are associated with ‘new’ paradigms. Once the flood gate of my mind and understanding about research had been opened to alternative ways of undertaking research or inquiry, I recognised that many of the traditional practices associated with academic writing could also shift. One strong example was the argument to write about one’s research in the first person; an argument that Brigit Somekh (1995) presented in the early years of emergence of Action Research. There are many more examples of challenges to the traditions of writing about research, such as using poetry (Galvin and Prendergast, 2016) and writing in graphic drawing mode (Carruthers Thomas, 2019).
  3. Respect for the alternate as a ‘different’ mode rather than a ‘right and wrong’ mode. There can be a tendency in the post positivism literature to be over critical of positivism, rather than see the alternatives simply as research practices ruled by different paradigms. It is why raising consciousness about one’s belief system underpinning research practice can help to draw attention to practices and the related beliefs about truth and knowledge.
  4. Emphasise rigour. Sometimes, a move into what appears to be a more liberal way of writing can inadvertently bring with it a belief that the mode is less rigorous.Helping a researcher recognise that with different paradigms there are different ways of working with both reliability and validity of research (for example Kvale, 1995) and different paradigms invite not only different methods of demonstrating reliability or validity, but sometimes different concepts – such as authenticity (for example Winter,2002) and transparency.
  5. One of the capabilities of traditional research is the potential to generalise the findings. Qualitative research is not usually associated with this potential, but Jean McNiff (1984) is describing the ability of action research to generate new possibilities talked about research being Generative rather than generalising. In so doing she invoked the philosophy of Karl Popper (1972) who suggested ‘(each) step will create new unintended facts; new unexpected problems; and often also new refutations.’ This often refers to the potential of qualitative inquiry to generate new ways of thinking or new ways of addressing established problems.

Having now identified what I would call my library of citations about research, I also recognise the presence of many of these citations in my own writing, suggesting to me the power that some of these early iconic works held in shaping my understanding of research practice.

In choosing a label such as ‘batting for the other team’ I was mindful of the overlap that this phrase has with LGBTR literature and similarly with adopting LGBTR ways of undertaking research. This was intentional, and the same guidelines apply to this variation as to any variation or alternate way of approaching a practice.

……………………………………

Carruthers Thomas, K. (2019). Redrawing research methods and rewriting data

Galvin, K.T.  and Prendergast, M.  (Eds.) (2016). Poetic Inquiry II – Seeing, Caring, Understanding: Using Poetry as and for Inquiry. Sense Publishers: Rotterdam.

Guba, E., and Lincoln, Y. (1982). Epistemological and Methodological bases of Naturalistic Inquiry. Education Communication and Technology Journal, 30(4), 233-252.

Kvale, S. (1995).The Social Construction of Validity. Qualitative Inquiry 1 (1), 19-40

Jean McNiff (1984) Action Research: A Generative Model for In‐Service Support, Journal of In-Service Education, 10:3, 40-46, DOI: 10.1080/0305763840100307

Popper, K. (1972) Objective Knowledge. O.U.P.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. U.S.A.: Basic Books.

Somekh, B. (1995) The Contribution of Action Research to Development in Social Endeavours: A Position Paper on Action Research Methodology, British Educational Research Journal, 21 (3) 339-355. 

Winter, R. (2002). Truth or Fiction: Problems of validity and authenticity in narratives of action research. Educational Action Research, 10, 143-154.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Supporting a doctoral candidate to work out of the box.

Geof Hill – The Investigative Practitioner citing the work of

Kate Carruthers Thomas

One of the great contradictions in doctoral work is that, while candidates are encouraged to make contributions to knowledge, innovations in either the way a doctoral dissertation is ‘written’ or how the inquiry is undertaken can be suffocated by reliance on tried and true methods.

Previously in this blog I have talked about new and creative ways of disseminating research:

  1. The use of practice-led inquiry [ supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/supervising-practice-based-doctorates/]
  2. Different arguments for difference [supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/arguing-philosophically-for-something-different-in-the-dissertation/]
  3. Drawing on data from lived experience [ supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/problematising-knowledge-which-has-been-drawn-from-experience/]
  4.  Working with creative modes [supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/provisioning-the-research-environment-for-creativity-a-research-supervision-pedagogy/]

Linearity is one of the strongly held assumptions in doctoral research writing and is linked to the expectation that a doctoral dissertation is written. As such, the reader works through a series of sections of inquiry guided by the pages of the book. Pre technology revolution this was a sound assumption. Post and continuing technology revolution there are constantly new technologies that can be used to document and disseminate a doctoral inquiry.

What if linearity is not a requirement? What happens when the long- established expectation of a linear dissertation is replaced with sharing of the research using a non-linear approach.

I recall in my own supervision experience, a doctoral candidate asking to submit her work as a virtual page with multiple portals. The mode of delivery she suggested was very similar to the output of her inquiry which took the form of an on-line resource. She was encouraged to submit a traditional linear dissertation because the administration feared that examiners may not have the skills or technology to examine her doctoral dissertation.

This was early 2000s and technology has shot ahead. With two years of various pandemic lock down experiences, examiners and candidates have learned to work with the notion, not only of on-line resources, but of non linearity.

It is with this context in mind that through this blog I want to share the resources developed by Dr. Kate Carruthers Thomas at Birmingham City University U.K. who has disseminated a collaborative post-doctoral inquiry into multiple accounts of female UK academics living and working through 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic using an interactive space designed like a building with different rooms for the reader/viewer to walk through and experience the inquiry. The project used a hybrid research methodology of Zimmerman and Weider’s (1977) anthropological tool, the diary, diary-interview method or DDIM.  The combined methods enabled collection of rich, subjective data.  The creation of this illustrated digital archive then used techniques of graphic social science to present and commentate on the findings.

