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.
______________
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.

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.

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.

Planning a Library Escape Room

By Gina Brander & Ann Liang
Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library

Stress Better is a semiannual Saskatchewan Polytechnic Library event designed to help students combat stress as they prepare for exams. As part of our 2017 event, the Library piloted an escape room at the Regina campus. Escape rooms are physical adventure games in which active participants solve a series of clues and puzzles to escape a room before the allotted time elapses. Academic libraries have used escape rooms for staff development workshops (Marks, 2017), library orientations (Salisbury & Ung, 2016), and library instruction (Pun, 2017). While our Library considered incorporating an information literacy component into the event, we ultimately decided that a fun, escapist approach would generate more interest and better support the aims of Stress Better. Given that many of our students more or less lock themselves in the library during this period of the semester, the irony of a library escape room was particularly appealing.

Outreach
Since no one on staff knew the first thing about running an escape room, we decided to reach out to local businesses and ask if they would be interested in developing a mini version of one of their rooms. Emails were sent to three local escape rooms, emphasizing the promotional benefits of the partnership and making clear that we would not offer remuneration. To our delight, all three rooms expressed interest in assisting with the escape room. The Library chose to partner with a local, family-run business that had received favourable reviews online, and which had offered to design a new room based on our individual needs.

Planning
Over the next week, the escape room co-owner and a librarian selected an appropriate space (a small, windowless study room), determined length of gameplay (15 minutes) and discussed potential storylines based on available library furniture and props (weeded books, filing cabinets, whiteboards, wall-hangings, etc.). The co-owner developed the design and flow of the room. Then, a week before the event, the room was closed to allow for set up and testing. A script and reset list were prepared for the Library, and a faculty group was invited to trial the room before the official launch.

Promotion
A variety of promotional methods were used. Due to the high foot traffic at the Regina campus, a chalkboard near the entrance and our frontline staff were the most effective channels of promotion. Participants returned to the library throughout the week to inquire about best time, which inspired us to promote a ‘time to beat’ on print posters and social media. This added competitive element kept the momentum going, and as the week progressed, we opened additional time slots at the request of students and faculty/staff.

Run & Reset
A staff member greeted each group and led them to the escape room. After laying down ground rules and introducing the scenario, they closed the (unlocked) door and set the clock. Each group was granted three clues, which could be requested via walkie-talkie. After the allotted time had elapsed (or after the group had ‘escaped’), the staff member returned to the room to debrief and answer questions about unsolved puzzles. After a brief photo shoot, the group was led out and the room was reset.

Takeaways
The escape room was successful, with 25 students and 14 faculty/staff taking part over the course of five days. In our post-Stress Better student survey, escape rooms were among the top three requested offerings at our next event. Based on our experiences, we can offer the following takeaways to libraries considering hosting a similar event:

• Faculty/staff want to participate! Consider leveraging an escape room for professional development, or as a method of raising employee awareness about issues like copyright.
• Team up with a local escape room for your first event. Utilizing the design expertise and props of an established escape room eliminates material costs and significantly reduces the amount of time required to plan the event.
• Elect one staff member to coordinate groups, send email reminders, and reset the room. Expect that they will have their hands full throughout the event.
• Pilot a room with a team of library staff to ensure participants have enough time to find their bearings, break through at least half of the puzzles, and team build.
• Host a ‘just for fun’ escape room with a competitive element to bring new students into the library and keep them coming back.
• Keep the momentum going by posting group photos and a ‘time to beat’ on social media.
• Utilize an escape room to offer a splashy, dynamic programming while also meeting the needs of students who use the library as a quiet study space.
• Expand your programming without expanding your budget by emphasizing the promotional benefits of partnering with your library.

Photo by Gina Brander

References

Marks, G. (2017). Escape Room! In the Library [PDF Document]. NJLA Annual Conference Poster Session. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12164/64

Pun, R. (2017). Hacking the research library: Wikipedia, Trump, and information literacy in the escape room at Fresno State. The Library Quarterly, 87(4), 330-336. Retrieved from https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/693489

Salisbury, F. & Ung, E. (2016). Can you escape the library escape room? Incite, 37(5/6), 24-25 Retrieved from https://search.informit.org/browseJournalTitle;res=IELHSS;issn=0158-0876

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.

