A self-observation research procedure generates a lot of material. Its collection needs to be organized from the start, and progressively edited down. A good habit to develop is to write a regular review summary (at least monthly and perhaps more often than that – it depends on the pace of the activity). These then become part of your documented process. What goes into this record?
Research reports, even of a conventional kind, now commonly include visual material of high quality. True, this is mainly illustrative in character but as technology has improved, particularly the easy weaving in of sequences of images and text, so has an appreciation of the parity between the verbal and the visual. The latter has traditionally been assigned a subordinate status. But, in research narrative terms, images can make a parallel argument or case in a way unique to that medium.
If the substantive content of the creative research process is visual (for example in areas as diverse as technological product development or fashion design) then it may be text that is the subordinate element. This is not an attempted inversion of traditional practice, nor does it underrate the distinctive qualities of text. Language has the special quality (like mathematics) of dealing with the abstract and ‘invisible’. There is a limit to how far visual material can be analysed, interpreted or evaluated in purely visual terms.
Producing an edited account
We’ll stay with the notion of a narrative made up of verbal and visual elements because this requires the more innovative modes of presentation. The manipulation of text and images using software which, with minimal training and practice, is within the competence of anyone who is computer-literate is one of the major contributions of IT to the recording and presentation of research. It is, in truth, so seductively easy that such reports can give a favourable impression which may not be borne out by a critical review of their content.
Probably the most versatile graphic design software is InDesign, which has many advanced features, but is capable of a basic use with very satisfactory results. It does, however, require training by someone who is expert and who can set the boundaries within which the amateur will not get lost. PowerPoint is also capable of producing a flexible narrative and, because people are usually more familiar with it, in general offers an easier approach.
Producing an edited narrative which does justice to the research process, and yet doesn’t lose the reader, is not something a computer can do for you. This is where the human brain is irreplaceable. The French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: ‘A book is not finished when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away’. In other words, deletions and simplifications are a major part of the process.
Source: Gillham Bill (2008), Observation Techniques: Structured to Unstructured, Continuum; Illustrated edition.