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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Technology-base and multi-modal research reporting (Chapter 11)

Reflections on chapter 11 of 'Creative Research Methods' by Helen Kara


This chapter was especially interesting for me since my day job is “Communications Consultant” – I invest a lot of energy into thinking about how multi-media content is presented, the platforms used and how to tailor content to specific audiences. Although Kara specifies that the dissemination process will be discussed in a later chapter, it is important to bear it in mind at the reporting stage, because ‘the way(s) in which you report your findings will affect their potential for dissemination, and that is relevant here’ (page 178).

 

Kara begins by discussing multi-modal approaches to writing, ‘Writers, too, often take a multi-modal approach. Different types of writing have their place even in short pieces’ (page 177). This is something I do a lot in my writing, because as a song-writer, I often dump lyrics into blog posts or use analytical prose to explain lyrics that I have written. I also included a poem, titled ‘Lives Inverted’, which I wrote about my ‘Brexiles’ research in the book, which included the interviews with participants as well as my introductory and concluding analysis. Kara offers a warning about taking this multi-modal approach, ‘it is possible to use several different writing techniques, even within one short journal article. This can be confusing, difficult to read and understand, but, if done well, it can be very effective’ (page 181). When I performed the poem at the Brexiles exhibition open night, I provided an explanation of the research and read out some key quotes from the interviews, before performing the poem, which I hope avoided any possible confusion as to its meaning.

 

Kara also offers guidance on writing with regards to avoiding procrastination, ‘there are many ways to manage time effectively for writing, such as setting goals, making a plan, learning to write in short bursts and establishing writing habits and routines (Murray 2009: 69-85). Also, it is easier to claim lack of time, then to own up to feelings of fear and inadequacy, which may sometimes be the bigger obstacles’ (page 185). I found this insightful to read, since I have never really suffered from procrastination (if anything I have the opposite problem – a compulsion to work without taking time to rest), so I’ve never really understood it, despite having friends who hugely struggle with it. Understanding that it might be rooted in fear and feelings of inadequacy makes perfect sense, as I have often put off attempting an unfamiliar task, by prioritising other work which I am more comfortable with – I think, out of fear that it won’t turn out as I intended.

 

Kara also writes ‘the language of persuasion is known as rhetoric… Rhetoric is sometimes derided or dismissed as… spin, where politicians use language to give a positive gloss to negative news… the true meaning of rhetoric is to help your audience to comprehend your message through clear language and understandable meaning, using the best possible combinations of words to convey your argument (Greenwall 2009: 196)’ (page 186). I am glad I learned this, since I have always considered rhetoric to be a propagandist term when in fact, it is not – it just gets weaponised by propagandists, along with many other great communication tools.

 

Kara also discusses the importance of interpreting research findings for the reader, although she doesn’t consider the audience’s interpretation of the author’s interpretation (Audience Response Theory) – I suppose because if you have communicated your analysis clearly, there shouldn’t be much room for different interpretations. Having said that, with arts-based disciplines I think there is much more space for individual interpretations by the audience. ‘Interpretation is an important part of research work. Reporting research is about identifying links and connections, and interpreting them for your readers’ (page 186). I love this emphasis on identifying links and connections, as a multi-disciplinary artist, this is always what I am trying to do – although, I will acknowledge that the more elements / different media used in your research – the longer it takes to gather those connecting threads and pull them into a convincing argument.

 

Kara gives a lot of guidance on writing blog posts – which everyone on the MA Fine Art Digital course would do well to read: ‘researchers are increasingly using blogs to report their research… If comments are enabled, or blogs include the researcher’s email address (or it can be easily found online), the researcher can gather feedback, ideas and suggestions during the process, which can be very helpful for the research (Vannini 2013: 449). At the same time this opens avenues for criticism, which can provoke anxiety (Barnes 2017: 18)’ (page 178). I can relate to these points, given how much feedback (both positive and negative) I receive online. I often invite my followers to interpret my abstract artworks by requesting title suggestions – this can often lead to a whole range of responses and interpretations I had never considered – which I love. However, I also receive unsolicited feedback in the form of trolling – this is usually abusive and hyper critical and can definitely cause anxiety. Kara gives further advice, ‘The actual process of creating a blog post is reasonably straightforward. A compelling post will be 500-800 words in length and well written, in plain English and with a good narrative arc. It will include at least 1 image and often other media too, such as an embedded tweet or short video. It is useful to embed hyperlinks in the text for readers to click on if they want more information, but the post should stand alone so that time-poor readers can take something from it without having to click on the links’ (page 179). I try to make my blog posts include as much multi-media content as possible, however, I accept that they are probably too long.

