Visuals & Books: Little Quick Fix

Categories: Books, Dissemination, Focus Series, Getting published, Uncategorised, Visuals, Writing

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We’ve been exploring the use of visuals and visualizations in research and dissemination through a series of MethodSpace posts. SAGE is offering a new series of small, focused books on important research concepts that use visuals in new ways. I interviewed Commissioning Editor Alysha Owen to learn more about this approach. She discussed the strategy behind this series, as well as recommendations for researchers who are interested in proposing a new book.

JS. The Little Quick Fix books use a very visual format, in contrast to the typically text-heavy style for most books on research design and methods. What was behind this choice of format?

AO. Students and novice researchers were absolutely our inspiration here, and we involved them directly in the development of this series. We frequently see these readers turning to resources like YouTube because they want powerful and simple tools that deliver results quickly in an easy-to-digest format, but they also want to be guaranteed quality, reliable results. We wanted to create a type of book that is more than YouTube—one that would help them meet assessment deadlines, master stages of their methods course, and get over the hurdles of their research projects with no fluff and concrete outcomes. The visual style of these books not only makes the content feel more approachable, but also offers significant opportunities to guide readers through learning step-by-step, reinforce key messages, and provide signposts to help navigate the content swiftly and effectively.

JS. In some visually-oriented books, the writer generates images. That is not the case with Little Quick Fix books. What purpose did you hope to fulfill with the design and graphic style of these books?

AO. Since graphics are so integral to the mission and approach of this series, we wanted the aesthetic to be a common thread that links all of the books. Each Little Quick Fix breaks down one common methods problem and offers solution-focused advice on how to fix or how to approach that specific problem. A single book can be read in isolation as a support or as a refresher on a certain topic, but the books can also be collected to offer continued support throughout a methods course or a research project. Broadly speaking there are three types of LQFs that speak to different methods ‘fixes’: the data LQFs, the statistics LQFs, and the research project LQFs. We wanted to create a design that would encourage accessible, fluid reading and content navigation regardless of subject area. We want readers to be able to know, trust, and anticipate what they will get from every LQF: easy navigation, reinforced learning, interactive DIY tasks, and defined and celebrated results. So we work closely with our in-house production and design teams on each book, ensuring it has a bespoke design while still drawing upon the same stylistic elements and visual aesthetics.

JS. The graphics are playful and fun, while the subject matter is serious. What lead you decide to approach research topics in this way?

AO. Our overall motto for the series is ‘Quick results. Good research’. We wanted the style of these books to be about easing anxiety around common methods fears and dilemmas while still delivering reliable and goal-oriented research support. We have also learned from students that they want a balance between text and graphics, so we aimed to have a balance that promoted fun and focus, not panic or distraction. The graphics aren’t grounded in storytelling; they’re there to amplify key points and examples, simplify dipping in and dipping out of the text, and aid in quick reading and better retention. We also wanted to create an approach that allowed moments to pause and celebrate research successes along the way—a playful ‘Congratulations! You now know how to do x’ visual can go a long way in empowering readers to see tangibly how far they have come.

JS. The writing for Little Quick Fix books is substantive but concise. Is this the kind of writing readers are looking for today?

AO. We consistently hear from our readers that they are increasingly time-poor; between academia, jobs, hobbies, and personal lives, our readers have tens of other commitments beyond what they have to read for a course or what they have to do for a research project. Readers need to be able to find the information they need instantly and with as little hassle as possible, but they also need to trust that it fulfils their need completely—they don’t want to waste precious time validating or second-guessing it. These books are written with that time pressure in mind: they get to the point with clear language that speaks directly to readers, and they don’t require re-reading or additional sources to get across the finish line.

JS. How are LQF books being used– as reading by individuals, or are they being adopted as course texts?

AO. So far we have seen quite a mix! Our initial impression was that readers challenged by methods would pick these up as additional support, but we have also found that lecturers are very keen to have their students work with them as part of a course so they can ensure everyone is on the same page. Lecturers are just as—if not more so—pressured by time, and they are often unable to offer in-depth help to each individual student. Since these books can be read in an hour and are driven by self-directed learning, they are the ideal stand-in for a busy supervisor or the ideal recommendation for a student who needs more guidance. Although the series was originally developed with readers new to methods in mind, we have also seen postgraduate and more experienced researchers interested in them, too—the books can be great refreshers for someone who hasn’t worked with a type of data or analysis method in a while!

JS. What are you hearing from readers about the style and substance of Little Quick Fix books?

AO. These books are attention-grabbers, but they also maintain that attention. My favourite feedback so far has been from readers who say things like ‘I came for the picture of the fox and stayed because I realized I needed to hone my research topic’ or ‘This is exactly the book my students need to bring them up to speed for this exam’. I’ve worked in academic publishing for nearly four years now, and I can safely say prior to the series, I have never heard any of our books described as both ‘cute’ and ‘valuable’.

JS. Based on what you have seen in editing and publishing Little Quick Fix books, what advice do you have for researchers and methodologists who would like to propose a book as a part of the series, or as a book proposal more generally?

AO. If you’re ever interested in writing a methods book of any kind, I would love to hear from you! Please do feel free to reach out to me at alysha.owen@sagepub.co.uk at any point; I’m always more than happy to answer questions, brainstorm ideas, or give you a steer on where your book might find the best home.

The series is quite a different approach than our other products, so if you are considering working on a LQF book, I recommend having a look at some of the existing ones to get a feel for the style and template and see if that is the kind of tone and format that appeals to you. If it is, have a think about a common methods topic you know inside and out and can explain succinctly but thoroughly to someone who isn’t familiar with that topic. Have you taught research design to methods beginners for several years? Have you supervised students working on their first survey-based research projects? Think through the types of questions you had when first learning about that topic or your current students have when they engage with it; these questions are the basis for the structure of the book. Then reach out to me to discuss! I have a list of topics I want for the series, but I’m also open to suggestions.

With a book proposal more generally, I would encourage you to think quite closely about why a book like yours is needed—not just ‘there isn’t one yet’, but why specifically students, lecturers, researchers, or practitioners would need it. How would it benefit them? Who specifically (level, discipline, etc.) would use it, and in what context (a one semester course, two semester course, workshop, research support, etc.)? There are general proposal guidelines on the SAGE website, but if you are interested in working on a methods book, I would also urge you to reach out to me since we have proposal guidelines specific to methods projects. These guidelines are by no means set in stone, but they help take you through the questions and information we ask of new potential projects.

JS. Are there other lessons learned from your work with Little Quick Fix books that you would like to share with researchers and academic writers who read MethodSpace?

AO. With both research and books about research, I think it’s important to avoid the temptation to cover too much ground or focus on making something ‘perfect’. A few years ago, I learned about the concept of a minimum viable cat. (I am a fan of cats, but you can pretend we’re talking about an animal of your choice if that makes this analogy more palatable.) Essentially this discussion demonstrates that if you give someone several minutes to draw a cat, they will create an elaborate and detailed version of a cat, and if you give them fifteen seconds to do the same, they will create a much less elaborate and detailed image…but one that is still recognizably a cat. While there are of course times in academic research, writing, and publishing where being in the weeds of extreme detail is imperative, there are also many times where ‘perfect’ becomes the enemy of ‘good’. Projects often have a way of filling whatever space we give them, so it can be a huge time and energy saver to identify at the start of a task what your ‘minimum viable cat’ of success looks like and then time-box yourself within a realistic timeframe to achieve your goal.

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