Multiple question marks on paper

The International Journal of Inaccessible Jargon: A research dissemination gap.

As a research student, I regularly attend research training sessions and other such events. A running theme in many of these sessions has been ‘impact’ – more specifically, how can we create impact with our research? Who might benefit from our research? How can we engage with them?

What is impact? 

Earlier this year I attended a training session on “Evaluating your Digital Impact”, run by the Scottish Graduate School for Social Science. The aim of this training was to make us aware of how we can evaluate our research impact, and identify ways of disseminating our research. J. Britt Holbrook’s list of 56 Indicators of Impact (featured on the LSE blog) shows that impact is measurable in more ways than counting how many times your work is cited. Furthermore, Holbrook identifies that impact – which is so often talked about as a positive outcome – can also be controversial or negative.

Last week I was in Keele, at the first PG conference held by the AHRC North West Consortium. In his keynote, Professor Charles Forsdick suggested a shift is needed, away from talking about ‘impact’ – which in the REF is encountered as a short-term result rather than the long-term impact more applicable to the arts and humanities – towards a focus on public engagement and knowledge exchange.   I find this helpful, particularly as a musician and music PhD student, as it suggests more of a dialogue between research and society.

Understanding Academic Writing:

I struggle with reading journal articles sometimes – my academic vocabulary isn’t great, so I find myself using a dictionary more often than I’d like. While a lot of information is presented in easy-to-read language these days, there is no real consensus on the strict stylistic conventions of academic writing. This is my experience as a research student, so I’ll use the following example to illustrate a problem I’ve observed in music education.

In May this year, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS) and Heads of Instrumental Teaching Scotland (HITS) co-hosted a conference, “Instrumental Music: A Shared Vision for the future”. While this conference is aimed primarily at practicing teachers and instrumental instructors, research was embedded in the programme as a way to show the benefits of music education. Stephen Broad made a point, though, of highlighting the gap between research and practice.   Only a handful of people out of approximately 200 delegates had heard of the top peer-reviewed international music education journal, and they were all academics, not working in schools.

There is an enormous corpus of excellent and valuable academic research in the field of music education and, as academics, the primary way we are pushed to get our research out into the world is via academic, peer-reviewed journals. Yet, we must ask ourselves: How many teachers have access to subscription-only journals? How many teachers have time to trawl the internet looking for the latest research? How many teachers have time to sit in peace and read academic jargon-filled articles? In theory, yes, schools and local authorities might subscribe to journals, and teachers have CPD/preparation time set aside to spend reading research, but in reality there has to be a better way for them to engage with research. I don’t have an answer, but maybe a starting point would be to ask music teachers what they would find helpful?

So, when working in an area as relevant to society as music education, is there a responsibility for researchers to make sure that their work can be read and understood easily? Perhaps. However, one problem with accessible language is that it isn’t always as specific as academic language, and the vagueness and ambiguities can sometimes lead to miscommunication, which can be a risk in getting the correct message across. This issue is compounded by the fact that music also has its own disciplinary discourse(s) and effective communication between educators, researchers, musicians and students can be problematic.

Is there a happy medium? In discussions at a Research Blogging training event run by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities, one solution offered was to write academically as normal for formal research publications, but also use mediums like blogging to write a more public-friendly version. However, this can double the workload, so I’m not convinced it’s a viable solution in the long term. There are risks, however, to completely abandoning academic terminology with its specificity, so maybe we should be careful…

Open Access:

 We can change the way research is written about, but there is still an issue in how to access that writing if it is held behind subscriptions. According to this recent article from THE, Open Access journal articles are more likely to be cited on Twitter, than those with subscriptions, with the opposite effect on Mendeley and Wikipedia, suggesting that readership on social media networks is wider, and goes beyond academics.

At another training event I attended, “Developing a Writing and Publication Strategy in the Digital Age”, a PhD peer asked: as researchers funded by public money, do we have a responsibility to publish in Open Access formats so that the public can see what they are paying for? There are options for publishing work online, but using access requests to mediate and measure who is reading it.

Are we moving towards more of this? Should we move towards more of this? I don’t know what the ramifications are from an economic point of view, for subscription-only journals, and the knock on effect for research funding and universities, but it makes sense to me to break down these barriers to accessing research.   There is nothing worse than having a Google search breakthrough in a literature search, but finding that your institution doesn’t have a subscription to that particular issue of a journal.   Most of the time, we have friends at other institutions to turn to, but occasionally we miss out on that one article that looked so relevant. There is also the issue of breaking rules to access research, summed up well in this recent blog post – what’s more important? Publishers getting their money, or improved research and practice as a result of easier access to literature?

Can we learn from practice-based research? 

How do you disseminate your work if it’s not written? Having seen some practice-based PhD research presentations, or rather performances, last week in Keele, I think we could draw on these less traditional ways of sharing research. Perhaps it is less about saying than doing, more about showing. This, I feel, is particularly important in the field of music education

Some questions to ponder:

My conference review, in this month’s Scottish Education Journal, asks some important questions in light of this research dissemination gap – what do practitioners think the best way is to access research? How do practitioners want to hear about research? What do they think is the solution to bridging this research dissemination gap?

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Diljeet Bhachu is a PhD researcher in the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include equality, diversity and inclusion in music education, musical identities and creativities. Diljeet is also a freelance musician and administrates Play On, an inclusive instrumental instruction programme run by Paragon Music. She is drawing on this inclusive music experience in her PhD research, which is exploring community music principles in the Primary classroom with non-music-specialist classroom teachers.

2 thoughts on “The International Journal of Inaccessible Jargon: A research dissemination gap.”

  1. I couldn’t agree more with the point being made here concerning researchers’ perceived obligation to opt for words with a maximum number of syllables, thereby restricting their audience. Despite having been a lifelong philologist, I still try to remain comprehensible as though in everyday speech. If prose is too densely packed with potent words, it can make a plodding read if you’re opening the dictionary every other sentence.

    Case in point: diegesis > narrative > story. Why use ‘diegesis’ if all you really mean in a certain context is ‘story’? Same goes for composition if complexity starts to become an end in itself, potentially emptying the concert hall in the process.

    I agree also that if we want pedagogical research to be of value to teachers, they ought to be able to find it easily, and to be able to read it, absorb it and apply it in their professional lives.

    When it comes to ‘composition as research’ and ‘practice based research’, this is in effect ticking the ‘relevance’ box, as though the thesis fails legitimacy unless couched in such terms. Is there a case therefore to be made for PhD et al in performance and composition, not to have to be called ‘research’ in order to win the tug of the forelock of our peers?

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Derek. You make an interesting point about composition/performance as research – at the moment it seems as though everyone has to put themselves in a box, of doing a traditional PhD or one by practice, or fall somewhere in between – e.g. practice-informed research – where we are drawing on our practice but not as tangibly as to call it practice-based research and be able to submit a portfolio of practice. Particularly in the arts and humanities, I think it would be nice to see more fluidity in this respect – not everything fits into neat boxes.

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