Dear Diary Project (deardiaryresearch.co.uk)

It is not a doctoral inquiry. But! It offers the possibility of what can be done in terms of challenging the hegemony of the doctoral dissertation, and more generally reflects many initiatives around the world of people exploring alternative modes of research dissemination. In particular, this example is a good model of how to address a problem of linearity. It also represents a case for the reader being empowered to explore a research project report in ways that excite them rather than being guided through it in the mode of the author/inquirer.

Posted in research supervision supporting a research culture, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What fruit goes with gin?

Geof Hill – The Investigative Practitioner

For regular gin drinkers, a common bar question is ‘what fruit goes with this gin?’ ! Observation and experience have alerted me to the expectation that a gin is often served with some sort of vegetable or fruit.

‘What fruit goes with this gin?’ is thus a viable ‘research’ question.

When posed by a ‘researcher’ on the most utilised search engine – Google – with the brand name Mayfair specified, as I did, one learns that apple is the accompanying fruit for this brand. In the course of this ‘inquiry’, I also discovered that the more pertinent question to enter into Google search is ‘what garnish goes with Mayfair gin?’.

What may seem an intriguing introduction to a blog ostensibly about research supervision, is actually a lived experience drawing attention to the importance of a well stated research or inquiry question. This issue that has been brought to my mind in three recent and separate research supervision or critical friend projects all linked to the challenge…

Why is exploring the discourse an important part of framing the question that is being asked in the research or inquiry?

The three independent projects were: Firstly supporting a new doctoral candidate developing a research proposal; secondly reviewing an article for journal publication; and thirdly,  identifying potential examiner questions for a near to submission candidate to support their viva training. All three authors/candidates shared a common struggle to understand the relationship between the literature about the practice or issue they were investigating and the research or inquiry question that was the foundation for the research or inquiry.

Part of their confusion may be in the way this common challenge is articulated – referring to it as a ‘writing a literature review’. The title gives the impression that all a researcher needs to do is to list the literature that is related to their topic. When this challenge is changed to ‘writing a review of the literature’ it has the potential to conjure up a slightly different version of what this common part of a doctoral dissertation is doing.

Reviewing the literature helps to frame the question being posed by the researcher/inquirer in the conversations or discourses that are already taking place about this issue and can be found in a host of literature. It also helps clarify the confusion if the phrase is changed from a

‘review of the literature’

to a

‘review of the discourses’

as this expands the scope idea of where one is searching to include things other than literature – such as web pages, policies, or comments made in a myriad of sources by practitioners living and breathing this issue!

(this issue was explored in a previous blog about the research proposal supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/analysing-the-research-proposal/)

The consideration of writing a review of literature/discourse can accentuate some important threshold ideas of doctoral inquiry.

  1. When one is doing research, discussion of the question being asked by the inquiry is required. Sometimes the question may not be clearly formulated in the early stages of an inquiry, it may thus be expressed as ‘troubling’ (Schön, 1983, 50)

[ Donald Schön in his iconic Reflective Practitioner raised the issue that a practitioner investigating their own professional practice may go through a period of worrying about something or ‘troubling’ over an aspect of the practice, and this initiates and leads into a full- scale investigation. The value of such reflective practice for the profession of a research supervisor was explored in a blog on October 21st 2015 supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/597/]

2.By exploring how this issue is articulated in a range of different conversation media, an inquirer can ascertain what language is used to explore this question and the search for comments about this issue and can also begin to identify what is currently known and what is potentially not known about this issue, thus making clear the viability of an inquiry to contribute to the knowledge about the issue.

Like many forms of academic writing, the role of a supervisor/critical friend is often in providing feedback on iterative drafts of the academic writing.

When I reviewed the comments I made in reading and commenting on the three different projects, I was reminded of some of the ‘reader’ issues that I experienced as a supervisor or critical friend in reading presentations of the review of literature in different academic texts.

Three major themes emerge from my own practices as a reader.

  1. The chronology. When using literature or discourse examples to shed light on a practice or issue that is being investigated, it helps to consider the order in which the literature or discourses have been published. This chronological order might show the development of a way of thinking about that practice or issue.

For example, as is evident in several of the blogs for this collection, the idea of discussing research supervision was not always aligned with a pedagogy argument, and over time different conversations developed around research supervision practices.  

(This theme is explored in the blog about Pedagogy at

supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/reviewing-research-supervisionadvising-pedagogy/)

2.The language (and images). When someone is investigating a practice or issue, they often draw on a vocabulary of language.

In the same way as in the anecdote that initiated this blog, I looked at the difference between a search question using the word ‘garnish’ rather than ‘fruit or vegetable’, reading what else has been said about a practice or issue can reveal this language. This agenda also extends to the use of any of the words being used in the overall argument.

The issue of language begins with the words in the research question and/or the inquiry title, and how these words are established as the language for discussing this practice or issue.

A reader could ask

  • How are the words used in the title or the research question positioned within the overall discourse?
  • Does the language of the discourse include metaphors related to how the literature or discourses could be understood?

For example, in one of the articles I reviewed, one pair of authors proposed that the literature was evident in ‘waves’. How are these waves defined? Are the waves chronological or are they representing lenses for thinking about the practice or issue?

What models are already evident in the literature?

