Plain Language in Research Writing, or, How I learned to chill out and love contractions

by Ruby (Lavallee) Warren
User Experience Librarian, University of Manitoba Libraries

When I came to academic writing, I was terrified. As a first generation student and (I’ll be honest) a pretty extreme example of a high school slacker, I had a deep conviction that I didn’t belong in a University at all. To try and “prove” that I was worthwhile to academia, I tried to bend my writing in imitation of the journal articles I struggled through, in imitation of the ideas of my professors, even in imitation of the practices of other students if I was sufficiently intimidated by them. I tried to make myself sound important and knowledgeable in the way I wrote. The stuffier and more impenetrable my language was, as far as I could tell, the better I was doing at “fitting in”.

Of course, I was really just learning how to write poorly and look pretentious. In my third year, one of my professors gave us all an invitation to come and talk with him about our first essays and basically told me as much (sincere thank you to Joshua Schuster at Western University!). It took me years to relax enough to understand the advice he gave me on writing over the course of his class, but eventually I accepted that I didn’t need to write mazes to make people listen to my ideas. Writing mazes, in fact, accomplished the opposite feat; almost no one will reach understanding while fighting through writing that’s actively obscuring your meaning. Now I try and live by three rules when I write up my research for an audience:

Use the Two-Dollar Word Instead of the Ten

Writing is a lot like cooking. Sometimes you need a very, very specific ingredient of high value – a truffle oil, for example – to get the flavour you’re going for and make the occasion special. But most of the time you just want regular ingredients, in the cheapest and easiest way you can get them, to combine so you can make something nourishing and tasty.

Research writing, in particular, is an everyday-meal writing situation. Whether it’s a report for your institution or a paper for an academic journal, no reader comes to research writing looking to be dazzled by your ingredients. If there’s a way to say something with two different words, go for the most common option. Nobody has ever been impressed by a writer utilizing prodigiously assorted terminology (ugh, see?). And if absolutely only the truffle oil of words will do, make certain that its surroundings are simple and the meaning of the term is clear to your intended reader. Absolutely no one wants to eat (or read) something entirely made of truffle oils.

Simplify, and Make Reading Easy

To quote Serena Golden (of the Washington Post Express), “language isn’t a fence to keep the riffraff out”. Make your sentences easy to read – keep your phrasing as direct and simple as possible, and change up your sentence length to make your paragraphs feel more like speech and less like someone barking in your face. People complain about the “passive voice”1 , but the passive voice serves a purpose – as far as I’m concerned, the real crime in academic writing is writing that wastes time. Every word and clause you write should create meaning or readability. If it doesn’t, throw it out.

Straightforward writing may come easily to you. My misconceptions and brainwashing about needing to sound smart in academic writing took up a pretty strong residence in my brain, so often I find I have to write my paragraph, stare at it for a while, and read it out loud a few times before I can try out replacement sentences that are easier to understand. If you struggle, keep at it. When you’re stuck, I find it also helps to have someone less familiar with your specific field take a look and tell you when it’s becoming harder to read.

Be Human

While you should tailor your tone to your audience, you don’t have to obliterate any presence of personality from your writing. Say “I” or “we” instead of “the researchers” – a phrase that makes you sound like you’re having an out of body experience. Use contractions. View the piece of research writing as a conversation you’re looking to have with someone, and shape it accordingly. When speaking you have a style for your coworkers, a style for your boss, a style for strangers you’re secretly afraid know way more than you do – use them! Practice adapting yourself to writing and find out where your voice is for each level of formality.

(Admittedly, I have bit of trouble with this last rule. I lean toward the colloquial and slang-y, which is really only appropriate for research dissemination in blog posts and presentations, and I tend to over-compensate for it when I need to be formal. Further, it’s difficult to find your own voice while also trying to write in a way that other people can easily digest. And if you have stuffy editors or reviewers or collaborators, there are times that not a whole lot of your humanity comes across on the final page. But it’s worth trying. I think.)

You might not ever come to enjoy your own writing, but if you follow those three rules, you can at least be confident most people will be able to understand it. As long as people can understand your ideas, you can actually be part of the conversation – regardless of how confident you feel in your own style or credentials. And I guess that’s a good Rule Four for me to add in the future: If they Get It, It’s Good Enough.
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1Check http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/revising/passive-voice/ for help with the passive voice if you aren’t sure when it’s appropriate.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Research about Research: A Plan for Research

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

I have an idea to do some research about research. More specifically, I want to look into the research preparedness of newly graduated librarians working in an academic setting. Being that I am a librarian fairly new to the profession, I find myself thinking about this more and more and I have one big question that keeps coming to mind, “why wasn’t I better prepared”? I knew a lot of about research but not really how to do it.

