Wednesday, March 3, 2021

An Interview with Dr. Patricia Leavy about Research Design and Why Knowledge-Building Practices Matter

May 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Art Therapy, Featured

Patricia Leavy, Ph.D. is an independent sociologist and best-selling author. She has published twenty-two books, earning critical and commercial success in both nonfiction and fiction. Her books have been translated into numerous languages. She is also the creator and editor for seven book series with Oxford University Press and Sense Publishers, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Art/Research International: A Transdisciplinary Journal, and a blogger for The Huffington Post and The Creativity Post.

Patricia has received career awards from New England Sociological Association, the American Creativity Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, and in 2016 Mogul, a women’s empowerment network, named her an “Influencer.” In her scholarship and art she shows a passion for the knowledge-building process—how we create knowledge, on what topics, with whom, and how we share what we’ve learned. She is widely considered an international leader in research methodology and arts-based research. Her new book, Research Design: Quantitative, Qualitative, Mixed Methods, Arts-Based, and Community-Based Participatory Research Approaches is a career milestone and is poised to change how researchers conduct studies and how the next generation of emerging students are taught. We’ve spoken with Patricia several times over the years and recently had a chance to chat about the release of her latest tome.

Congratulations on the incredible release of Research Design. At the time of this interview, Research Design was the number one new selling title in seven categories on for eight consecutive weeks. Why do you think there’s been such a strong reaction?

Thank you. It’s humbling. I think the early interest speaks to a need the book attempts to address. There are numerous wonderful texts that cover three approaches to research design, each in their own way, and other books that specialize in one approach. Yet we haven’t had a text that gives full treatment to the five approaches to research available. Various forms of community-based participatory research and arts-based research have increased over the years, creating the need for a comprehensive design book. I think many professors, students, and practitioners have probably been waiting for this kind of text. I’m grateful people are giving the book a shot.

How did you get passionate about research design?

I know, it doesn’t sound like a sexy topic right? I first had the dream to write a book on this topic over twenty years ago. I was a sophomore in college, taking a required survey of research methods course. We read a famous textbook by Earl Babbie and as a result I fell in love with the subject. I admired his book enormously. It was beautifully organized and contained the pathways for creating new knowledge. Imagine that, really. A book that tells you what counts as knowledge and how we can create more knowledge, about any topic in which we’re interested. I thought that was quite profound and I still do. Even back then in a rudimentary way I realized Babbie’s textbook was not merely chronicling how knowledge comes to be, but it was offering a perspective on how knowledge comes to be. One day I hoped to offer a different perspective. I’ve been working my way toward this book ever since.

Tell us about the book.

 Research Design is a step-by-step guide to designing research using the five approaches to research: quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, arts-based, and community-based participatory. The book is divided into two parts. The chapters in the first part review the different sources we gain knowledge from in daily life and how social research is a unique form of knowledge-building, the main elements of a research project, ethical considerations, and the nuts-and-bolts of designing a research project from selecting a topic to developing research questions and/or hypotheses, conducting literature reviews, and locating participants for research studies. Each chapter in the second part of the book is devoted to one of the five approaches to research, and everything you need to know to develop a strong research proposal and design a project.

The decision to give equal treatment to five approaches, instead of the three typically covered is a distinguishing feature of the book. Did it create unique challenges as an author?

 Absolutely. This was the most challenging project I’ve ever taken on. I knew it was a tall order but I was committed to figure out how to achieve my vision. There’s a lot to fit into a book like this and yet it’s simultaneously important to streamline the material so it’s a useful resource. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to organize and structure the material, and my editor C. Deborah Laughton and several anonymous reviewers provided invaluable feedback as well. I also have to confess that I love a challenge. Taking on something new or complicated pushes and engages you. I look at challenges as opportunities. I’ve been asked before why I haven’t written more books on this topic or that topic, things I’ve done before. I understand the appeal of that for some scholars. But for me, I’m always interested in tackling something new. I don’t want to repeat myself or anyone else out there. I’m interested in pushing myself and perhaps pushing the field a bit.

This is a research methods textbook; however, it seems like more than that. Is it a statement?

 I have an active presence on social media and I share a great deal about my work life but I generally keep the title and subject of a book under wraps until it’s in production. I use the hashtag #SecretBookProjects when I’m posting about a current project. For Research Design, I used the hashtag #AllWaysOfKnowing in my posts. So you’re right. At the end of the day this is a textbook meant to serve a simple function, to guide students in research methods courses and to offer a reference to researchers. That’s the primary purpose. However, it is also an attempt to document and legitimize all five approaches to knowledge-building, without prioritizing or privileging any particular approach.