For example, sometimes in the literature on a practice or issue there are articles that summarise the literature and propose a diagrammatic form through which the collection of literature/discourses can be understood. A simple diagrammatic form is evident in writing about special needs education where the literature can be divided as pre and post The Salamanca Agreement (UNESCO, 1994).

How robust is this model? What literature do they cite within their model? Does other literature that they have not cited fit comfortably within the model they have proposed.

3. The argument. In order to word a research question and position that question within a broader conversation or discussion about an issue or practice, the writer needs to argue.

An argument is all about presenting data and reaching conclusions

(This theme was explored in the previous blog about the argument skeleton supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2022/01/24/the-value-of-a-skeleton/)

So, a reader can ask the questions:

  • Does the presentation of different literature allow for the reader to compare and contrast the literature around identified criteria?
  • Do the conclusions reached about the literature or discourses cited contribute to an overall argument about the literature/discourses and what is known or not known about the issue?

Most importantly, one of the conclusions reached after looking at literature/discourses goes beyond the research question and focuses on how this question might be explored – the methodology.

  • Has the cited literature/discourses identified the ways in which this issue has been investigated as compared to what is known/non known about the issue?

For example, early inquiry into practice was often undertaken as statistical inquiry and later, as researchers realised the value of individual stories, shifted to using stories as the data. Literature about studies of practice will often make the distinction whether the data is statistical or based on stories or narratives.  

[ this is an issue I have explored in a previous blog Considering Narrative – Stories of research practice

October 5th 2011]

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. U.S.A.: Basic Books.

UNESCO (1994) The Salamanca Statement And Framework For Action On Special Needs Education: Adopted By The World Conference On Special Needs Education: Access And Quality, Salamanca, 7-10 June.

Posted in research supervision as pedagogy | Leave a comment

The value of a skeleton

Geof Hill – the Investigative Practitioner

In a recent project which involved reviewing some academic writing, I found myself constantly commenting that  ‘it seems like you have lost track of the argument’.

This is not a surprising comment for a reader reading a doctoral dissertation. The Doctoral dissertation or thesis is an extended argument – thesis is the Greek word for argument.

In an extended argument, it can often be challenging to remember what you are arguing at any given point. An extended argument means that the argument runs for a fair while. In the case of a doctoral dissertation this means across multiple chapters.

In order to undertake an investigation into anything a candidate needs to:

  1. Argue for an understanding of what ever it is they are investigating.
  2. Argue that there is space in the conversations about this topic for some new thinking – identifying the possibility for a contribution to knowledge.
  3. Argue for a viable way to investigate their topic.
  4. Argue for a possible meaning arising from all of the data they have collected, thus leading to claims about the topic they are investigating.
  5. Then argue that these claims make a contribution to knowledge.

With regard to arguing for how an issue can be understood, I have previously extrapolated the ways in which one’s own story can provide the foundation for investigating an issue.

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/problematising-knowledge-which-has-been-drawn-from-experience/]

– something that troubled you in your own lived experience can convert into a viable issue that can be investigated.

I have also recently argued

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2021/07/]

that another way of understanding an issue is by looking at the chronology of policy that has constructed an understanding of that issue.

Although each argument is different, there are often hidden expectations about how this argument will unfold.

  • For example, that the candidate will explore what they can find in the literature as a way of demonstrating what is currently known about the topic they are investigating.
  • For example, that the candidate will articulate their beliefs about what is truth (ontology) and what counts as knowledge (epistemology) in the form of an articulated inquiry paradigm.

If you want to do something different – such as writing a section of the argument in the first person when the tradition is that the argument is written in the third person- you also have to argue for that

[supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/arguing-philosophically-for-something-different-in-the-dissertation/]

An extended argument is the amalgamation of many small arguments,  and  having an idea of what you are arguing at any given point in the argument is quite valuable. A reader of your dissertation will find it easier to read and follow if there is a clean line of argument.

One of the academic writing strategies I often adopt in my own academic writing is to have a parallel short document that reminds me about the overall argument of something that I am writing. I refer to this as a skeleton document. It is like a road map for the journey and is held together by claims arising from different sets of data. As I change or develop those claims in the major document, I alter the skeleton document, so I constantly have a thumb nail sketch of what my broad argument is and how each of the smaller arguments contributes to it.

Firstly the claim about how an issue can be understood is based on the evidence of

  1. Lived experience
  2. How policies construct meaning about the issue
  3. How the available literature constructs meaning about the issue

Then, given this first claim, a second claim argues how it would be possible to investigate the issue in the parameters of a nominated ontology and epistemology. This claim about how to investigate – the methodology – usually identifies what might count as data for an inquiry and how sense might be made of that data. The claim about how to investigate the issue can be made in a number of ways:

  1. You can argue from precedent that others who have investigated this issue have investigated it using a particular methodology and you are going to do the same.
  2. You can argue from the position of first principles suggesting what is useful knowledge about the issue and how one can collect and make sense of this knowledge.
  3. You can argue that the approach for investigating the issue will unfold as each previous step becomes clear. This is often argued as an action research approach or a grounded theory approach.

The third claim is the claim that arises out of making sense of the data you have collected. It is the claim arising from the data of your analysis.

The final claim is an important one for doctoral investigations, as this claim distinguishes a doctoral investigation from a Master’s investigation and claims that there has been a contribution to knowledge. Exactly what counts as a contribution to knowledge has been explored in other blogs for this site.

supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/how-can-you-tell-when-there-has-been-a-contribution-to-knowledge-in-a-doctoral-research-study/

How can a supervisor support the academic writing by encouraging a skeleton?