My current research plan is to survey Canadian library schools’ curricular course offerings looking for mentions of “research”. I will look at the course descriptions and most recent syllabi (where available) for all courses available at the eight MLIS graduate schools in Canada and look for references to “research” and for research-focused courses. I will also look for courses focused on academic librarianship and analyze the course descriptions and syllabi for references to research.

Research is a funny thing and requires a lot of learning; you can learn methods, learn to search for and evaluate information, learn to write for other professionals, learn to collaborate with peers near and far, learn where to publish for the most impact, learn how to take criticism and accept rejection, and so much more. What I find most interesting about research, at least research for academic librarians, is that a great deal of this learning seems to take place outside of the formal MLIS program.

Research is a hugely important part of an academic librarian’s career and yet new librarians can often find themselves struggling to get things going. There are several reasons for this1 but you could see how the excess of learning throws them for a loop. Learning how to work effectively in academia is a whole thing in and of itself, and research can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. So what is the solution? That I do not know, but I am looking into it.

We learn so much in our short time at library school but research – the nitty gritty of actually doing it – seems like it is often missed in the formal curriculum. The findings of this survey aim to highlight some of the gaps in the current curricula of Canadian library schools and suggest ways in which these gaps can exacerbate feelings of impostor syndrome for newly graduated academic librarians entering the workplace. As well, awareness of some of the gaps can help professional organizations and institutions provide valuable continuing education opportunities for new career librarians. In loftier aims, it is my hope that this research might eventually help to augment the current MLIS curricula to offer courses specific to academic research.

1Maybe one the biggest issues is that new career academic librarians are often hired into term positions that do not require, nor make time for, research as part of their duties – but that is a whole other rant for another time.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

C-EBLIP Fall Activities: A day with Jessie Loyer

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre of Evidence Based Library and Information Practice

So, the 4th C-EBLIP Fall Symposium: Librarians as Researchers has been cancelled. The response to the call for submissions was less robust than we had hoped. October seems to have become second conference season with other conferences in Canada happening at or around the same time as ours. And to be honest, as C-EBLIP Director, I’ve got some personal and professional things going on that have left me with limited time to really focus on the symposium. I’ve been so proud to be involved in hosting our past symposia (symposiums?). I believe they made a big difference at a particular time in Canadian librarianship, offering a new space to share ideas and our research, and an enhanced focus on librarians as researchers. I don’t imagine we’ll try again, as things change and people move on (but I’m not going to say never). I am keeping reference to the past Fall Symposiums on the C-EBLIP website including the three programs. Who knows? Some collaborations may still be created by having that information to reference.

However, even though there is no Fall Symposium to attend, we are extremely happy to have Jessie Loyer, the announced symposium keynote speaker and workshop presenter, join us at the U of S on October 17, 2018. Jessie is the liaison librarian for Indigenous Studies and Anthropology at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Jessie Loyer is Cree-Métis and a member of Michel First Nation. She is a liaison librarian at Mount Royal University in Calgary, a guest on Treaty 7 and Blackfoot territory. Her research looks at Indigenous perspectives on information literacy, supporting language revitalization, and creating ongoing research relationships using a nêhiyaw minâ otipêmisiw concept of kinship.

She will be delivering a workshop the morning of October 17 entitled “Where Do You Work? Rooting Responsibility in Land.” Here’s a description provided by Jessie:

Through a series of guided questions and discussions, this workshop helps participants reflect on the implications of their presence on Indigenous land. There is a tendency to position Indigenous communities as only historical, only rural, only poor, and only reservation communities – while these communities are certainly still part of the conversation, they are not the only Indigenous communities libraries should consider. Librarians will be identifying the territories on which they live, work and play, local relationships and resources, and how often and at what level Indigenous folks are engaged in planning and decision-making at their libraries.

The workshop will run from 9:30 am to 12:00 noon in the Murray Library on the U of S campus. Space is limited so if you are interested in attending this free workshop, you’ll need to register using our online registration form.

