Research and writing workshop

Today I’ve been chairing a workshop at CILIP on undertaking research, writing proposals and getting published. It was a joint event being run by the Information Literacy group and Library and Information Research Group. I got involved in my capacity as Editor of the Journal of Information Literacy. I was looking forward to the day and have always believed that undertaking research is a really important part of a practitioner. In fact I am in the process of writing a research strategy for our team which should be available on our website fairly soon.

The strategy is an attempt to provide a rationale and a strategic direction for the research that we have done for many years and it sets out the key areas of research interest. Up until this point our research has been driven by funding opportunities from organisations such as JISC and the HEA and from personal interests. However it’s helpful to have this work recognised more formally and to have an explicit strategy. Writing the document also helped me see how the various areas where we have undertaken research fit together. I’ve undertaken research on open education, on digital and information literacies and on the impact of new technologies on learning and teaching at our own institution and more widely. However the strategy should provide more focus for the activities.

Next month I’ve been asked to run a seminar for colleagues in IT about doing research. It strikes me as normal to do research but I think other support services don’t see research as featuring in their day to day work. However, arguably if you deliver a service and try to respond to the needs of your users, you need to find out what people want and expect and if you are meeting their needs. Surveys are the one type of research or evaluation work that many services undertake, but research
is also the work you do when you develop new services or improve existing processes. Desk based research to see what other universities might be doing or fact finding trips to other institutions can all be seen as research. For me research is about asking questions and finding things out and it’s essential in my job.

I think if we approach more of our work as research it helps us become more rigorous and improves the quality of the work. A key part of any research is undertaking a literature review to place your work in context and see what others have already done. This strikes me as helpful in many contexts and can save time but also avoid reinventing the wheel when you are trying to solve a problem. Similarly planning your methodology is also important – is a survey the best way to collect the data you want? Is your sample representative? How do you speak to people who don’t use your services and find out why? A critical approach to designing your research is vital. Finally when you have done your research you need to think about disseminating your findings which might mean a report but you should tailor this for different audiences. Senior managers will want key headline facts and figures but a longer report will be useful some colleagues. And finally your users will be interested in your findings so how will you share your research with them?

I hope everyone enjoyed the workshop today and hope it inspires more practitioners to undertake research and helps improve the quality of proposals and publications. I also hope I’ve inspired some of today’s delegates to want to write for the Journal of Information Literacy. It was great to work with colleagues from LIRG, Graham Walton, Alison Brettle and Angharad Roberts and also Geoff Walton from ILG. We will be sharing the slides from the event very soon.

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