There are a number of ways that a research supervisor can support their doctoral candidate in the area of scaffolding the academic writing.

One way is simply to tell the candidate about a skeleton document and encourage their writing this document alongside the dissertation as an academic writing strategy. This writing strategy has a long term benefit as it gives the candidate a short document which they can annotate with dissertation pages as a prompt in their viva for various questions

[see ‘Understand clearly the process that you have followed as you investigated your particular focus’ in the blog about preparing for a viva

supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2018/12/19/viva-centred-research-supervision-defending-the-thesis/]

A second supervision intervention is to encourage such a document in the feedback comments you make about the candidates writing, by making comments such as

‘this is chapter x, and in chapter x it is likely you will be arguing for y’

Such feedback comments can encourage a candidate to develop an argument skeleton as a reference document.

A third intervention is to encourage the skeleton document as preparation for the oral defence as this document can be a viable support document to enable a candidate to orally argue their defence by continually pointing to sections of their dissertation that answer any of the questions raised by the viva panel.

Posted in research supervision as pedagogy | Leave a comment

Supervising a policy provenance

Dr Geof Hill

The Investigative Practitioner

Previously in this blog I have talked about Provenance and its role in initiating practice-led inquiry. (supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2019/10/16/practitioner-inquiry-and/).

Alongside an inquirer investigating their professional practice through Provenance is a parallel exploration of the policies that (possibly) have informed and shaped the practice being investigated. Davies (2008) describes this as a policy provenance. A policy provenance explores the historical collection of policies incorporating embedded decisions and terminology, that contribute to constructing a practice. Policies affect both the decisions made about certain practices and the language being used to describe certain aspects of practice within the policy.

The focus of the research supervisor’s friend blog is ‘research supervision’ practice. A policy that was instrumental in shaping research supervision practice was the Australian Higher Education Policy Document (1988). This policy changed the ways in which the government funded research, and specifically doctoral research, so that the funding was dependant on completions. As a result, the policy is often cited as the incentive for  providing research supervisor professional development . The policy was also the forerunner to the Australian Research training scheme (RTS) which was introduced in 2001. http://hdr.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2420/~/hdr—information-about-the-research-training-program%2Fscheme-%28rtp%2Frts%29  which was upgraded in 2017 to the Research Training program by the Conservative (Australian) Minister Christopher Pyne. Each of these Federal policy initiatives informed that nature of and expectations about research supervision in Australia.   At a local level, individual universities formulated their university policies to accommodate these changes.

Davies’ (2008) use of the term Provenance in conjunction with policies draws on a concept that is more readily associated with the study of arts and artefacts. The term Provenance is a nominalisation (making of a noun) of the french verb ‘provenir – to come from’ (Oxford English dictionary). It refers to the life story of an item or collection of (art) items as well as to the record of its ultimate derivation and passage through the hands of its various owners. The term originated in arts and antiquities discourse.

Provenance or exploring the history of a practice is prevalent in particular types of research such as practice-led inquiry (Grey, 1996) and first-person action inquiry (Reason & Bradbury, 2001), and is referred to in the research discourse by a range of terms such as ‘auto poiesis’ or ‘how we do what we do?’ (Maturana, 2002, p. 34), ‘reflexive ethnography’ (Finlay, 2002, p. 536), ‘self-reconnaissance’ (Dillon, 2008, p. 4), ‘reflection on the pre-reflexive consciousness of past experience’ (Hauw, 2009, p. 342), ‘auto-ethnography’ (Marshall, 2011, p. 249) and ‘fore-having’ (Johns, 2010, p. 14).  

What does Policy Provenance involve?

Undertaking a policy provenance requires a researcher to develop an hypothesis of how different policies shaped a practice. Because policy provenance is intended to illuminate changes in a practice, a researcher needs to be mindful of three things:

  1. The chronology. As the purpose of a policy provenance is to illuminate the way in which policy has constructed practice, the chronology of the policies is important. As one policy replaces another, the embedded arguments for change trace the provenance of the practice the policies are endeavouring to change.
  2. The debate. Each time a policy is initiated it usually generates debate. Those who believe the policy is successful will explain what policy success means and how a particular policy meets these criteria. Those who believe a policy is not successful will equally explain what policy success means and use the example of a particular policy to outline an argument for failure. These debates are made by initially by members of parliament introducing policy, and following implementation of a policy can also be made by policy analysts commenting on how successful or otherwise a particular government has been based in the efficacy of their policies. Sometimes the commentary on policy will incorporate philosophical arguments in order to explore certain criteria for success of failure. One common success criteria is whether a policy empowers or disempowers stakeholders, and to discuss this analysts might draw on a range of established philosophy about power.  
  3. The practice. The point of undertaking a policy provenance is to shine a light on the practice, thus the focus of a policy provenance is the ways in which policy has informed the practice rather than analysing the worth or content of the policies that shaped it. A policy provenance also shines a light on the language used to discuss the practice that can at times include acronyms used to talk about a practice

A dissertation chapter dedicated to the influence of policy on a practice may initially be used to illuminate the language that is used to discuss the practice being investigated, and sometimes the acronyms that populate that language. As a wider range of policies are explored the chapter can often support an argument to say that a practice was contested, and the interacting policies provide evidence of the contest or debate. Such a chapter could also provide argument for a practice being ‘challenging to undertake or implement’ because of conflicting policy agendas.

Supervising policy provenance

As a policy provenance is intended to illuminate a given professional practice, a supervisor’s predominant role is to read and comment on the emergent argument/illumination. They would be looking for a clear argument about how the policies informed

  • Language
  • Definitions
  • Focus and
  • Drew attention to policy stakeholders.