On the afternoon of October 17, Jessie will be giving a talk open to everyone entitled “On Research and Positionality: Silence, Ownership, and Power”:

Heightened awareness of Indigenous issues has led to an increase in Indigenous research done at universities, research grants available in this area, and in CRCs with a focus on Indigenous content. But what does “Indigenous research” actually mean? And what benefit does research have to Indigenous communities? This talk will consider who owns Indigenous research, with an emphasis on intellectual property, the politics of refusal, the First Nations Principles of OCAP (ownership, control, access, and possession), and the ways that researchers might reflect on their own positionality.

The talk will be held at the College of Law in Room 64 on the U of S campus at 2:00 pm. Everyone is invited to attend with no registration required.

I hope you can join us for a day of learning, insight, and collegiality as we welcome Jessie Loyer to the University Library, U of S campus.

Survey Results and Year 5 of Brain-Work

by Virginia Wilson
Director, Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice
University of Saskatchewan

On May 15, 2018, Brain-Work featured a post entitled Future of Brain-Work. After 4 years of publishing the blog, we (the Brain-Work advisory committee*) wanted to know what our readers thought and whether or not we should make some substantial changes. Readers were encouraged to take the short Brain-Work survey and many thanks to everyone who did!

From the stark first question (Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish?) to the open-ended “Is there anything else we need to know?” you provided us with useful and thoughtful responses that have assisted the blog advisory group in moving forward with Brain-Work. Here’s an overview of what the survey told us:

Should the Brain-Work blog continue to publish? Overwhelmingly, yes, which is a very gratifying response. 91% of respondents said yes, 4.3% said no, and 4.3% said yes, but maybe the format should change.
Brain-work currently publishes every Tuesday. How frequently do you want to read posts on the blog? 47% of respondents said weekly, 15% said every other week, 19% said monthly, and 19% weren’t fussy.
The scope of the blog is broad: research, EBLIP, and librarianship. What specific topic(s) are most interesting to you? After a quick qualitative analysis of the responses, a majority of the respondents read the blog for research: practical takes, research in practice, integrating research work in with library work. The next most popular answer was all – all the topics represented by Brain-Work. Responses were a rather maddening mix of variety and research focus, leaving it difficult to decide if we should take the plunge and become a specifically librarians-as-researchers focused blog. As one participant noted, “There are so many librarian blogs about librarianship as practice. The research angle is unique to Brain-Work.”
• Based on the answers to the question “What kinds of blog posts do you prefer to read?” Brain-Work readers like short, timely articles containing practical, how-to information. Many respondents expressed an interest in research summaries as well.
• The idea of peer-reviewing the blog posts came up so without thinking too much about what that would look like, we asked our readers. 57% said no, Brain-Work does not need to publish peer-reviewed blog posts. 26% said yes, and 17% declined to answer that question. That’s somewhat of a relief, to be honest!

At the end of the survey, we asked if there was anything else we should know. Many of you said lovely things and commended the blog authors for all the work they put into their posts. The diversity of perspectives was also appreciated. And finally, our buggy comments function came to the fore. Believe me, it’s as frustrating for us as it is for you. Sometimes the comment form works and sometimes it doesn’t and the commenter receives a “you are forbidden to comment” error message. Hardly friendly and welcoming! This is a known issue that has no solution that we can find. Our workaround is to have commenters email their comments to me and I will post them on their behalf, providing I’m not forbidden to comment, too, on that particular day. Another way to interact with the blog posts is to comment on Twitter. Both @CEBLIP and @VirginiaPrimary promote the blog posts when they are published and a conversation on Twitter would be welcome.

Because the editor’s assignment has changed (my assignment – I’m the new liaison librarian for the College of Agriculture and Bioresources and the School of Environment and Sustainability at the U of S), we’ve scaled publishing back to every second week. The focus will remain the same (EBLIP, research, or librarianship). The comment function continues to be spotty, but we are contemplating a change of platforms. That won’t happen until next year now.

So, thank you, dear Readers, for weighing in on Brain-Work. Without the readers and the authors, this blog would not be heading into its 5th year of publication. Thank you for your continued support and hopefully your continued enjoyment.

*The Brain-Work advisory committee consists of DeDe Dawson, Shannon Lucky, and Virginia Wilson.

