Saturday, February 23, 2013

Topsight > How Chris is using Topsight

Last week I asked how people were using my new book Topsight. Recently I heard from Chris McCracken at Kent State. He was gracious enough to allow me to post some excerpts.

First, Chris is using parts of Topsight for his undergraduate business and professional writing class:
I have them work in groups to conduct sort of mini-studies of workplaces where they're required to design a study that involves interviewing a person who works there at least twice, observing him or her at work at least once, and collecting some artifacts.  They have to put all that together in an analysis of how information circulates in that organization and what their participant's role is in that process of circulation.  Sadly, Topsight came out just a little late in the semester for me to assign it to them, but I've been highlighting certain especially useful heuristics from the book to help them along. 
I began by having each group draft a research design matrix to understand why we're using the methods I'm requiring them to use--what they can expect to get out of conducting interviews and observations and collecting artifacts.  I'm meeting with each group individually over the coming week, and I plan on discussing coding with them and providing them with the analytical models for mapping resources and looking for handoff chains so they can get a better idea of how they might make sense of the data they're collecting.  Once they've all gathered their data, we're going to spend some time working with triangulation tables. 
Outstanding. One of the reasons I developed this book was to provide heuristics that would help people conduct hands-on audience analysis in a structured way. For a full semester study, the entire book is useful. But for mini-studies like these, it makes a lot of sense to pull out basic heuristics such as the research design matrix, resource maps, handoff chains, and triangulation tables. In fact, these are the same heuristics I highlight in my chapter in Solving Problems in Technical Communication.

Second, Chris is using Topsight as a guide in developing his own dissertation research:
I find the diagrams and flowcharts you've included in Topsight really helpful for stepping back and getting some perspective on where I'm at in my research, what questions need answering, and where I need to go next. It's kind of given me a sense of topsight for my own research process.  
In a follow-up email, he added:
One more thing: I forgot to mention how useful I found the section on pitching a study to stakeholders. A couple of interviews have not gone as well as they could have simply because I wasn't able to assuage their skepticism toward me and my study. Some of the biologists I've interviewed seemed to think that I--some guy from the English department who doesn't know a falcon tube from a pipette--was either there to criticize the way they do things or call their authority into question. If I'd been able to give them a clear and concise elevator-pitch right at the get-go, I think they would've opened up about their work a little easier, and my data would've been a little richer.
Yes. As I told Chris, the pitch process I describe in Topsight was based on my own (sometimes painful) trial and error. In fact, I don't recall seeing other field research texts describing how to pitch studies to stakeholders—mostly they tend to assume that you'll work it out. But as I've discovered, and as many of my students have discovered, people are often reluctant to take part in studies unless you can give them a clear idea of how they'll benefit. Topsight helps you formulate that pitch ahead of time. It's actually one of my favorite things about the book.

Anyway, thanks to Chris for writing.

Are you using Topsight? If so, shoot me an email. I'd love to hear what your experiences are.

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