Examples of the different types of checking and commenting a supervisor might undertake include:

  • Checking the chronology of the policies. Policies usually follow a chronological order. Subsequent policies often involve a rewrite of previous policies. If a candidate is endeavouring to show how a practice has been informed by policy, then having the policies in an appropriate chronological order is a key element of the strength of their policy provenance.
  • Checking the accuracy of policy documents. Firstly making sure that a document is actually a policy and not one of the discussion papers or feeding in papers to a decision. Documents related to policy can often be referred to as green papers and white papers. A green paper is usually a draft or preliminary discussion for a policy introduced whereas a white paper is the policy enacted.
  • Distinguishing between documents that describe how a policy impacted on practice and those that offer a critique of these interventions.
  • Clarifying whether a commentary is about a specific policy or whether it is commenting on a set of policies – for example, policies issues by a specific governing party. A second clarification is whether the commentary is about policy in general or about a specific policy.
  • Making sure that the policy provenance argument shows how the practice is influenced by the policy. The text of many policies is rhetoric, and while they appear to talk a lot about an issue, the rhetoric may provide minimal impact on the actual practices. Some policy initiatives are reworking of previous policies. Clarifying whether the original policy or the reworked policy was the greater influence.
  • Distinguishing between policy analysis and policy provenance. Policy provenance and policy analysis are two different types of writing. Provenance is intended to illuminate how the sequence of policy initiatives shaped a particular practice. Policy analysis is attempting to illuminate how the policy impacted on society. Often the policy analysis explores issues of power and examines who stands to benefit (or be empowered) by a particular policy initiative and who does not benefit (or is dis-empowered). In some policy analysis it is pertinent to draw on the iconic philosophical references because they speak generally about major social issues – such as power.

he commentary provided as a supervisor reads the unfolding policy provenance can also inspire subsequent discussions: for example, raising comments about the introduction of terminology being used can give reference points for other commentary on the practice using the language. The language used by someone commenting on a policy can also situate the time of their commentary.

Australian Government (1988) Higher Education: a policy statement. Australia. Department of Employment, Education and Training Higher education : a policy statement | National Library of Australia (nla.gov.au)

Australian Government Department of Education and Training (2001)  http://hdr.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2420/~/hdr—information-about-the-research-training-program%2Fscheme-%28rtp%2Frts%29

Davies, C. (2008) Understanding the Policy Process. In Fraser, S. and Matthews, S. (Eds) The Critical Practitioner in Social Work and Health Care. London, U.K.: Sage.

Dillon, P (2008) Reconnaissance as an unconsidered component of Action Research. Action Learning Action Research Journal, 13(1), 4-17.

Finlay, L (2002). ”Outing” the Researcher: The Provenance, Process, and Practice of Reflexivity, Qualitative Health Research, 12, 531-545.

Gray, C. (1996). Inquiry through practice: developing appropriate research strategies. No Guru No Method? UIAH Helsinki

Hauw, D. (2009). Reflective practice in the heart of training and competition: the course of experience analysis for enhancing elite acrobatics athletes’ performances, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 10(3), 341-352.

Johns, C. (2010). Guided Reflection. A narrative approach to advancing professional practice. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Marshall, J. (2011). Images of changing practice through reflective action research. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 24(20), 244–256.

Maturana, H.R. (2002). Autopoiesis, Structural coupling and Cognition: a history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition, Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 9(3-4), p. 5- 34.

Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (2008). Introduction, in Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (Eds), The Sage Handbook of Action Research, (2nd Ed), London, U.K.: Sage, 1-13.

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Publication release: Making sense of stories: an inquirer’s compendium

I am pleased to announce the publication of a book for people who like to use stories as their inquiry data. – Making sense of stories: an inquirer’s compendium

https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-5275-6587-6/

Using stories as data has been the foundation in my own research, and specifically in my research on research supervision with Journeying Postgraduate Supervision (Aspland, T., Hill, G. and Chapman, H. (Eds), 2002), my first research supervision research, being based on the stories told in interview by a set of experienced research supervisors at Queensland University of Technology, and Do Research Thesis Examiners Need Training?: Practitioner Stories (Sankaran, S., Swepson, P. and Hill, G. , 2005) using first person action inquiry based on our experiences – as told in stories – of examining the same doctoral dissertation.

More recent studies exploring Provenance have drawn on my lived experiences as a research supervisor and told with stories (personal provenance) as the starting point of practice-led inquiry.

Making sense of stories: an inquirer’s compendium is a follow on from Andrew Rixon and Cathryn Lloyd’s earlier edition – The Story Cookbook. Which celebrated a range of ways for eliciting people’s stories.

Editing Making Sense of Stories: an inquirer’s compendium involved soliciting chapters from a wide range of authors, all of whom in some way in their work, analyse stories. The book is intended to be a celebration of methods that can be used to analyse stories and has drawn examples from a range of disciplines such as psychology, sociology and literature studies. The book is an invaluable guide for the researcher/inquirer, consultant or professional keen to use storytelling as inquiry. The 29 chapters provide an array of ways to analyse stories including Juxtaposition, Circumambulation, Strengths-analysis, Grounded theory and thematic analysis approaches. Because of the detail in illuminating each analytical method, this book provides a rich diverse and valuable resource for how to make sense of stories.  

One of the exciting features of the book is that each author has chosen an image to depict their particular analytical method. These images act as chapter signatures and at the end of each chapter, each author explains why they have chosen thein image.