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

Study Leave Anxiety

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge

Is study leave anxiety a thing? I put off applying for mine last year at the last minute, telling a colleague to go ahead and submit her application instead of competing with her (we only have space for one to go every year). I had doubts about the quality of my research idea (having to do with librarianship and motherhood) and decided it wasn’t enough to carry me through for the full year. So this year it was my turn to apply, and as the only applicant I didn’t have anyone else to defer my spot to – if I didn’t apply, no librarians would be on study leave next year, and while that might be wonderful in terms of workload issues (those remaining absorb the person on leave’s duties for the year) I fear repercussions of us not continually taking advantage of this benefit.

Leona Jacobs, a retired colleague from the University of Lethbridge, noted that many librarians are reluctant to take advantage of their study leaves; in her research presented at CLA 2007, If it is negotiated, will it be used? An investigation into the use of sabbatical leave provisions by librarians, Leona reported that in 14 years, only six librarians at the U of L had taken leaves; five of these were educational. She turned her own anxiety about ‘what to do’ into the research project itself; brilliant! And also good to know that I wasn’t alone, though her research suggested that ‘my’ generation of more recently-minted librarians were more likely to take advantage of study leave benefits. Perhaps I am in the minority after all. Certainly when I got this job, the potential for a year’s leave was a huge incentive. I had fantasies of moving to Europe for a good part of it, with no actual idea of what the research would be but certain I’d come up with something by the time I was eligible. In the meantime I got married and had a child, so the prospect of relocating for a leave became much more logistically difficult. My enthusiasm for the leave took a nosedive, especially with no ‘great ideas’ on the horizon.

Regardless, I did apply this round, with a different project than I had in mind last year. This time, it’s to analyze two years’ worth of two-year-old qualitative data collected from student journal reflections on info lit labs, determining whether or not the students crossed the ‘threshold’ of understanding regarding the various ACRL Frames. I will use it as an opportunity to learn NVivo and the art of qualitative research, and to finally get to the analysis of these reflections which have been sitting gathering dust on my filing cabinet. However, even as I was filling in the submission application (at the very last minute!), I was once again filled with doubt. Do I care enough about this to last me the year? Is it enough work to fill the duration of the leave? I’m so used to doing research ‘off the side of my desk’, I have no idea what a full-time research load might look like. Or feel like. Will I be so sick of this project after two months that I will dread the remaining ten? What about missing my normal daily work? I also have serious FOMO – what kind of changes will occur in the library during my absence, both good and bad, that I may miss out having a say in?

I also have circled back to the librarianship and motherhood idea; I presented a brief summary of the state of the literature at CAPAL18 and was met with enthusiastic responses on the need for more research in the area. [In brief: much exists on academics and parenthood; very little exists on academic (or any kind of) librarians and parenthood, and even the stats are hard to come by]. So now I wish I’d submitted my application to do a full study on this, and at the very least try to edit a compilation of articles written on the topic (realizing full well that it’s much more work than I might anticipate, as reported by Maha Kumaran & Tasha Maddison in their presentation, Contracts, Contributors and Conflicts: Working with Publishers and Chapter Contributors at the C-EBLIP 2015 Fall Symposium.

So here I am. Info lit-related proposal submitted and accepted; leave to start July 1, 2019. I am simultaneously happy and terrified. Can I decide at the last minute (well, at least before our 2019/2020 assignment of duties are finalized) to not go? Will I enjoy it so much I never want to come back to my regular job? Will I be bored silly by my topic? Will I wish I’d done the motherhood topic instead? If I do decide to at least try an edited volume around motherhood and librarianship, will I get any submissions? (yes, that’s a hint – let me know if you’re interested!). Can I possibly do both in a year (without working even more than I normally do)?

Someone tell me I won’t regret this, please! (likewise, if you did regret your leave – I’d like to hear about that as well!)

Sincerely,
Anxiety-ridden librarian.

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Getting to grips with NVivo

by Chris Chan
Head of Information Services at Hong Kong Baptist University Library

Despite having worked in academic libraries for almost ten years, and taken two graduate degrees that included research methods courses, I must confess that my level of comfort with research data collection and analysis is not terribly high. My lack of confidence manifests itself particularly in the use of specialised data analysis software packages.

Studies that make use of such tools (e.g. NVivo and ATLAS.ti) are becoming increasingly common. Woods, Paulus, Atkins, and Macklin (2016, p. 602) used the Scopus database to confirm that the number of published articles that made use of one or the other of these qualitative data analysis software titles has grown significantly in recent years. I have found this to also be reflected at my institution, where our library has received an increasing number of enquiries about NVivo in particular. Apart from this contextual need to become more fluent in these data analysis software packages, as a social sciences subject librarians I personally feel a strong professional desire to deepen my understanding in this area.

