Archival Community, Research

Behind the Scenes: Writing a Research Article

As some of you may know my colleagues and I recently published an article on ‘Volunteers in Australian archives’. Read this post for a roadmap and to see that you can do research too.

I’ve chosen to write this because a lot of people seem to find research intimidating due mostly to a lack of awareness of the reality of research. This blog post acts as a follow up from the post Debunking Archival Research Myths which argues that research is just another process, not some unattainable goal.

My colleagues and I recently published an article on Volunteers in Australian archives. This blog post describes how the project came about and provides a roadmap for someone wanting to do a similar thing.


How the Research Project Came About

A lot of people say “I wouldn’t know what to write about”. So here is the story of how we found something to write on:

2015 – It seemed as though people were discussing volunteers throughout the conference, but never as the core topic of a presentation (we later found out that no one had since 2005),
2016 – The next year we presented a panel about volunteering at the Australian Society of Archivists’ annual conference

  • Through our preparations for the presentation we discovered that very little had been written about volunteers in Australian archival institutions in recent years,
  • During the presentation we argued for research to be conducted on the topic and that we would be willing to do this research ourselves,

2016-2017 – We conducted the research project (described further below).


The Research Project

So below are the steps involved in research as described by Neuman (2003). The italicised text describes how we went about each:

1. Select study 

Let’s find out about volunteers in Australian archives, because a search in the literature shows that it hasn’t been written about in years.

2. Focus question

We want to know: 

What are the motivations and what are the experiences of formal volunteers in Australian archives?

(by formal we mean that the volunteer has an arrangement with a physical archive as opposed to being a crowdsourced volunteer, i.e. through Trove)

3. Design study

Let’s design a web survey using guidelines by Weber (2013), and disseminate the survey link to all contactable archival organisations on the Directory of Australian Archives.

4. Collect data

Let’s use SurveyMonkey to create the survey as you can extract the data in a relatively clean way and they cost only a small amount of money. We will set a deadline by which time we will close the survey.

5. Analyse data

Once the survey is closed we will analyse it, mostly using Excel. Some basic data visualisations make the data more accessible and exciting.

6. Interpret data

Interpret the data by comparing the findings with the broader literature (i.e. the research into volunteers in the Australian census) and write this up. 

7. Inform others

Following two rounds of edits our article was accepted for publication in Archives and Manuscripts. But.. the work doesn’t end at publication!

This is the stage that we are currently at; as authors we need to disseminate and promote the article in order to ensure that all that effort amounts to something. We disseminated the link to our article through our various networks and it would probably be a good idea to remind people about the paper whenever the topic of volunteers pops up again in the future. 

Once our 150 free articles are used up we will be publishing the accepted manuscript version (the one that is accepted by the editor and before it gets branded by the publishers) onto an open repository for everyone to see.

This is the benefit of publishing with a Green Open Access journal – more people can have access to your hard work. 

Research Ideas:

Want to do your own research project but don’t have any ideas yet?

Please feel free to use these! I won’t be able to get around to them and someone else could explore the topics below. 

  • Look into the prevalence of “armchair” and crowdsourced volunteering in Australian archives. This was out of scope for our project, mainly as we needed to draw the line somewhere, but would make for a fascinating comparison! Consider for example, the individuals who volunteer by fixing transcribed text in Trove or those who transcribe field diaries for Nicole Kearney.
  • Look into “Reticent Researchers” – case studies of people (potentially historians or members of the general public) writing whilst referring to archival material, but not including appropriate references. What are the effects of this? Things to consider: would a “Cite Me” button like Google Scholar’s be beneficial on online archival finding aids/catalogues.

Do you have research ideas that you won’t be able to act on and are happy to share? In the spirit of collegiality, please leave them in the comments below for others to see.

P.S. Trove – I apologise if you receive 10 requests for your volunteer data in the nearish future.


2 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes: Writing a Research Article

  1. Thanks for this, great blog. One idea: looking at the effect the recent trend in genealogy and family history. Has this trend caused a statistical increase in archive visits? Could be focused on physical/digital or both.

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