 

Kara emphasises the importance of considering the audience for your writing and gives an example of a research project that was reported for three different audiences: ‘The researchers used creative, participatory and visual methods, and reported on their findings in a wide range of ways so as to ensure that the project recommendations could reach a variety of diverse audiences. They wrote a conventional research report with three summaries: a standard executive summary, a child-friendly summary and a summary for young people. They produced five short films, three songs and accompanying music videos and three graphic art posters’ (page 184). Obviously, I was delighted to read that they used music videos to convey their research findings – however, it’s also important to consider the time taken to produce such a variety of different outputs, targeting different audiences, to prioritise what will be the most impactful.

 

Kara writes about the value of collaboration and the ethical considerations necessary when including collaborative elements in your research. ‘Collaboration can be joyous, productive and empowering. However, collaboration does not signify equality. In particular, researchers and participants may be unequal in many dimensions: for example, conventional publishing of written work is important to academics but may be meaningless to others (Bain and Payne 2016: 334). Therefore, collaboration inevitably involves compromise, and can also involve conflict, silencing and erasure, even within explicitly participatory methodologies (Bain and Payne 2016: 331; Phillips et al 2019: 4)’ (page 178). I have always strived to make my creative and research outputs as accessible as possible to my audience – mainly through dissemination on social media. However, I have also turned to self-publishing when traditional publishing wasn’t an option, which Kara also touches upon. ‘However ethically you report on your research, you may not be able to get it published by conventional routes unless the results are positive. This is known as publication bias…. Creative approaches to reporting, such as using short videos that can be self-published on platforms like YouTube or Vimeo, can help to overcome publication bias’ (page 178) I hope that in my MA research project, the participants feel empowered to contribute to the process however they see fit, so there isn’t such an imbalance of power as Kara discusses. I am also planning on a multi-modal distribution strategy for the project outcomes, which should include: artworks, textiles, video and writing.

 

Kara discusses in depth, my pet topic of ‘the role of social media in reporting’ (page 177), explaining how ‘technology offers many opportunities for multi-modal research reporting. For example, a blog post may contain hyperlinks, images and video; a video may include text, images and sound’ (page 177). She continues, ‘research can also be reported through other types of social media, such as videos published on Vimeo or YouTube. And, of course, social media can be very helpful in reporting your findings to a wider audience, such as be embedding the link to a blog post in a tweet that you write, or embedding an online video in a post you create for a Facebook group’ (page 179). I frequently share links to my blog posts on my social media and it is obvious to see which posts I have shared because the views are much higher (up to 91) on these posts compared to others which have single-digit views.

 

I was interested to read about ‘sensory writing’ especially in light of a textiles workshop I attended which encouraged us to think about the sensory elements in images (other than sight). Kara writes, ‘people’s knowledge of themselves, others and the world they inhabit, is inextricably linked to and shaped by the senses (Sparkes 2009: 23-4)… Fiction and poetic writing techniques encourage sensory writing, while analytic non-fiction techniques, conventionally used to report research, make it difficult to convey sensory experience (Vannini et al 2010: 380). Yet it is hard to judge whether fictionalise or poetic writing conveys information effectively, as these writing techniques are specifically designed to evoke individual emotional responses. New technologies have a great deal of potential for adding extra dimensions to writing, such as soundtrack, images, animation, film and other ways to engage the senses more fully (Sparkes 2009: 33)’ (page 183). I have always preferred song-writing as a vehicle to express myself because of the sensory elements; the rhythm, the pauses, the emotion, the vivid metaphors which come to life when the song is performed. I am trying to do more work with video because I think it can capture attention in a way that words alone cannot.

 

A final point which Kara makes, which I think often gets overlooked by artists is the need to interpret non-written content to make it accessible to non-artist audiences. ‘Any aspect of your research report other than plain writing – a table, a quote, a graph, an image – needs to be interpreted for your readers, so as to tell them what is significant or important or relevant. Do not assume that they can and will decode a table or an image in the same way as you would; point out which figures in the table, or elements in the image, are worthy of their notice, and explain why. This approach will help you to maximise the accessibility of your research reports’ (page 186). When you are an expert in reading visual imagery, it’s very easy to forget that others don’t know where to start. I often get told by people, that they love my abstract paintings but they don’t know anything about art and they have no idea how to interpret them. I think I have a tendency to over-explain my visual artwork, leaving little room for ambiguity or individual perception, but when you’ve grown up with siblings who “don’t understand what the point of art is” - then you have to learn to fiercely defend and justify your work.



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