As every instruction librarian knows, teaching or learning specialist skills in a vacuum is difficult. If there is no practical application for what is being learned, staying motivated will be a challenge. I was therefore fortunate to have a recent opportunity to gain practical experience with using NVivo as part of an action research project in partnership with a faculty member. This grew from an invitation by the faculty member to collaboratively co-teach a postgraduate research methods course. We adopted an embedded librarian approach. In addition to leading a traditional instruction session, I also attended several of their regular classes and was active in the course’s learning management site.

The depth of this collaboration between librarian and course instructor was new to both myself and the faculty, and this level of partnership is certainly uncommon at our university. We were thus naturally keen on assessing how effective this approach was in enhancing student learning. We were inspired by the action research undertaken by Insua, Lantz, and Armstrong (2018) in which the researchers asked students to reflect upon their research process via structured research journals, which were subsequently coded and analysed using NVivo. The authors reported that these “qualitative data yielded valuable insights into the research process from the student’s point-of-view”. In asking our own students to complete a similar task, we intended to also analyse the results to gain insights into their development of information literacy abilities and dispositions.

Apart from the obvious benefit that this enterprise would have on my teaching practice, the idea appealed to me in that it represented an authentic need to learn how to use NVivo. Prior to embarking on this project, I knew very little about NVivo beyond the name and the fact that it was used for the analysis of qualitative data. In response to feedback from our library’s users, I had been involved in making the software itself available on library PCs and laptops. However, my own practical experience with NVivo was zero. My first step was therefore to access a beginner’s introduction through an institutional subscription to Lynda.com. This was great for learning basic concepts and terminology and required less than ninety minutes.

After learning the ropes, my first step was to import the student journals into NVivo. We had asked them to submit their journals using Google Sites. Getting this content into NVivo was surprisingly easy to do using the NCapture browser extension. With one click, the entire content of a web page can be saved as a .ncvx file. These can then be uploaded in a batch to NVivo for organization and coding.

Once all of the data was imported, I experimented with coding a small proportion (10%) of the journal entries. I then sought feedback on the coding structure from the faculty. Once this was incorporated, I began coding in earnest. This was a time-consuming and labour intensive process. I completely agree with Carolyn Doi, who in her earlier post on Brain-Work about Nvivo states that “coding is made easier with NVivo, but the software doesn’t do all the work for you.” I found maintaining focus and attention during coding to be a challenge, and I had to split the work between multiple different sessions.

The effort did pay off, as once the coding was done I was able to start playing around with some of the analysis and exploration features of the software. Some are very intuitive, such as the treemap pictured in Figure 1 below that allows you to visualize your coding hierarchies. This allows you to see at a glance some of the more prominent themes based on coding frequency. Some of the other features (such as the various different queries) are more opaque, and I will need to dedicate more effort to understanding the purpose of these and whether they will be useful to the analysis for this project.


Figure 1 – Treemap produced using NVivo 12 Mac (click on image for clearer version)

So far my experience with NVivo has been good, but I clearly have a long way to go before I become a proficient user of this software package. My motivation remains high, as apart from using NVivo in research projects, I would like to be able to answer patron enquiries about the software and possibly even run workshops on its use.

References

Insua, G. M., Lantz, C., & Armstrong, A. (2018). In their own words: Using first-year student research journals to guide information literacy instruction. Portal: Libraries and The Academy, 18(1), 141–161. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2018.0007

Woods, M., Paulus, T., Atkins, D. P., & Macklin, R. (2016). Advancing qualitative research using qualitative data analysis software (QDAS)? Reviewing potential versus practice in published studies using ATLAS.ti and NVivo, 1994–2013. Social Science Computer Review, 34(5), 597–617. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894439315596311

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Responsible Metrics Movement: Don’t Judge Research by the Package it Comes In!

by DeDe Dawson @dededawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

I often rail against the unsustainability and inequity of the current subscription journal publishing system. We have the technology, the money (if we disinvest from the current system), and the ingenuity to completely re-imagine this system (see Jon Tennant’s recent article – it is short and worth your time!). A new system could be entirely open, inclusive, and democratic: enabling anyone in the world to read and build upon the research. This has the potential to dramatically increase the speed of progress in research as well as its uptake and real-world impact. The return on investment for universities and research funders would be considerable (this is exactly why many funders are adopting open access policies).