Student Research Assistants in Library and Information Studies Research

by Cara Bradley, Teaching and Learning Librarian
University of Regina Library

Student research assistants (RAs) play an important (and often unsung) role in the conduct of academic research. I imagine that many of you, like me, have both been a research assistant yourself (while completing a degree) and also hired student research assistants to help with your own projects.

I’ve been thinking a lot about student research assistants lately. This reflection has been prompted by my recent experience:

– applying for a Tri-Agency Grant*, an application process that emphasizes the “development of talent” and HQP (Highly Qualified Personnel)

and

– hiring and supervising a student research assistant

To be quite honest, I feel like I’ve done a “good-ish” job at these two endeavours, but not definitely not a great job. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and to learn what I can do to improve in the future.

As I think this through, I’ve been struck by the somewhat unique position of librarians seeking to hire students to assist with their research. Faculty in the disciplines have access to a pool of potential applicants who have studied in their field, and can usually draw a clear line between the student research assistant’s experience and the development of HQP. Unless you work at one of the few Canadian universities with a MLIS (or equivalent) program, you do not have ready access to students with an interest and/or background in your LIS, and the line between the student’s experience and HQP can seem more difficult to draw.

Further reading has led me to the conclusion (a conclusion unfortunately reached after I submitted my grant application) that I’ve been too limited in my thinking about “development of talent.” Rather than stressing about how to create mini-librarians out of those who have no desire to be such, I need to think more broadly about the experience and training that I can provide to student research assistants. Extensive navigation of the labyrinthine Tri-Agency web sites eventually led me to the (well-hidden) Guidelines for Effective Research Training, in which SSHRC asserts that research training should “build both academic (research and teaching) competencies and general professional skills, including knowledge mobilization, that would be transferable to a variety of settings.” The site goes on to list some of these “valuable skills”:

• research methods and theories;
• publication and research communication;
• knowledge mobilization and dissemination;
• teaching in diverse settings and with various technologies;
• digital literacy;
• data management and analysis;
• research ethics;
• interdisciplinary research;
• consultation and community engagement;
• project and human resources management;
• leadership and teamwork; and/or
• workshops and conferences.

Hey, wait a minute! Those are exactly the kinds of skills that my grant-funded student research assistant would develop. This was a light-bulb moment for me. Although the grant application necessarily focuses on the details and minutiae of the proposed research project, I need to take a step back from this when describing the kinds of transferable skills that students would gain through working on my project. This insight will also help me to better engage and communicate with my research assistants, supporting them to realize and articulate their experience in ways that will benefit them in future research and employment environments.

I’ve also benefited from my reading of some of the literature around faculty-student mentoring relationships, as I’ve found that this relationship more closely reflects what I hope to offer student research assistants. In particular, Lechuga’s conceptualization of faculty as “allies, ambassadors, and master-teachers,” strikes a chord with me. He writes that the faculty he studied served as

allies to their students and took a supportive approach in working with them. Participants were apt to focus on the specific individual needs of their graduate students, either academically or otherwise. This finding is in line with other research on faculty-student relationships that has demonstrated the importance of providing personal support through formal and informal interactions

He goes on to describe another faculty role as that of “ambassador”:

In their role as agents of socialization, faculty served as ambassadors of the profession by imbuing students with a sense of professional responsibility and introducing them into the culture of academe.

Lechuga’s research on the faculty/student relationship has inspired me to expand my understanding of how I can support the growth and development of my student research assistants.

Now let’s hope that grant comes through!

* for those outside of Canada, the Tri-Agencies includes the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and are the major government funders of research in Canada.

Reference
Lechuga, V.M. (2011). Faculty-graduate student mentoring relationships: mentors’ perceived roles and responsibilities. Higher Education 62(6): 757-771.

Doing Research as a Procrastinator

by Kristin Hoffmann, University of Western Ontario

I procrastinate.