Other sections of the book draw from my own PhD, which used professional’s stories to explore their relationship with Reflective practice. In writing the methodology chapter for my own dissertation, I located the approach of storytelling as inquiry within the series of questions that drive exploration into professional practice as well as the provenance of storytelling as inquiry and what is sometimes described as the Narrative Turn in study of professional practice.

Here is a summary of the chapters for the book.

Overture.

The Editors. xi

Introduction.

Collecting stories.

Making sense of stories as data.

Juxtapositional analysis of supervisor stories Geof Hill

Chronology and cross referencing to analyse historical stories Catherine Le Brun

Using pre-histories to analyse non-contemporary stories Rommany Jenkins

Using narrative conventions to analyse travel stories Dimitar Angelov

Using circumambulation and amplification of symbols in story analysis Pam Blamey

Benchmarking practice with affirming and disconfirming evidence Geof Hill

Story Image Therapy (SIT) story analysis Toula Gordillo

A Kolbian framework for story analysis Andrea Quinn

Using creative spheres to analyse personal stories Amanda Viviers

The role of choice in story sense-making Michael Lissack

Analysing life stories using Ficto-Memoir Leanne Dodd

Analysing self-defining memories using a psychotherapeutic approach Glen Bates

Melodrama/tragedy analysis of conflict stories Sam Hardy

Diagnosing and evaluating organisational climate based on employee stories Bob Dick

Narrative research applied in nursing Margaret McAllister and Colleen Ryan

Conversational storytelling interviewing Grace Ann Rosile and David Boje

Transcription and conversation analysis of stories Sascha Rixon

Whole Person Process Facilitation (WPPF) analysis Birgitt Williams and Rachel Bolton

Analysing the entrepreneur story using the Hero’s Journey framework Ellizabeth Gould

Thematic analysis of professional stories using the HEA framework Lauren Woodlands

Thematic and grounded analysis of professional stories Saphiya Rajer

A Bourdieusian analysis of ‘maverick’ stories Ree Jordan

In-vivo and Ex-vivo thematic analysis of professional stories Geof Hill

Most significant change analysis for Design Thinking

Andrew Rixon, Bridget Roberts and Rosemary Fisher

Narrative landscapes Dave Snowden

Contributions to Knowledge.

The book is a useful resource for candidates thinking of using stories as the data for their doctoral inquiry. One of the book launch approaches we have adopted is to amalgamate discussion of the book in a researcher workshop about using stories as data for a doctoral inquiry. If you are interested in this doctoral candidate research workshop being delivered to candidates at your university, contact me at Geof@bigpond.com

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The 100th posting

Geof Hill: the Investigative practitioner



This is the 100th blog posting for the Research Supervisor’s friend!

I started this blog with a posting about ‘Imposterhood’ which discussed the then, and still, common experience doctoral candidates close to their completion can harbour that they are unworthy of a doctoral degree.

supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/working-with-completion-doubts/  

The posting was originally intended for the Thesis Whisperer, but in some confusion about setting up access, I ended up with my own site and thus was born the Research Supervisor’s friend.

The blog was intended as a vehicle to share my experiences as a research supervisor. It was an attempt to bring the often hidden or secret research supervision practices into the light and to generate exploration of the practice by other supervisors. The ideas for blogs came from my lived experience as a supervisor. Indeed, that initial blog was inspired by an overheard conversation in one of the candidate lounges.

Well before I initiated the blog, I had begun to write about research supervision. My own doctoral inquiry had explored research supervision as one of the factors/practices impacted by new paradigm research, and that inquiry which gave me my doctoral degree also provided an opportunity to teach research supervision or to facilitate reflective practice for research supervision at my university. What started as an initial six week teaching contract grew to become my 13 year contract as the Co-ordinator of Research Supervision professional development at Queensland (Australia) University of Technology and later a Reader in Education at Birmingham City (U.K) University, where I introduced a community of practice agenda around research supervision professional development. Along the way have been additional consultancies developing variations of research supervision professional development for different universities including this blog.

Being able to think and write about one’s practice is a great help for advancing the practice. As I consider what I have done as a research supervisor and listen to and read other commentary about the practice, I have found that my own practice has changed and become more diverse. I would like to think that as a research supervisor I am very candidate focussed in that I have adapted my repertoire to accommodate individual needs. Along the way, paralleling work as a dissertation examiner, I found that I was also ends focussed in my research supervision. I constantly thought about how an examiner might examine a dissertation or how I had examined various dissertations.

The most interesting (by way of the number of hits) blog is the one dedicated to contributions to knowledge.

supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/how-can-you-tell-when-there-has-been-a-contribution-to-knowledge-in-a-doctoral-research-study/

This blog started life, as did many of the others, with questions raised by either my own doctoral candidates or other’s whom I had the fortune to teach. The question would often emerge close to completion when candidates suddenly started to realise that making a contribution to knowledge was a defining feature of doctoral writing, and so they had to contemplate what their own contribution might be. Very soon the blog became the most interactive part of the research supervisor’s friend with various candidates asking what I thought might be their contribution to knowledge. With each question came the opportunity to create dialogue about this and so the individual page has had the most hits and the most engagement with readers.

The most challenging blogs are those very closely linked to my own political persuasion of challenging the hegemony of higher education practice. Some readers of this blog would have gained insights into one of my alternative lives in which I present my research as a sung cabaret, and through this blog I have been able to advance the agenda for those candidates seeking to write about or disseminate their research in a myriad of creative ways – not only singing- in response to the changing agenda of what counts as research. Again, I have been fortunate to have worked with doctoral candidates who are using many different creative forms to talk about and to undertake their various research projects.

