Research often feels nebulous and intangible, especially in the worlds of policy, social sciences and humanities. Sometimes research takes a concrete form, like a survey, literature review or ethnographic study. But more everyday research tasks can be difficult to grasp and define.
If you’re a researcher, you likely spend each day at a screen, at workshops, online, in docs, in texts, in conversations, in notebooks. But it can feel like we don’t have anything material to show for it until a report or paper is written.
The stepping stones towards research outputs aren’t linear or clearly defined. Where a teacher marks their students’ progress, a programmer writes lines of code, or a carpenter produces furniture, the outputs of a researcher’s everyday work aren’t so clear.
This makes it hard for us to pin down exactly what research work involves or how to chart our progress.
Is a day spent deep in articles moving a project forward? Is there a way to collate notes in a more constructive way? Will the lit review miss something key if I haven’t read that book cover-to-cover?
Part of this problem comes from the fact that many researchers outside of STEM subjects (and maybe some in them!) aren’t taught a specific approach to ‘doing research’. We are taught social and political theory or how to carry out thematic analyses or linear regression.
But how the everyday tasks of research add up to a final output is often left for us to discover alone.
Enter: Research as Craft. In each edition of this newsletter, we’ll focus on different ways of working in research and share tools, resources and tips. Our goal is to help researchers add structure to seemingly unstructured processes, to share with and learn from others, and recognise what productive and meaningful research looks like.
We hope Research as Craft will do two things:
- recognise the skillsets and tasks involved in research as concrete things that each of us researchers can develop, own, hone and share as practices;
- build a community that shares tools, processes and ways of working to support researchers to do our work well.
Above all, though, we want to establish the idea of research as a ‘craft’: a distinct set of skills and practices that every researcher can identify and develop as part of their own research processes, as well as shared by a broader collective of people who do research.
Research as Craft recognises that the ‘soft’ skills of research – reading, writing, thinking, communicating – are ‘soft’ only by virtue of being difficult to bound, not because they lack rigour, knowledge, technique or craft.
Importantly, Research as Craft doesn’t aim to prescribe one single way of working, but recognise the many various tasks, skills, processes, tools and more that fall under that category of research. Just as there’s more than one way to bake a cake or teach a class, there’s more than one way to do research.
If this all sounds relevant to you, then welcome! You’re among good company here. Hit the subscribe button to receive Research as Craft straight to your inbox each month. 💌
Welcome to the Research as Craft community! 🎉