I procrastinate with my research, and in many other aspects of my work. For example, I started writing this post at 1:43pm the day before it was due. At the same time, I needed to work on a mostly-unfinished presentation for a 40-minute workshop that I was delivering the next morning, and I hadn’t yet started compiling the data for a report that was due to colleagues at the end of the week.

I get things done, but I often do them at the last minute.

I used to berate myself all the time, and feel very, very bad about my tendency to procrastinate. Then I heard a podcast with Mary Lamia, author of What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions and Success, and now I’m starting to re-frame my procrastination in way that is helpful, not shameful:

I’m motivated by deadlines.

Here is Mary Lamia’s definition of procrastinators:

“People who are primarily motivated to complete tasks when their emotions are activated by an imminent deadline. They are deadline driven.”

The idea is that our emotions are what motivate us to get things done. For some people, the emotions that motivate them come from having a task to do and wanting to complete it. For people who procrastinate, the emotions that motivate us come from deadlines.

Other characteristics of people who procrastinate include:

• Being energized and getting increased focus as a deadline gets closer,
• Feeling like they lack motivation and concentration when they try to get something done ahead of time,
• Having ideas percolating in the background, which come together as the deadline approaches.

I can see all of these in myself, and it’s been quite a revelation for me in thinking about my approach to research. In the last six months, a colleague and I have taken a research project from idea to ethics application to data gathering to analysis—thanks, in large part, to the motivation brought on deadlines. I’ve had other research ideas and papers in various stages, but I haven’t touched any of them for months; they haven’t had deadlines.

I’ve often talked with other researchers about the benefit of having external deadlines, such as conference presentations or submission deadlines. I’m realizing that my particular challenge is to figure out how to reproduce the emotional motivation of deadlines when an external due date doesn’t exist. I don’t need to feel bad about procrastinating, I just need to accept that I’m motivated by deadlines.

References and Further Reading

Lamia, Mary. What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions and Success. Rowman & Littlefield. 2017.

Blog posts by Mary Lamia at Psychology Today:
• Getting Things Done, Procrastinating or Not, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201703/getting-things-done-procrastinating-or-not
• The Secret Life of Procrastinators and the Stigma of Delay, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201708/the-secret-life-procrastinators-and-the-stigma
• How Procrastinators Get Things Done, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201709/how-procrastinators-get-things-done
• Why You Should Hire a Procrastinator https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201712/why-you-should-hire-procrastinator

Podcasts:
• CBC Tapestry, Procrastination 101, aired November 26, 2017, available at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/procrastination-101-1.4416658
• Success.com, Ep. 85: What Type of Procrastinator Are You?, aired October 17, 2017, available at https://www.success.com/podcast/ep-85-what-type-of-procrastinator-are-you

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.

Making a Database Demo Meaningful

by Kaetlyn Phillips and Tasha Maddison
Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Librarians from Saskatchewan Polytechnic interact with the Practical Nursing program at various touch points during the students’ two years on campus. In semester two of the program, to support a case study assignment, the Library provides instruction on evidence-based, comprehensive, point-of-care drug databases. The assignment requires that students determine which prescribed medication is causing problems for the patient. Previous sessions involved an instructor-led demonstration, leaving time for independent exploration of the databases with no formally structured student activity. After considering student and instructor feedback from 2016, the librarian identified that instruction could be more meaningful for students, which in turn would add value to the information and lead to greater student success.

To create a more effective teaching strategy, librarians added hands-on active learning activities. These activities incorporate problem-solving, role-playing, and discussion components which increase student engagement (Rush, 2014). By incorporating active learning, the session shifted from a librarian-centred to student-centred learning environment. In the revised session, after a demonstration and independent practice, students discussed their personal preferences. This active learning component enabled students to gain familiarity with all database options and select one based on their information needs.

After the discussion, students were given 20 minutes to complete a “Medical CSI” game. It required students to form groups of three, with each group member using a different database. Students analyzed a profile listing the patient’s age, gender, conditions, current afflictions, and prescriptions. The profile featured an unexplained symptom and students used the drug databases to find the underlying cause. If a group was able to find the answer to the mystery on all three databases, they won a prize or could choose from the ‘Box of Mystery’– a collection of prizes ranging from candy to printer credit to bookmarks. In addition, the Medical CSI game appealed to students by creating a game-based learning environment, but also incorporated problem-based learning, which involves students working in teams to analyze and solve a problem (Ferrer Kenney, 2008). The addition of competitive elements created a game-based activity, furthering the active learning environment by including collaboration, peer discussion, role-play, and creativity, which increase student motivation and engagement with the materials (Rush, 2014).