So, why is it so hard to get to this ScholComm paradise?

It is a complex system, with many moving parts and vested interests. And getting to my idealistic future is also a huge collective action problem. But I think there’s more going on that holds us back…

Have you ever heard of the analytical technique called The 5 Whys? It is designed to get at the underlying basis of a problem. Basically, you just keep asking “why?” until you get at the root of the issue (this may be more or less than five times obviously!). Addressing the basis of the problem is more effective than dumping loads of time and resources in fixing all the intermediary issues.

I’ve used The 5 Whys numerous times when I’m stewing over this dilemma of inertia in transitioning to a new model of scholarly publishing. I always arrive at the same conclusion. (Before reading on, why don’t you try this and see if you arrive where I always do?)

1st Why: Why is it so hard to transition to a new, more sustainable model of publishing?
Answer: Because the traditional subscription publishers are so powerful; they control so much!

2nd Why: Why are they so powerful?
Answer: Because many researchers insist on publishing in their journals.

3rd Why: Why do they insist on publishing in those journals?
Answer: Because they are addicted to the prestige titles and impact factors of those journals.

4th Why: Why are they addicted to these things?
Answer: Because they feel that their career depends on it.

5th Why: Why do they think that their careers depend on this?
Answer: Hiring & merit committees, tenure & promotion committees, and granting agencies often judge the quality of research based on the prestige (or impact factor) of the journal it is published in.

Of course there are many variations in how to ask and answer these questions. And there are associated problems that emerge as well. But, the underlying problem I always arrive back at is the perverse incentive systems in higher education and the “Publish or Perish” mentality. And of course what this tweet says:

Ok, so now let’s ask a “How?” question…

If academia’s incentive systems are one of the major factors holding us back from transitioning to a more sustainable publishing system then… How do we change the incentives?

The Responsible Metrics Movement has been growing in recent years. Two statements are fueling this movement:
The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA)
Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics

Each of these statements advocates for academia to critically examine how they assess research, and encourages adoption of responsible metrics (or methods) that judge the research on its own merits and not the package it comes in (i.e. the prestige of the journal). DORA focuses primarily on combating the problem of journal-based metrics (the problems with the Journal Impact Factor are well known), and makes a number of suggestions for action by various stakeholders. While Leiden is more comprehensive with 10 principles. See this video for a nice overview of the Leiden Principles:

Evaluating researchers by actually reading their published outputs seems like an obvious solution… until you are on one of those hiring committees (or tenure/promotion/merit committees, or grant adjudication committees, etc.) and faced with a stack of applications – each with a long list of publications for you to read and assess! Instead, Stephen Curry (Chair of the DORA Steering Committee and passionate advocate in this area), suggests candidates compile a one or two-page “bio-sketch” highlighting their best outputs and community contributions. I recently came across a research centre that is using just such a method to assess candidates:

“…we prefer applicants to select which papers they feel are their most important and write a short statement explaining why.”


From the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology (CMCB)

DORA is also collecting examples of “Good Practices” like this on their website.

In my experience, many researchers are aware of these problems with journal-level metrics and the over-emphasis on glamour journals. It has even been noted that Nobel Prize winners of the past would not likely succeed in today’s hyper-competitive publish or perish climate. But researchers often feel powerless to change this system. This is why I particularly like the last paragraph of the CMCB blurb above:

“As individuals within CMCB, we argue for its principles during our panel and committee work outside CMCB.”

Researchers are the ones making up these committees assessing candidates! Use your voice during those committee meetings to argue for responsible metrics. Use your voice when your committee is drawing up the criteria by which to assess a candidate. Use your voice during collegial meetings when you are revising your standards for tenure/promotion/merit. You have more power than you realize.

Ingrained traditions in academia don’t change overnight. This is a long game of culture change. Keep using your voice until other voices join you and you wear down those traditions and the culture changes. Maybe in the end we’ll not only have responsible metrics but sustainable, open publishing too!

