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Research as Craft - Issue #1

Research as Craft
Research as Craft
Research as Craft is a newsletter and community about how we can grow and improve as researchers.

Recently I was asked what I do as a researcher. I started rattling off areas of interest, recent work.
“No, what do you do? What is the thing you are doing when you do research?”
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:
  1. recognise the skillsets and tasks involved in research as concrete things that each of us researchers can develop, own, hone and share as practices;
  2. 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! 🎉
Resources & reading...
Every edition of Research as Craft will contain links to resources & further reading related to that week’s topic. For this first edition, we’re sharing links to things we’ve found useful lately to improve our craft and expand our thinking on what research is:
  • ​​​​How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing - Paul J. Silvia: As researchers we typically have to write — a lot. But writing often ends up done in a rush, or risks spilling out into our wider lives in the spirit of the tortured artist. Paul J. Silvia argues that we should treat writing like a habit instead and gives practical advice on creating regular scheduled writing time and practice. We’ve been listening to the audiobook.
  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World - Cal Newport: Research is full of cognitively demanding tasks that are tough in a world of digital distractions. In this book, Computer Scientist Cal Newport shares evidence and guidance about building focus into your own work practices.
  • Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction - Gary Rogowski: Ok, we haven’t actually read this one yet, but it is on our to read pile. Described as part craft memoir, part philosophical exploration, Rogowski’s book shares lessons on ’patience, resilience, tolerance for failure’ and more. It’s on the reading list as it might expand our ideas of what craft is.
  • The independent researcher - Nadia Eghbal: What does it look like to do research outside of institutions? In the 18th/19th centuries it was common (the ‘gentleman scientist’), but the pathway today is less obvious. Nadia Eghbal makes the case for independent research as a public service and enabling more people to make the jump. In Reimagining the PhD she details the process of doing an ‘alternative PhD’ as an independent
Thank you
Thanks for reading Research as Craft. If you think someone else would enjoy it, we’d appreciate you forwarding it on to them or sharing it wherever you hang out on the internet.
Got an idea for an edition? Questions or feedback? Or want to nominate a thoughtful researcher in your network? Hit reply to this email or tweet at us and we’ll add them to our longlist of potential contributors.
Research as craft is co-ordinated by Jenny Brennan and Aidan Peppin. We met in 2019 when we both joined the same tech & society research institute in London, UK.* Ever since we’ve been sharing ideas, thoughts, and questions on what research is and how to do it well. 
(*Research as craft is an independent newsletter and is not affiliated with any organisation.)
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Research as Craft
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Research as Craft is a newsletter and community about how we can grow and improve as researchers. Each month, we share ideas, resources, tools and more to support people who do research - whether in industry, policy, academia, activism or elsewhere. It’s inspired by the idea of traditional crafts as tangible practices that can be honed, shared and developed.

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