To conclude the lesson, participants were asked to complete a quick assessment. The ‘Exit Slip’ used the 3,2,1 format, and participants were asked to list three things they learnt, two things they enjoyed, and one thing to improve for future sessions. Feedback from the exit slips was positive, with 10 of the 13 exit slips mentioning enjoyment of the activity for its hands-on approach and unique problem. Additional comments praised the rewarding of prizes, especially the ‘Box of Mystery’.

While the changes to the lesson are considered a resounding success, the session was not flawless. One problematic element was students’ hesitancy to form teams. This problem has been identified in research literature discussing game-based instruction and team activities (Watson et al., 2013; Turner, Ketchum, Ratajeski, & Wessel, 2017). The cause of this hesitancy is unclear, and could be related to a mix of factors including physical space, class dynamics, or pre-existing beliefs about library sessions. The easiest solution to these issues is incorporating more active learning activities, which will serve to change the pre-existing attitudes students and faculty have about library sessions. In addition, consulting with the program instructor about the session and expected group can provide the librarian with a better understanding of the class dynamic.

References
Ferrer Kenney, B. (2008). Revitalizing the one-shot instruction session using problem-based learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(4), 386-391. Retrieved from https://journals.ala.org/index.php/rusq.

Rush, L. (2014). Learning through play, the old school way: Teaching information ethics to millennials. Journal of Library Innovation, 5(2), 1-14. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/journaloflibraryinnovation/.

Turner, R.L., Ketchum, A.M., Ratajeski, M.A., Wessel, C.B. (2017). Leaving the lecture behind: Putting PubMed instruction into the hands of the students. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 36(3), 292-298. doi:10.1080/02763869.2017.1332267.

Watson, S.E.; Rex, C.; Markgraf, J.; Kishel, H.; Jennings, E.; & Hinnant, K. (2013). Revising the “one-shot” through lesson study: Collaborating with writing faculty to rebuild a library instruction session. College & Research Libraries, 74(4), 381-398. doi:10.5860/crl12-255

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.

Researcher Degrees of Freedom

by Marjorie Mitchell
Research Librarian, UBC Okanagan Library

I recently learned about the concept of researcher degrees of freedom. The idea is that, as researchers, we make many decisions about the data we collect and how we analyze it (Simmons, Nelson & Simonsohn, 2011) and that these decisions have a direct impact on the results of our research. Obviously. And this is what begins to make this concept so powerful. I’ve been familiar with the idea of researcher bias, but this is a more subtle concept. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about deliberate falsifying of research results, but about the real choices a researcher who has gathered data, in any form, is faced with making during the journey from research question construction through gathering data through publication. Some of these choices include what data is being gathered and what is not, how to handle data outliers, how to group or cluster points of data when looking for significance or impact, and so on.

The concept has been around for some time and has been explored in the fields of medicine, psychology, and more widely in the sciences, where researchers were finding they could not replicate the results from published research studies. It’s spawned a whole area of research on false positive results, publication bias (more papers are published that show positive results than show negative results), selective reporting of results, and an “Open Science” network.

Evidence-based practice, no matter what field or discipline, has been one method of critically analyzing research results. It’s a valuable tool, but only one of many that can be applied. I, personally, would like to see more credit being given for rigorously trying to replicate previously conducted research. I would also like to see the publication of more null-results reports. It is incredibly handy to know a particular path is not a useful path to follow. I have to admit, I don’t know whether I’m ready to participate in the registration of my research methods in advance of collecting data. “A registration is useful for certifying what you did in a project in advance of data analysis, or for confirming the exact state of the project at important points of the lifecycle, such as manuscript submission or the onset of data collection” (Centre for Open Science, 2018). This certainly raises the bar for research.