Each approach is useful for different research questions and objectives. It is also important to expand how we think about “basic research designs” because the newer approaches reviewed in this text were developed during a time of more diversity and inclusion in the field, which has made for a much richer array of research principles and practices. How knowledge is created, for what purposes, and with whom, matters. Our taken-for-granted ideas about what is valuable to know and how we best come to know are complicit in relations of power. Our assumptions and resulting practices impact funding decisions and ultimately the kind of social knowledge we create and put into practice in all areas of social life. There are real-world implications, down to the very frameworks people in daily life use to evaluate information presented to them. So for me there was an ethical mandate to document the five approaches to research design in a contemporary way.

In terms of some specifics, community-based approaches are necessarily participatory, as are some arts-based approaches. Including research participants in the knowledge-building process as full collaborators is a fundamentally different approach to the researcher-researched relationship which results in very different kinds of projects. It’s important these approaches are as accepted and accessible to researchers as more traditional options. Each approach has unique capabilities for contributing to our understanding of any number of phenomena. Also, because we have not yet had a text that covers these newer approaches on the same plane as more traditional approaches, there are misunderstandings that ought to be cleared up. For instance, in books in which community-based approaches are mentioned in brief, they are usually reviewed as a subsection of qualitative research. This is problematic because community-based researchers may draw on any number of research methods, including quantitative methods such as community surveys. Community-based researchers often use mixed methods approaches as well. By relegating CBR to a subsection in a qualitative chapter, the full breadth of what is possible within this approach is effectively rendered invisible.

You have a long track record of demonstrating a commitment to equality and social justice. There’s a strong social justice thread through this book which is linked to the inclusion of arts-based research and community-based participatory research, but extends beyond that.

Research isn’t abstract; it’s practical. It’s intended to contribute to some knowledge base and serve a purpose. As a social scientist I believe research that is of value contributes to creating a more just world. One can’t learn these values as an aside to research design. In order to emphasize the social justice imperatives underlying research practice, I draw on interdisciplinary research examples on various contemporary topics related to equality. For instance, there are examples relating to racial justice and Black Lives Matter, transgender rights and “Bathroom Bills,” and other hot topics with justice underpinnings. There are certainly other kinds of examples in the book as well, on topics ranging from bullying in schools and workplaces to unconscious bias to advertising for cosmetic surgery to funding for arts in education. My intent was to use different kinds of examples that are relatable to readers from numerous disciplinary backgrounds.

Ethics in the research process is also emphasized.

Ethics are often given minimal attention in “how-to” methods texts, and as a result they can receive little attention in research practice and resulting publications. As an author I completely appreciate that no one can cover everything in full and so I understand why ethics often gets a cursory review. While most books cover the basics of “first do no harm” and regulatory obligations such as informed consent and voluntary participation, the discussion often ends there. Yet ethics are intertwined throughout all aspects of the research process from the topic we select, to the methodology we develop, our relationship with those from whom we learn, and how and with whom we share our results. There are also issues often totally invisible in the literature. For example, I cite the work of scholars of color who warn against “drive-by scholarship” particularly as community-based research is on the rise. By this they mean to challenge what it means for a researcher, and especially a White researcher, to collect data in a community in which they are not otherwise invested (e.g., studying people of color, people of a lower socio-economic status). To address these and other issues I included a robust chapter on ethics, placed immediately after the introduction. The chapter covers a wide range of issues pertaining to our values, or what we believe, and our practices, or what we do. It’s one of my favorite chapters in the book. Then in the five design chapters I have “ethics in practice” notes highlighting key moments of ethical decision-making as it occurs during the research process. The intent is to reinforce that ethics are not a checklist to be dealt with at the beginning of a project, but rather require attention throughout. My publisher’s production team created a clever graphic of a scale that appears each time an “ethics in practice” note occurs making them easy for readers to see.

You said the ethics chapter is one of your favorites in the book. What’s another favorite chapter and why?

I believe in writing a textbook only if it serves a need. In other words, I have no desire to replicate what others have already done well. I’m only interested in a project if I feel I can offer an alternative to the existing literature that may be of use. When I took this project on it was essential not simply to add two subjects not covered by other texts, but to approach those topics typically covered by other authors in a different way. As it is, a professor may well adopt the book for a class and only teach three or four of the design approaches, or an individual reader may only read a few chapters. Chapters can be omitted and the book still works. I wanted professors looking to teach the three traditional approaches to research to be able to elect to use this book, even if they omit some of the other content. So I felt all of the chapters needed to shine. I’m particularly proud of the quantitative design chapter. I really love it for a few reasons. First, I included topics that are important in quantitative practice, and even the subject of debate, but haven’t received much attention in textbooks to date, such as replication studies and data sharing. Second, I present a detailed discussion of survey research including question construction, organization, and contemporary delivery options. Students learning to dabble with survey research or design a mock study or even a thesis project need guidance on the nuts-and-bolts of question design and may not want to buy an additional text. Finally, the examples in the chapter are relatable. For those intimidated by quantitative research or who don’t feel a natural affinity for it, this is particularly important. In order to show students how accessible quantitative research can be I used examples such as designing a survey around one’s satisfaction with their college roommate or designing an experiment to test people’s biases toward hip-hop music. Between the inclusion of contemporary hot topics often excluded and the use of student-friendly examples, I hope the chapter offers something for readers at all levels.

