Video Interview: Mick Finlay

‘If you want to write well, you have to read.’ This advice is often directed at anyone who wants to write for publication, whether that be fiction or non-fiction. Certainly, it is a good idea to read the work of writers whose approach you find appealing and effective. But that alone is not sufficient to enable you to write well. Otherwise, simply by reading and re-reading their work, we could all be Margaret Atwoods, Hilary Mantels or J.K. Rowlings, depending on the sort of audience we wanted to reach – or, for a psychology audience, Michael Billig, Susan Condor, Rosalind Gill (a sociologist whose work has appealed to critical psychologists), Nick Hopkins or Carla Willig. (Those were the writers who were most frequently nominated in responses to a tweet by Adrian Coyle which asked, ‘Who do you rate as an excellent writer of qualitative research studies in psychology?’. The nominations reflect the preponderance of UK social psychologists of a particular generation among his Twitter followers.)

In Appendix 2 in Analysing Qualitative Data in Psychology, you get the chance to read good quality examples of research reports in which the researchers used thematic analysis, IPA, grounded theory, narrative analysis and discourse analysis. Those reports also feature reflections by the authors on the process of writing the articles. The aim of that is to allow you to see something of what went on in the research and writing process ‘behind the scenes’. We thought it was important to show some of the decision-making that was involved in the writing process. When you read a published research article, you are seeing the outcome of what is usually a long, painstaking process of drafting and re-drafting, involving rounds of feedback from co-authors, perhaps other colleagues and journal reviewers, and a series of decisions about what to include, what to omit, how to structure the article as a whole and its individual sections, etc. The published article may well look very different to the first draft that was completed.

Like most other skills, writing is something that needs to be worked at and practised. Your skill in writing psychological research will develop over time. Expect that and be patient with yourself but keep seeking advice and feedback, even if negative feedback can be hard to take after having invested time, effort and yourself in the writing process. Writing can be a rewarding process because it often helps to clarify your thinking and your ideas – although perhaps it is only really possible to view and evaluate the writing process in a positive way retrospectively, after you have completed your dissertation or thesis or have had a research article published.

To provide some additional insights into and expert advice on the writing process, Adrian Coyle interviewed Mick Finlay who is a social psychologist. Mick has written and published many research articles on intellectual disabilities, group conflict, political communication and other topics. But he is also a successful fiction writer and is the author of the Arrowood series of novels whose central character, William Arrowood, is a private detective in Victorian London. In the video, Mick talks about his perspectives on the process of academic writing and offers some valuable advice based on his own experience.

When asked to nominate which of his journal articles he is most proud of in terms of how they are written, Mick pointed to the following:

Also, check out more about Mick’s fiction writing and the Arrowood series.

Mick Finlay is Associate Professor in Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. His research interests include intellectual disabilities, group conflict, and political communication. He is also the author of the Arrowood series of crime novels.