We have a journal club in my library where we meet to discuss recent articles from the library literature. I am pleased with the “skeptical eye” we often apply to the articles we read, but I wonder whether our critical and skeptical reading ultimately makes us less biased researchers.

More often than not, it is challenging to attempt to make these decisions in advance of conducting out research. I admit to thinking “I’ll just have a look at the results of my survey before I commit to an hypothesis.” Often my research never reaches the publication stage but our research will ultimately be stronger if we try to make these decisions in advance.

I continue to look for new lenses to apply to the research I do and to the research I consume. It has not been my intent to criticize the people doing research but to discuss the challenges and struggles I wrestle with as I continue down a research path. I hope this concept will be of interest to others as well.

References
Center for Open Science. (2018).OSF FAQs What is registration? https://cos.io/our-services/top-guidelines/

Dickersin, K., Chan, S., Chalmersx, T. C., Sacks, H. S., & Smith, H. (1987). Publication bias and clinical trials. Controlled Clinical Trials, 8(4), 343-353. doi:10.1016/0197-2456(87)90155-3

Kepes, S., Banks, G. C., & Oh, I. (2014). Avoiding bias in publication bias research: The value of “null” findings. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(2), 183-203. doi:10.1007/s10869-012-9279-0

Pickett, J. T., & Roche, S. P. (2018). Questionable, objectionable or criminal? public opinion on data fraud and selective reporting in science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(1), 151-171.
doi:10.1007/s11948-017-9886-2

Simmons, J. P., Nelson, L. D., & Simonsohn, U. (2011). False-positive psychology: Undisclosed flexibility in data collection and analysis allows presenting anything as significant. Psychological Science, 22(11), 1359-1366. doi:10.1177/0956797611417632

Stahl, D., & Pickles, A. (2018). Fact or fiction: Reducing the proportion and impact of false positives. Psychological Medicine, 48(7), 1084. doi:10.1017/S003329171700294X

Pickett, J. T., & Roche, S. P. (2018). Questionable, objectionable or criminal? public opinion on data fraud and selective reporting in science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(1), 151-171. doi:10.1007/s

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.

Writing in the library: A story of exasperation

by Tegan Darnell, Research Librarian
University of Southern Queensland, Australia

As a research librarian doing a work–based Doctorate, with some work time dedicated to research, I thought I would find time to write. I even have time in my electronic calendar set aside for research activities. What I have found, however, is that a university Library is no place to write.

We work in an open plan office space, surrounded by our colleagues and in particularly close proximity to members of our work team. It is a great space to work together, to chat about incidentals, or encourage communication. I do not dislike it. In fact, I rather enjoy it when I’m busy answering inquiries or responding to urgent issues.

I have tried all the things to try and write.

I have tried:
• headphones
• headphones with loud music
• headphones with soft music
• wearing a hoodie
• wearing a hat

and even

• sitting under my desk with a laptop.

It doesn’t help. People can see me. They know I am there. They can say ‘Excuse me’, tap me on the shoulder, or send me an email – and they know that I just got it because it popped up in my notifications and they can see my computer screen…

It is no place to write.

I tried writing in the Library space. Surely, I thought, this would be the ideal place to write.

The private study carrels were all taken, so I sat down on a lounge with my laptop actually in my lap, ready to go.

“Hi! How is your research going?” someone asked within fifteen short minutes.

Shortly after returning to my writing, some students started moving the furniture around to set up a table for a group project. A few minutes later, the security gates went off. A small child took up residence on the lounge opposite me, rolling around on the seat. A student (and parent) snapped at the child and dragged them away by the arm.

The Library is no place to write.

Research writing takes focus. It takes time – dedicated time – and concentration. I have none of these resources in abundance.

I get out of the Library.

On campus is a small, abandoned office with carpet that lifts off the floor under the chair. The corridors here are silent, and no one ever pops in for a visit. There is no name on the door. There is no phone connection. This room is not connected to the heating or air conditioning system and has its own noisy air conditioner on one wall. I leave it turned off.

I turn off my email, and turn on an alarm to let me know when I can have a break to check for urgent messages.

Forty-six minutes of writing.
_____________
Bing dong bee ding! Bing dong bee ding!

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.