My Evolving Method For Writing For Research

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Thursday, 8.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing. – Wernher von Braun

I have been wondering about the purpose of this blog – why do I write it and how does it help? I started it six years ago so I could practice writing, setting a goal to write daily without worrying about whether it was good or bad, or whether I was actually able to publish every day.

Such a lack of focus is what people tell you not to do when you’re starting a project. You should have an audience in mind, they say, make it clear what you’re about. But what if you don’t know? What if you’re just trying to figure things out? Do you have to know what you’re doing before you get started?

Based on what I’ve learned so far I don’t think you do. Nothing springs fully formed even though it might seem that way. Taking a lesson from archaeology it’s important to go and survey a site before you form any opinions about it. This applies to business, to learning and to life in general. You have to spend some time messing about in the real world before you start thinking about how to make sense of things and how to do things that work for you.

I think I’m now at the stage where I need to do more than push out something every day without worrying about quality or fitness for use. This material has to serve a purpose. And that purpose is to help me with the research programme that I’m going to be working on over the next five or six years. That programme is not clear yet – it’s got something to do with making organisations more sustainable – but the process of doing the work is much clearer because of the writing I’ve done over the last few years.

And that looks a bit like this. I need to collect data from several places – good ideas from the literature, notes from the field and reflections on everything that’s going on. This accumulates quickly, page after page after page. I filled my last notebook in fifteen days. It’s a form of ethnographic research and it needs processing.

One way to process material is by writing memos – short notes that summarize the ideas, trying to explain them to the reader. That sounds a lot like a blog post. So that’s how I am going to treat future posts, in-process memos that address questions of methodology, practice, interpretation and analysis. These pull together ideas and can be used to relate concepts in other posts and in the source data. Maintaining these as blog posts creates a similar setup to a Zettelkasten – but there are clear differences as well in the nature of what is being done.

The idea behind writing memos is that they can support the later creation of longer pieces – reports, papers and even books. If they’re well written, of course, and if they’re useful. That’s what I’ve got to try and do with each post from now on.

So that’s the plan going forward.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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