As researchers, we all get stuck or feel blocked within the research process at some point (or multiple points). I was talking with a friend recently who was stuck at the analysis stage. I thought, given some people will be working on their research over the break, it might be useful to write down some ideas on how to get “unstuck” at the analysis stage. Most of these suggestions are what I recommend to researchers when they come to see me, and I use most of these myself. Take your pick from a few of these ideas and see what works for you.
I’ve often seen people get stuck at the analysis stage. This is one of the most common reasons people come and see me. They have collected some, or all of their data, and get stuck at various stages in the analysis process. Some of the things people tell me:
- I’ve collected my data, now what?
- They feel overwhelmed
- Don’t know where to start
- Don’t know how to approach the analysis
- Have started analysing but nothing is making any sense, or it feels very messy.
Consider your approach
If you are stuck at the beginning of this analysis stage, or are finding it very “messy”, have a think about the which analysis approach best fits your research design. See what others in your discipline or those using the same methodology and methods have done. Reading up on qualitative analysis techniques is also very useful and will give ideas on coding and analysis techniques. Here are three books I recommend to get you started:
- Handling Qualitative Data; A Practical Guide 3rd Ed. by Lyn Richards https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/handling-qualitative-data/book241828
- The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers, 3rd Ed. by Johnny Saldana https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/the-coding-manual-for-qualitative-researchers/book243616
- Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists by Anslem L. Strauss https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1206384.Qualitative_Analysis_for_Social_Scientists
Get the personal out of the way
Another reason I’ve found people get stuck at this stage is because they put a lot of pressure on themselves or the outcome of the research. Especially HDR students. It may be that they want to help people, help friends, change the world, want a specific job at the end, want this project to change the world. If this is you, I suggest, just for a moment, just for a day, forget about everyone else, forget about the past and the future. Just think about what the data is telling you. What your participants are telling you. You have a responsibility to be true to their stories. (If you find being true to the data stressful, then see the previous point about analysis techniques).
How do you put everything aside? Record your fears, thoughts, dreams and achievements in some way. You could write them down, draw them, put them in a table or diagram, or even audio record them on a voice recorder using your phone. This way, these things are safe, and not going anywhere. You get them out of your head, and this will help you focus.
After this, just connect with the data. Read the transcript, listen to the interview. See what it is that people are trying to tell you. Trust in the process, and trust in yourself. And remember, unless you actually do the analysis, and do it to the best of your ability (note I didn’t say perfectly), then nothing is going to come of the research anyway.
Time for self-care
Maybe you are blocked because you are burned out, stressed or just need to take a step back. A break can help give you perspective on how the research fits into your life, and also can lead to great insights with your analysis. Sometimes distance adds clarity. It is not always easy to recognise that we might need a break, that we might need to rest our mind and/or body. What are people around you telling you? Are they telling you need to just get on with it, or are they telling you to stop. Listen to those you trust and listen to yourself. It might be time to just stop. Take a proper break this year, get refreshed. It might help you get a new perspective.
For me, this break will be a time of self-reflection, exercise, getting outdoors, setting the foundations for a couple of exciting project ideas for 2020, and quality time with my family.
What have you found helps you unblock?