The research question

IT IS INTRIGUING that something as central to academic work as the “research question” would go without a clear-cut, consensual, practical definition. Some see it as a technically-worded version of the question you set out to answer when you start your research process. Others view it as a paradox—a counterintuitive formulation of deceptively familiar problems,…

Redefining productivity

BEING PRODUCTIVE is a key concern; we owe it to our employer, our client, our colleagues and ourselves. Most importantly, we owe it to society, especially when we work in a field defined by its ambition to generate positive social impact. In principle, the very concept of productivity, which inevitably evokes visions of greater quality,…

Life and death of the knowledge industry

WHOM TO TRUST for food for thought? In a confusing world, we are left to opt for one dominant pattern of behavior or the other: to lock ourselves into a bubble, where increasingly prolific media churn out large quantities of whatever material we want to ingest, to fit our interests or emotions; or to drift in limbo, bouncing off such comfort zones in search of bits and pieces of palatable knowledge more suited to a discerning diet. You feast on sweet corroboration, or scavenge for smidgens of reason.

Writing in blocks

THE MAJORITY OF QUERIES made by an editor working on the first draft of a text—assuming the fieldwork, the overall analysis and the structure have already been discussed—relate to the same cluster of issues: what point is the author making, exactly? How does it connect to the previous point? Is it explained clearly enough? Is…

Self-evaluation

YOU HAVE NAGGING SELF-DOUBT. You have hubristic self-confidence. And you have structured, constructive evaluations. Many organizations turn staff assessments into a tedious, formalistic exercise, which ends up discouraging the voluntary, candid questioning that helps address your weak spots and expand on your strengths. In any event, you’ll only make real progress to the extent you…

Writing rituals

THE ONE THING TO KNOW about writing is that, as a rule, it has nothing in common with sitting at a keyboard feeling inspired. As a cultural construct, writing is strangely associated with pure genius, if not the touch of God—perfect words flowing through an author page after page, as would a prophetic revelation. Writing…

Team management

THE PROBLEM WITH PEOPLE doing fieldwork on complicated issues they feel strongly about is that they’re not sitting behind desks doing simple tasks just for the money. In other words, they tend to be driven and individualistic and strong headed. The benefit is that this makes the people, and the work, interesting. The downside is…

Taming social media

FRANKLY, if you’re totally comfortable with social media, no need to read this: you’re probably a lost cause already. Social media, however subtle you may be about it, revolves around promoting yourself. If you have no qualms about that, if you’re a natural, you’re beyond salvation. The various business models behind social media platforms all…

Riding the project cycle

YOU HAVE BEEN TASKED with a whole project on a broad topic. You must produce, say, a report on innovative agriculture in the Sahel, with the goal of suggesting ways of scaling up effective programs and replicating best practices. Unless you’re an expert in the first place, you will feel overwhelmed. Are you the right…

Managing your manager

GOOD COMMUNICATION is critical to any successful work relationship, and that holds twice as true when colleagues are interacting within a relatively unstructured environment. Simply put, without strong communication with your manager, at least in the initial stages of a work relationship, whatever you are doing is headed to failure. Moreover, poor communication also drags this…

Realistic time management

MANAGING OUR TIME optimally is a daily challenge that requires both self-awareness and self- discipline. Our workload never seems to spread itself out evenly and in a logical sequence. Our rhythm tends to oscillate between moments of intense pressure, when just keeping up with urgent tasks and requests is daunting in itself, and periods of…

Meeting expectations

JOINING AN ORGANISATION or an ongoing project always creates some confusion, as to what exactly our role and our expected input are meant to be. It can be hard to adjust on the factory shop-floor, but it’s harder still in more abstract functions such as analysis or management. As far as research is concerned, virtually all tasks…