Thursday, 26 May 2011

On memorizing calendars

I had a convesation recently with Peter Stordy.  He told me that he had been teaching about qualitative and quantitative research, and as part of his lesson, he had attempted to find examples in the news of recent stories relating to research.  He had no problem finding reports that referred to quantitative research, but could find no mention of qualitative findings.

I guess, the problem for journalists is the smallest reportable unit of research.  Because quantitative findings can be summed up in a few figures and charts, they can easily be fitted into a news friendly format (albeit with some loss occurring in translation).  Qualitative findings are more problematic however. 

Communication of qualititive findings often requires use of complex imagery.  The value of stories in research is increasingly recognized (eg, Koch, 1998) and it's something I've made use of (Madden, 2009).  Certainly, stories have long played a part in the transmission of ideas and cultural values.  Before the rise of literacy they were probably the most important means of cultural transmission, and humans do seem better adapted to remembering stories than names and numbers.  I once interviewed a journalist who told me that, invariably, people will remember that

Event 1 linked Person A to Person B

and give a comprehensive retelling of the story, whilst being unable to remember when or where the events took place, or the names of the people involved.

Some people get round the problem of retaining details by linking them together into little stories.  I once came across someone who memorized calendars in this way.  He would list the number of the first Monday of every month, then link that number to a word.  These he would weave into a (usually surreal) tale.

In case anyone has a wish to repeat his feat for the remaining six months of the year, I've listed below the dates of the forthcoming researchers' meetings (always the second Thursday of the month).

9 June,          14 July,           11 August,      8 September,
13 October,  10 November, 8 December.

Koch, T. (1998) "Story telling: is it really research?" Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28(6) 1182-1190.

Madden, A.D. (2009) "Managing for the Ideal Research Environment". Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 31 (3). pp. 271-282.

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