I am hopeful that the agenda generated by the research supervisor’s friend continues. There is definitely personal energy for that, and this energy also comes out in the recently co-edited soon to be published book with Andrew Rixon

Making Sense of Stories: An Inquirer’s Compendium. As soon as it is published by Cambridge Publishers there will be dedicated blog exploring the value of the book as a researcher resource.

The other new project that assists and supports my engagement with a blog is my appointment as part of the editorial team of Advanced Scholarship and Research in Higher Education (ASHRE) Advancing Scholarship and Research in Higher Education (asrhe.org) which seeks researched ideas, not only about research supervision but about the broader spectrum of Higher Education pedagogy.

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The Human Factor – Book Review

Geof Hill the Investigative practitioner

Who would have thought that aviation people management principles could have any bearing on research supervision? But, that is the essence of idea migration. The common factor that supports this particular migration is that both aviation and research supervision are reliant on relational development. Procedures established in the aviation industry to avoid catastrophes influenced by human error have a lot in common with the ways of supervising doctoral candidates to remove or minimise trauma.

The Human Factor, a collection of strategies for organisational improvement based on improved relationships, is written and published by Graham Miller and based on his over twenty years in the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air arm. The book illuminates key human resource maxims with application to aviation as well as other industries reliant on, not only human input, but on collaboration and co-operation between people.

Graham Miller defines ‘Human Factors’ as

how people perform tasks and how they interact with technology, their environment and others

and after a pandemic twelve months, research supervision can easily be viewed in this light. Traditional face-to-face research supervision meetings have been replaced with electronic ones and this same communication technology that supports meetings represents the ways in which emerging technologies have influenced the research industry.

The discussion in ‘Human Factors’ on situational awareness is relevant for any meeting between a research student and their supervisor, be this face-to-face or electronic. Situational awareness can even account for the predominant way in which supervisor and candidate communicate through the common text of their emerging dissertation. Situational awareness is comprised of perception, comprehension and projection – summed up in the catchy three questions

What?

So what? and

Now what?

[As an aside, these questions are often raised when a supervisor reads an emergent dissertation and works with their candidate to fathom their research question (what?), the way in which addressing that question can make a contribution to knowledge (so what?) and the next step in the process of inquiry/research. (now what?)]

Making sense of the situation is a key starting point. In an earlier set of blogs in the research supervisor’s friend advocating a range of ways of making sense of a candidates’ beginning point  [supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/category/analytical-tools-for-the-early-months-of-candidature/] – their ability to read, to write and to engage in technology, there is a parallel to any candidate/supervisor meeting that the situation needs to be assessed.

The discussion on Managing Error-ism has great resonance with what I would describe as applying systematic analysis to a research topic. Coming from a background generally referred to as ‘bean counters’ I have seen the value of strategies introduced under the umbrella of quality management that advocate systematic operation and introduction of systems to ensure rigor in both the research process and more importantly the dissertation writing – systems such as filing references in a data base such as end note or checking the whole dissertation for consistent spelling of key words.

The ‘Human Factor’ is written in ten chapters

Chapter 1 Connecting the dots

Chapter 2 Understanding human factors

Chapter 3 The origins of human fallibility

Chapter 4 understanding errorism

Chapter 5 The power of good leadership

Chapter 6 The importance of good teamwork

Chapter 7 understanding situational awareness

Chapter 8 managing errorism in aviation

Chapter 9 Human factors in other industries

Chapter 10 Applying human factor thinking

It did not matter which pages I opened, I found that the insights were not only valuable but could be applied to my current dilemmas in supervising doctoral candidates.

The book is available at a range of publication outlets including booktopia The Human Factor, Using Aviation Principles to Boost Organisational Performance, Reduce Error and Get the Best from Your People by Graham Miller | 9781922391247 | Booktopia   

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Feedback to doctoral candidates about signposting in their academic writing

An invigorating, although at times uncertain, walk to see Curtis Falls in the Mount Tambourine area (Brisbane, Australia) in contrast to a  Skywalk walk through to see Cedar Creek (also on Mt Tambourine) alerted me to the importance of signposting. I migrated that thinking across to the challenge of providing feedback to doctoral candidates in their writing – particularly the writing skill of signposting in the dissertation.

A first question about this topic might be ‘why signpost?’ and the answer for me comes from the experience of examining a doctoral dissertation. If I am sitting comfortably and my reading of a dissertation flows, then I am in a positive framework to absorb what that dissertation is arguing. When this relaxing and stimulating process is interrupted then my attitude, and hence my examination of the dissertation, is interrupted.

There are obvious and traditional signposts in the doctoral dissertation. An index at the beginning of the dissertation shows a reader how the dissertation is structured. Often in the opening chapter a writer outlines what a reader will experience in the later chapters, and thus in a different way, lays out the plan of the dissertation. The comparisons between an index and a narrative are similar to those drawn between a traditional scientific explanation of an inquiry and the journey or narrative of the inquiry.

Sometimes, a diagram can be useful serving a similar purpose as a map for a road trip.

In addition what I would describe as the genre specific signposts, a writer might adopt more subtle signposts, implanted with the specific recognition that an examiner is a first time reader of the dissertation and as such can benefit from scaffolding the writing with some clues as to where the dissertation is heading and more importantly where the thesis – the argument contained in the dissertation – has come from. Genre specific refers to both the genre of a dissertation as one form of academic writing, and the genre of dissertation writing that adopts the metaphor of telling the story of the journey.

