Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

How to Conduct a Study & Write a Paper in 10 Days

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First of all, the answer to this should be NEVER. NEVER EVER DO THIS. Especially if you’re not in a context where you’re fully immersed in it, but actually just got back from a long trip, are starting a new semester, and your kid is starting the school year. Definitely not a good idea.

But I did it. For reasons that make no sense to anyone but myself. I decided to submit a proposal to a CfP on my own rather than with a partner, submitted it slightly late but it got accepted, the I discovered the extremely tight deadline, then submitted to IRB here for ethical approval, and that took time despite their willingness… because… summer. Then I basically had 10 days to deadline.

So then one of the things I did was modify my target group of participants to interview so that I could find an accessible small group who were willing. Thankfully, I had enough contacts within those target groups to get a reasonable number of people to grant me a 30-60 minute interview within those 10 days. I guess I could have modified my design to be focus groups rather than inteviews, but I sense this might have been more difficult to schedule and analyze. I can’t be sure. In any case, this worked out OK.

I also did my lit review in between doing interviews. It is not at all a good lit review. But I felt peer reviewers could suggest more literature while I focused on presenting my findings and analysis, which were what I had to offer and they can’t help me with at all. I did just enough to situate my work in so existing body of work but without going too deeply into it.

Two other things I did to help speed things up

  1. I sometimes typed up transcription rough notes, live, during interviews (esp online interviews). I had done this during my PhD and it helped a lot because I don’t have someone else to transcribe stuff for me. When I could not do this, I tried to do it afterwards listening to the interview in real time and only focusing on accuracy of parts I knew I was likely to quote. In those instances, I highlighted quotable text as I transcribed it.
  2. I was writing parts of the paper every evening, as I did a few interviews each day. Doing all the interviews in such a short timeframe actually helped with an intuitive coding process of comparing what one person said to another quite quickly, so the categories in response to each part of the interview sort of grew and built on what was already there. So for example, after 2 interviews, I started writing what came up in common or different, then after 3 more, I started highlighting additional new ideas and combining similar ideas. I have no idea what this approach to coding (not really coding), interpretation, and analysis is called, but it worked and allowed me to see everything interpreted next to each other in ways you don’t really see when you code less intimately. I think it worked for me. I think it has a name, like continual comparison coding or something, it just became my way of interpreting while writing really quickly.

One of the struggles I had for the first time ever is that I suddenly became concerned with how fairly I was giving space on the paper to different voices. Whose ideas was I privileging and why? I was reporting the diversity of perspectives but choosing particular things to quote, obviously, and I ws worried that

  1. I was privileging more eloquent turns of phrase rather than deeper ideas. I think this will always be a problem of qualitative research because it enhances readability when you do it, and yet they my not be the most insightful parts of the research. When you mention the deep ideas paraphrased, it seems to include them in a different way
  2. When an idea was shared by several ppl, there was obviously no point quoting them individually, so I would mention it and pick little bits to quote. Again, whom quote on this and why is tricky
  3. Because I knew each individual I interviewed, I was concerned I was privileging people who had more experience or whom I considered to be more wise or such. I was also concerned with people feeling offended by being underquoted (not just misunderstood)
  4. Of course, my subjectivity as researcher is always there as I may choose to put more emphasis on ideas I agreed with. Or ones I found new *to me*. Interestingly, my own views oscillated during this process as I discovered how strongly participants felt about this subject (one I also felt strongly about). Some of their nuanced perspectives and reactions to my interview questions gave me several aha moments. It was a transformative experience, and even though I knew all the participants to varying degrees beforehand, I felt like I got to know them better.
  5. Does the order of conducting the interviews matter? Do the first few interviews color our perspective? Does doing two in a row mean the responses from one influence how we listen to and interact in the next interview?
  6. I wanted to sort of create an interative process. While writing out results, I kind of felt like going back to participants and saying, “you and X have similar background and they touched on this here, what do you think?”. Is this kind of thing DONE? A sort of asynchronous focus group like thing! I searched and apparently that term exists but not in the way I mean it. Could be done as a Gdoc with comments… but am concerned about confidentiality. I guess if IRB approval was on a process that already included this, it would be OK. But also, it would introduce issues of power. If someone knew their boss or someone more senior said something, would they react differently?

I am going to stop here, but this is by no means all that’s on my mind. It’s just all that I have energy for at 2am. Incidentally, I was examining an MA thesis on a closely related topic in the midst of all this, so that kinda played into it all, indirectly.

Here is a tweet I sent out while working on the paper (see people’s helpful responses):

Thanks to all who engaged with me on this!

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