That difficult second research methods book

In this week’s ‘A year in the life of an academic writer’ series,  Policy Press author and independent researcher Helen Kara discusses that difficult ‘second album’ experience in academic writing.

Helen Kara There is a myth around that the second book you write, in any genre, is always harder than the first.  My novelist friends subscribe to this, and I’ve heard it from musicians (about second albums) too.  With this book, I have found it to be true in one sense, and not in another.

Rock star or researcher, that difficult ‘second’ album/book myth persists

My last book, which was my first research methods book, essentially involved writing down what I knew about research methods, working out where the gaps in my knowledge were, and filling them.  As I had learned quite a bit over 10 years of professional experience and two postgraduate research degrees, the gaps weren’t huge.

This book is different: while I knew a fair bit about creative research methods when I started, there were a few gaps in my knowledge.  Hence all the reading I talked about last week.  Essentially, I have been immersing myself  in the subject, and while that’s fascinating, the quantity of literature combined with the deadline pressure means it has also been really difficult.

The writing itself, though, doesn’t seem any harder this time around.  Which doesn’t mean it’s easy.  There’s so much to think about, from word choice to overall structure.  But I’ve written enough, now, to know how to tackle a project.

Finding voice

With the first draft, it’s just a case of getting words on the page, and then knocking them into some kind of approximately book-shaped shape.  Then there’s a lull in which to work out what to do with the second draft.  I knew straight away there were two things that needed attention.  One is the book’s ‘voice’.  This needs to be consistent and have the right tone – and, in the first draft, it wasn’t and didn’t.

Readers of my first book have commented favourably on its voice, which they tend to describe as friendly and helpful.  That’s great, but it’s not the voice I need for the next book.  A few days after I stopped working on the first draft, I realised which ‘voice’ I needed: an enthusiast’s voice.  Not an annoying bouncy Tigger-ish one, but I do love this subject, and it would be a good idea to let that shine through the text.

“the feedback from my anonymous typescript reviewers was a real blessing”

The other thing I needed to attend to was the balance, in some parts of the book, between examples (too many) and surrounding text (not enough).  This can happen when there’s so much reading and not quite enough thinking time.  It’s the writer’s equivalent of too much data and not enough analysis.  So I’m pondering those passages, and working out what it is the examples and I are actually trying to say.

Given that my real challenge this time round was that I didn’t have the same depth of knowledge of the subject as my first book,  the feedback from my anonymous typescript reviewers was a real blessing.

researcher reading

Filling reading gaps identified by reviewers

They identified a few gaps in my reading and I was really grateful for this, as I’d much rather know about gaps now, and fill them, than find out after publication.  Hence the 50-odd papers and 20-odd books I need to deal with.

Additionally, one reviewer spotted that the dissemination chapter was shorter and weaker than the others (I’d been worrying about that), and helpfully suggested ways to lengthen and strengthen it.  The other reviewer picked up a glaring omission in chapter 3, and I’d also picked up another in chapter 6.  So I decided that as well as rectifying those omissions, I needed to check the structure of each chapter for more omissions, and fix any I may find.  One of the reviewers also suggested that I could consider developing the conclusions to each chapter, so I’ll give that some thought.

That’s a perfectly manageable to-do list.  I think I’ve been very lucky with my reviewers this time.  However, that’s not always the case.  Next week I’ll write about dealing with reviewers’ comments: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  If you have any stories to share on this topic, please leave them in the comments box below.


More blog shaped words from Helen can be found here:

Three compromises you have to make when writing a book

How much pre-writing research do you have to do?

Where does a book begin?

What, another blog on academic writing?!!!

A year in the life of an academic writer: About Helen Kara

And some books by the same author:

Research and evaluation for busy practitioners

Policy Press bytes

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