This is a bit delayed, but I thought it would be worth highlighting some of the feedback we got from the last edit. Just to reiterate, this was an edit that was deemed penultimate (i.e. pretty ready to go in many respects) that was submitted to our collaborator (Samson Nashon at UBC Education) and also to be reviewed by a committee within Marie-Claire’s department (UofC Education). We also managed to attract a great comment from Vince LiCata, who happens to be a friend of mine with a similar profile of “science background, but creative leanings.”
Lots of different pieces of advice: including comments related to our writing voice, which tended to be passive or would sometimes even change (a side effect of two people writing it, I suspect); as well as lots of specific issues that could be compartmentalized as efforts to be more precise with our limited page lengths (sections could spend less time on existing program testimonials and more on what is missing that the research could fill), and/or pointers that would be akin to “tricks of the trade” (at least as it pertains to what SSRHC reviewers normally expect and like to see). Here, an example might include not assuming all reviewers would be familiar with certain concepts, especially if the concepts themselves can be open to multiple forms of interpretation depending on the academic background – i.e. “authentic science”, “creativity.” Another suggestion was as straight forward as avoiding using field specific acronyms (without explanations), or care in mentioning publications without a bit of context (it’s well known if you were a…). In some respect, a lot of these issues were a result of the wide breadth of discipline coverage in the research proposal. There are, after all, elements on education, on identity, on science, on writing, on creativity, and so on.
Still, at the end of the day, the primary criticism that was brought up the most was a perceived lack of focus on what exactly the research aimed to look at. Or rather, that the language and phrasing we used could have been much more direct to clarify the intent of the project. Quite often, this would entail suggestions to organize our thoughts in terms of the objectives we want to achieve, or the problems we want to tackle. For instance, this one quote from one of the social scientists reviewing it gives you an idea of what needed more work.
Stylistically, I often think of the opening paragraph as a place to state a research problem (e.g., the need for more engaged learners in authentic science) that your research will address – a kind of overview of why you are doing the study. It then orients readers to a societal concern you will address. Increasingly, this has become important and it helps you to map your project on to a knowledge mobilization strategy. I tend to put a central question to be answered by the research right up front. So, you may want to conclude paragraph 1 with such a question.
Vince (a biochemist, and in some respects an outsider looking in) brought up the same issue. In his case, however, it was interesting to see how he framed it around the idea of presenting hypotheses, which to be upfront was how I also first interpreted the issue (see my response to Vince):
For this agency, do you need a specific statement of the hypothesis? I mean your implicit hypotheses are rather clear, but some of the US agencies will really pound you for not having a “we hypothesize that the A experimental group will have the highest SSRIQ scores” or something like that…
What we had here was essentially a shared idea: that we needed to work more on clarifying the goals of the research, and in doing so, it helps streamline all the different pieces that are in our query (again the bit about the elements on education, on identity, on etc…). Still, it should be noted to see that these goals tended to be expressed differently depending on the background of the academic reviewing it – in our instance, summarized as a case of “stating objectives/problems” versus “testing hypotheses.” I found this curious, and I’m wondering whether nuances such as this two culture remnant will become an interesting facet of this project, which at the end of the day, is exploring a social science problem, where input from the scientific community may be a significant factor.
Anyway, talking to Samson and Marie-Claire about this further made it pretty clear what the best way forward would be – essentially, it was decided that for a SSRHC grant, we needed to present a discourse that worked best with the social science set. In other words, to pursue the idea of framing things around “objectives” and “problems” as opposed to focused “hypotheses” since this tact will give us a little more wiggle room – wiggle room that is often needed when exploring the boundaries of human behaviour and perspective, more so with our attempt to explore authentic science and creativity concepts.
The irony of this whole thing, of course, is that we are playing this grant write up rather strategically based on the difference of academic cultures, and yet the research project itself is partly about seeing whether these boundaries need to broken down. That’s kind of a delicious thought actually…