These subtle additions can fall into three categories:

  1. Telling forward
  2. Use of scaffolding models that speak to the overall structure of the dissertation
  3. Reminding (telling backward)

Telling forward

An extended argument is often hard to remember. In such extended arguments, readers often ask themselves questions – for example, what does this section mean? Or I wonder if the inquirer has thought of X? A writer, the doctoral candidate, mindful of how an examiner/reader will read the work, can pre-empt these internal questions by embedding comments such as –

a definition for this term is provided on page…

(and offer a future page number or section heading);

or a comment such as –

The impact of this philosophy on the ways in which this inquiry had been undertaken is elaborated on page (and offer a future page number).

There may be a metaphor or analogy that supports the act of telling forward at this point as well, one that become relevant from theory or that has grown out of the author’s own research and mind map of the work that the thesis will do. 

An example of this telling forward metaphor in Jo Trelfa’s PhD dissertation was a metaphor about ‘spirals’, drawn from Trimingham (2002). Jo’s metaphor described the stages of her doctoral investigation, and within these spiral stages, ‘strands’ of the core themes that had been woven through. A metaphor of a weaving or tapestry gave substance to how her dissertation had been structured. 

In describing her creative scaffolding, Jo also adds a note of caution….

Metaphors and analogies work well for me; I have always moved toward images to grasp what would otherwise be amorphous thought and feelings.  The research and thesis experience lent to quite a few! But, to pick up on Geof’s analogy of going for walk, for the reader it became like making one’s way through a forest of captivating vivid colours but as a consequence losing one’s footing. Pruning was required during editing to help keep the path clear’

A second writing device Jo used in her dissertation was to adopt the literature device of a preface, a prologue and an introduction.  In the preface she provided details useful to know from the outset – this included her metaphor of ‘spirals, strands, and props’.  The prologue offered a space to tell her story, who she is and how she came to the project and the research question. Together these provided the gateway to the introduction – traditional in a dissertation – through which the reader could enter, readied to do so with that understanding in place. Her use of a ‘prologue’ served a purpose similar to what in this blog has been referred to as Provenance (Hill and Lloyd, 2018). https://supervisorsfriend.wordpress.com/2019/10/16/practitioner-inquiry-and/

Scaffolding models

As (presumably) Barnard (1921) suggests ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ – so using pictures or graphics in a dissertation can also signpost the dissertation argument structure. In so doing for her dissertation, Jo Trelfa drew attention to an arts-based agenda in doctoral writing of Turner’s (1974) liminoid that celebrates the interplay of the arts and science. Two diagrams in her chapter 1 depicted firstly the spirals of inquiry that represented the five settings in which the investigation was undertaken;

and these five spirals played out in front of four themes, demonstrated in her diagram almost like musical notation.

Reminding

As an argument becomes more complicated, a writer may choose to embed reminders of what has already been discussed. These can appear at the beginning of chapters to remind the reader what was achieved in the previous chapter and how that connects to the current one; they may be page references to draw the reader’s attention to a definition that had been provided in the argument and at this point in a dissertation need reminding about.

Talking about her dissertation and the writing devices she adopted, Jo Trelfa explained a reminding device that she adopted by including an epilogue in the dissertation.

Finally, in writerly tools, a work that commences with a prologue must have an epilogue.  It was a space in which I could precis the thesis and determine what could follow, whilst also highlighting the shortfalls of the research so that these might be avoided in those future developments.

Feedback to the writer

One of the major challenges for a research supervisor is to provide pertinent and timely feedback on various iterations of drafts of the dissertation. As the document comes closer to completion, a supervisor might choose to recommend addition of scaffolding comments or signposts into the text to facilitate the examiner, a first reader, having a comfortable read of the work.

Some examples of this feedback might include:

  • In chapter one, reminding the author of the importance of a set of paragraphs that elaborate the whole dissertation. These often appear at the end of the chapter to lead into the remainder of the dissertation. This scaffolding might include a model that illuminates how the various chapters work together to construct a complex argument.
  • Sometimes in a chapter such as the conclusions, the complexity of knowledge arising out of the inquiry may make this chapter difficult to read and a coded diagram could be added to facilitate a reader knowing exactly where they are in terms of the conclusions being reached by the thesis. The same concept can work in a complex methodology chapter, that a coded devise – say a diagram of the overall methodology – is colour coded to indicate which sections of the chapter address which parts of a complex process.

Speaking about her supervision, Jo Trelfa commented in interventions that helped to guide her, singling out the support from Prof. Alison James, an expert in the serious business of play in higher education, who helped her to coppice her work. The drawings/graphics of the spirals and threads were inspired by her supervisors, Dr Olu Taiwo, Dr Richard Cuming and Prof. Inga Bryden. Another model developed

was a device inspired by her supervisors and was particularly significant in the early part of the thesis.

As an examiner of this writing, the signposting assisted the reading of the work. In discussion with Jo following her examination she also commented on the supervisor support for her viva, which again reinforced the signposts that she had adopted in her writing and suggested ways to mobilise those signposts in her talking about her dissertation.

………………..

Barnard F. B. (December, 1921) Printer’s Ink (December, 1921), 

Trimingham M. (2002) A methodology for practice as research. Studies in Theatre and Performance, 22 (1), pp.54-60

Turner S. (1974) Liminal to liminoid, in play, flow, and ritual: an essay in comparative symbology.  Rice Institute Pamphlet – Rice University Studies, 60, No.3. Texas: Rice University

Jo Trelfa’s PhD is published by Winchester University

Facilitating reflective practice in higher education professional programmes: reclaiming and redefining the practices of reflective practice

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