Recommended Further Reading:

Lawrence, P. A. (2008). Lost in publication: How measurement harms science. Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, 8(1), 9-11. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00079

Seglen, P. O. (1997). Why the impact factor of journals should not be used for evaluating research. BMJ, 314, 498-502. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2126010/

Vanclay, J. K. (2012). Impact factor: Outdated artefact or stepping-stone to journal certification? Scientometrics, 92(2), 211-238. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-011-0561-0

P.S. Assessing the actual research instead of the outlet it is published in has implications for the “Predatory Publishing” problem too. Martin Eve and Ernesto Priego wrote a fantastic piece that touches on this:

Eve, M. P., & Priego, E. (2017). Who is Actually Harmed by Predatory Publishers? TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 15(2), 755–770. http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/867

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Updating a Collections Assessment Rubric

by Kathleen Reed, Assessment and Data Librarian, Instructor in the Department of Women’s Studies, and VP of the Faculty Association at Vancouver Island University

Last year, I wrote a blog post that mentioned the rubric my place of work (MPOW) uses to assess collections. The rubric is a collaborative document designed by colleagues Jean Blackburn, Dana McFarland, and me. Recently on Twitter a few people mentioned the rubric again, and made some suggestions for additional items to consider. For this blog post, I thought I’d go over some of these suggestions, and discuss the way the document has been used over five years at MPOW.

The 27-point rubric emerged from a recognition that generic data like cost-per-use wasn’t sufficient in deciding whether to renew or cancel products. We needed a system to look at products in a broader information context. Thus, the rubric was born. In its first five years, it has proven itself very valuable to librarians. We use it when products come up for renewal, often grouping “like” databases together into baskets (i.e. the Big Deals basket, the videos basket) for easy comparison and a more holistic overview. Our liaisons find it useful to use when talking to faculty about potential cancellations.

We haven’t adapted the rubric much, only adding a “required for program accreditation?” question as our institution’s programs expand. But the broader information context in which the rubric sits has shifted, and some new suggestions make sense. Ryan Reiger proposed that an open access lens would be helpful, considering: “OA options for authors, OA percentage, Copyright Override in license, [and] Alternative routes for access.” DeDe Dawson suggested “other friendly license terms such as: support for text & data mining, and no non-disclosure agreements.” As increasing numbers of librarians critique vendors, emphasize open access, and demand transparency, these suggestions make sense to be added to the rubric v2.0.

Thanks to Ryan and DeDe for sharing their thoughts on the rubric. If you have ideas on how to improve this tool, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

(Editor’s note: Brain-Work is hosted by the University of Saskatchewan and there is a problem with the comments that cannot be resolved. If you try to comment on this or any blog post and you get a “forbidden to comment” error message, please send your comment to virginia.wilson@usask.ca and I will post the comment on your behalf and alert the author. We apologize for this annoying problem.)

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Librarians helping librarians with research (aka, my experience at the CARL Librarians’ Research Institute)

by Jaclyn McLean
Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Attending the CARL Librarians’ Research Institute (LRI) at Concordia in June was an exhilarating, exhausting experience that helped me solidify my identity as a practitioner researcher and confirm my plan for this coming year, in which I will compile and submit my tenure case file.

I have many ideas and thoughts that I’m taking away from LRI, and it’s so recent that they’re not very organized yet. So here they are, in no particular order:

• Librarians are awesome and so supportive of each others’ work—this experience was about research, but I’ve seen the same thing when we get together to talk about our practice.
• Working in a beautiful, acoustically thoughtful, comfortable space makes everything else you’re doing easier. The chairs in the renovated Webster Library are the most comfortable and ergonomically thoughtful chairs I’ve encountered at any professional event. I wish I’d taken a picture of them, but I did not (luckily, Concordia has posted some great photos on their transformation website).
• We talked a lot about habits of the mind, and I found that a very useful frame for talking about practitioner research, especially the concepts of responding with wonderment and awe and remaining open to continuous learning.
• While we talked about methods and such, I really appreciated the overall framework of the research lifecycle that guided our work (from developing research problems and questions to dissemination and research culture).
• We went beyond qualitative and quantitative and talked about a type of research I’m more familiar with from my background in studying history: conceptual/theoretical. It was pretty amazing to talk about this third kind of research as fitting in with LIS, which I had never thought of before. I had thought that I was more limited now to qualitative/quantitative research as a librarian, with data gathered from participants. It feels like now I’ve maybe got “permission” to go back to my roots and do other kinds of research too!
• Talking about your research with others can help you figure out what to do next, think of a new project idea, or change your direction with a current idea. The opportunity to discuss research with peer mentors and other attendees at LRI was really helpful as I developed a new project and reminded me of the value of talking about research with others.
• We had a morning keynote from Concordia’s Researcher in Residence, Claire Burrows, and her reminder to question what surprises us in our research and also what doesn’t, to dig into those areas and explore those ideas because they can be fertile ground for future research, or inspire a new direction for current research was inspiring.