Other distinguishing features include instruction on writing a research proposal and extensive pedagogical features. How would you describe these?

For each of the five design chapters I used a unique format. The opening of each chapter presents a template for writing a research proposal and then the rest of the chapter explains in detail how to conceptualize and fill in every section. By using this structure readers simultaneously learn all of the components of research design and how to effectively write a research proposal, or for that matter a research report which typically follows a similar structure. At the end of each chapter there is a summary of the research proposal template and what each section should include. My hope is this gives the book a double function for students and makes it a useful go-to resource for researchers. There are numerous other pedagogical features as well. Research methods courses are challenging and present students with a lot of new jargon and new ways to think about building a research project. Because there is a lot of information to absorb I added features intended to enable readers to take breaks and promote reflection on new learning. For example, there are “Review Stops” throughout each chapter. These are short in-chapter quizzes aimed at assessing learning on different sections of each chapter. There are answer guides at the end of each chapter. There are also in-depth research and writing activities at the end of each chapter intended to promote further engagement with the material, as well as suggested resources for further exploration. Expert back-stage tips culled from original interviews with leading researchers specializing in each of the five designs, tables, charts, graphics, bold terms, and an end-of-book glossary are also provided, among other features. The goal was to make the book as professor and student-friendly as possible for class use.

This is a stunningly produced textbook from the cover to the graphics such as the scales you mentioned, and the paper stock. Was this important to you?

Thank you. Yes, this was quite important to me. Students are often apprehensive about taking research methods courses, which are required in many disciplines. There’s a different mindset taking a required core course versus an elective. Therefore making the book inviting, warm, and accessible was particularly salient. The aesthetics and layout of a book contribute to how readers feel learning a new subject. The production therefore impacts learning. I have to give one hundred percent of the credit to Guilford Press. They are truly a world-class publishing team and everyone involved in the production of this book did an exemplary job. I’m absolutely in love with the original cover, created by Paul Gordon, based on an idea I sent him. The production team determined and executed the clean layout of the book, created all of the graphics and other special design features, and to my mind they could not have done a better job. Moreover, they created a visually compelling book with the highest quality materials, without charging an arm and a leg. Demonstrating their long-established commitment to students, they produced a textbook of the highest quality and priced it significantly under market relative to competing texts. I applaud their attention to every detail and the quality and value they are passing on to my readers. I’ve received many compliments from early readers on all of the beautiful design features. I’m grateful my publisher took my work and created an end-product that matches, or really exceeds my highest hopes. I can say without a doubt that my vision has been fully realized because of their efforts and that’s a gift to any author.

Who do you hope reads this and what would you like them to get out of it?

I wrote it primarily as a textbook. It can be used as a primary or supplemental textbook in undergraduate and graduate courses in research methods across disciplines such as education, sociology, social work, psychology, communication, and other fields. My hope is professors consider adopting it for their classes. Students are the intended audience. Secondarily, it’s intended as a reference. I hope individual graduate students and researchers at all career levels find it a useful resource as they embark on their own research projects. There are some books in the field I have in my personal collection that I constantly pull from my bookshelf. They are go-tos. Various features in this book as well as the chapter structure which demonstrates how to write a research proposal would be things that as a reader I would turn to time and again, so perhaps that will be true for others.

What’s next for you?

For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a large edited volume titled Handbook of Arts-Based Research, also with Guilford Press. It’s a comprehensive, interdisciplinary retrospective and prospective overview of art/research practices, or what many call arts-based research. In essence, arts-based research involves researchers in any discipline adapting the tenets of the arts in a research project. I have an authored book on the topic titled Method Meets Art currently in its second edition, and there are other important books on the topics but I felt it was the right time for a comprehensive treatment. The scholars in this field are among the most generous in the world. I contacted many trailblazers in the field and one-by-one they graciously signed on to write chapters. Due to their hard work coupled with the exemplary production at Guilford Press, I think we’ve created a truly outstanding handbook. We have a tentative release date of September 8th. I have a couple of other projects in the hopper, including a new work of fiction, but it’s too early to share details.


Learn More about Patricia Leavy:

 Links to Books:

Research Design at Amazon:

Research Design at Guilford:

Method Meets Art at Amazon:

Method Meets Art at Guilford:

Handbook of Arts-Based Research at Guilford:

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