Example poetry

Creating poetry from research data

Poetry is an incredibly versatile medium for anyone working with qualitative data sets to consider adding to their toolbox. In addition to helping solve problems, poetry can also be used as a lens through which to reanalyze data, presenting that analysis in a unique and accessible way. Poetic transcription is one such method that allows researchers and students to review their data.

Poetic transcription was first presented as an experimental form of writing by the qualitative researcher Corrine Glenne, who defined the process as the creation of poem-like compositions from the words of the interviewees. To demonstrate this process, Glesne used interviews conducted with Dona Juana, an elderly Puerto Rican researcher and educator, creating poetry that gave voice to Dona Juana in her own words.

As this research method has evolved, it has become clear that there are many different ways to use poetic transcription as a process for analyzing and reassembling data. The method I present here is a simplified and practical process that can be applied to almost any qualitative data set, such as surveys, field notes or interviews.

Step 1: Identify 15-20 illustrative lines.

After you are familiar with your data (i.e. reading it several times), identify 15 to 20 representative lines of the story(s) or theme(s) as a whole.

After identifying these lines, write them in order, one above the other. This is the initial poem you will be working with.

Step 2: Assess the rhythm of the piece.

The definitions of what constitutes and does not constitute a poem are long and stage. However, I believe that overly restrictive definitions can be exclusive, and as such I offer the following inclusive definition, and some might say very loosely: all poems have rhythm.

With this definition in mind, read your initial poem out loud and in your head. Where does the rhythm occur? Where is he missing? Are there lines that could benefit from repetition? Are there any lines that don’t match?

Step 3: Add and remove rows.

Edit your poem to respond to these rhythmic observations. For me personally, I believe this rules out adding words that don’t appear in the data you are analyzing. It is also important that any identifiable information be removed at this stage. This identifying information can be either explicit (such as name and job title) or implicit (such as personal history or a favorite phrase).

Read your data again; are there any other lines you can add to your poem? These lines should add to the rhythm but should also preserve the overall interpretation of the piece.

Step 4: share.

Now that you have an unidentifiable beat track, it’s time to share it. Recognizing that the “final” poem you produce, before sharing it with others, is not necessarily the final evolution of the poem provides you and others with an opportunity to review the poem and its potential impact . For example, if you use data obtained through social networks, you can share it with members of this online community.

A certain sense of belonging

To show what this looks like in practice, I now present a transcribed poem that was created through this process, using textual responses to an Equality Impact Assessment for the Digital Support Partnership Project (DSP) at Edinburgh Napier University. The objective of the DSP was to assess and develop key lessons learned from the impact of Covid-19 on digital support in the university’s teaching and learning services for staff and students.

Working off campus broke a routine
more opportunities to attend online sessions
in relation to a certain number of issues and realities,
greater flexibility and understanding.

Working off campus broke a routine
I found it easier to manage my condition
it is easier to manage pain and fatigue,
and I’m in a better frame of mind because of it.

Working off campus broke a routine
it actually got better
my ability to communicate with others,
because they are easier to reach.

Working off campus broke a routine
he made meetings more democratic
now more difficult for dominant personalities,
talk to other participants.

Working off campus broke a routine
it has led to improvements in online teaching
easier experience and communication,
with students outside Edinburgh.

Working off campus broke a routine
I experienced true collegiality
and the community during confinement,
I feel that we have all come together.

Working off campus broke a routine
I have seen the efforts of many amazing people
do your best to accomplish a difficult job,
under less than ideal conditions.

Working off campus broke a routine
my plea is to pause on this
and allow us to reconnect in person,
to the feeling of belonging that we had.

There are many challenges we face, but as the lines of this poem show, there are also opportunities we must seize, to ensure that we take into full consideration the voices and needs of all people. university.

As this example hopefully demonstrates, poetic transcription presents an alternate lens through which to view the data, inviting us to hear it once again in its own discernible voice.

Sam Illingworth is Associate Professor of Academic Practice at Edinburgh Napier University and author of Science communication through poetry. Her work focuses on the use of poetry to develop dialogue between scientists and non-scientists.

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