I’m sure that I will continue to reflect on my LRI experience over the summer, as I tweak my research plan, work on my active projects, and continue to try and find the right balance of research with practice. Opportunities like LRI, by providing the dedicated, safe space to think about research and to meet other librarians who are engaged in and interested in research, are few and far between. If you get the chance to attend, I’d highly recommend it.

Now, I’m off to read one of the books we talked about at LRI, How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia. If you don’t find yourself with enough time to read it yourself, I stumbled across this excellent post about it on The Thesis Whisperer. I’m also going to think some more about my own research specifically, LIS research generally, and how I can continue to consciously build my habits of mind.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Beyond survey design: take survey data to the next level

by Carolyn Doi
Education and Music Library, University of Saskatchewan

You’ve designed a survey, found the right participants, and waited patiently while responses come streaming in. The initial look at responses can be thrilling, but what happens next? I’ve used questionnaires as a data collection technique, and made the mistake of thinking the work is over once the survey closes. Kelley, Clark, Brown and Sitzia warn us about treating survey research as a method requiring little planning or time:

“Above all, survey research should not be seen as an easy, ‘quick and dirty’ option; such work may adequately fulfil local needs… but will not stand up to academic scrutiny and will not be regarded as having much value as a contribution to knowledge.”1

Let’s consider some steps to explore once data collection has been completed.

1) Data cleaning and analysis
Raw survey data is usually anything but readable. It takes some work to transform results into meaningful and shareable research findings. First of all, familiarize yourself with some of the relevant terminology, before moving on to actually working with the data. Before touching the dataset, you’re going to need to create four worksheets, one for raw data, one for cleaning in progress, one for cleaned data, and one for data analysis. Each worksheet shows a stage in the process, which will allow you to backtrack, or find errors. If you haven’t taken a stats class recently, I like this introductory Evaluation Toolkit, which clearly describes the processes of cleaning, tabulation, and analysis for both quantitative and qualitative data.

2) Visualization and reporting
Consider data visualization to bring your survey data to life, but remember to choose a visualization tool that makes sense for the data you’re trying to represent. The data visualization catalogue is a handy tool to learn more about the purpose, function, anatomy, and limitations of a wide range of visualizations. It includes links to software and examples of each visualization. There are lots of free or inexpensive programs to help create visualization including Microsoft excel, Google sheets, or Tableau Public. If you’re looking for some inspiration, take a browse through the stunning work of Information is Beautiful for ideas.

Likely you will want to share the outcomes of your research, either at your institution or in a paper or presentation. Kelley, Clark, Brown, and Sitzia provide a great checklist of information to include when reporting on any survey results, including research purpose, context, how the research was done, methods, results, interpretation, and recommendations.2 Clarity and transparency in the research process will help your audience to better understand and evaluate the research and its applicability to their context.

3) Data preservation and access
Consider an open data repository such as the Dataverse Project to make your data discoverable and accessible. Sharing your data comes with benefits such as “web visibility, academic credit, and increased citation counts.” You may also be required to archive your data to satisfy a data management plan or grant funding requirements, such as those from the Tri-Council. When archiving in a repository, remember to share your data in an accessible file format, and include accompanying files such as a codebook, project description, survey instrument, and outputs such as the associated report or paper. As a rule of thumb, aim to provide enough documentation that another researcher would be able to replicate your study. A dataset is a publication that you can cite in your CV, ORCID profile, in a paper, or presentation. Doing so is a great way encourage others to learn about your research or to build on your research project.

Getting your hands dirty and working directly with survey data is where you’ll be able to explore and eventually tell a compelling story based on your research. Be curious, persistent, and enjoy the process of research discovery!

1KATE KELLEY, BELINDA CLARK, VIVIENNE BROWN, JOHN SITZIA; Good practice in the conduct and reporting of survey research, International Journal for Quality in Health Care, Volume 15, Issue 3, 1 May 2003, Pages 261–266, https://doi.org/10.1093/intqhc/mzg031

2Ibid. p. 265.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.