Exploring the challenges for students in articulating original contribution in a new research discipline

Year: 2018

Author: Batty, Craig, Holbrook, Allyson, Shaw, Kylie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

One of the most difficult demands of the doctoral degree is to conceive and articulate research contribution. This is particularly problematic in new research disciplines such as screenwriting, where there is little existing research to model disciplinary norms and expectations. In screenwriting, as in creative writing research more generally, researchers have identified persistent differences in how contribution is perceived, approached and articulated, and have posed questions about what is being contributed, where contribution canbe found, and howcontribution is achieved (Batty and Holbrook 2017). In many ways, candidates are the advance guard in addressing such questions.Candidates do not enter a doctoral degree at doctoral level; they become doctoral through doing research. There has to be assessable evidence of both learning and level. Contribution is one assessable element that is established as indicative of level (Stevens-Long & Barner). The ability to coherently and confidently argue significance and contribution provides a marker of postformal thinking, characterised by ‘problem finding’ and the ability to evaluate the relative worth of differing knowledge claims and perspectives in ill-defined or hitherto unknown contexts. 
The work in this paper analysesa range of screenwriting practice PhD theses to explore how candidates frame and discuss the screenplay as a contribution to knowledge. Underpinning this task is a desire to better understand how – indeed, if – candidates conceive of the screenplay as a research artefact that is capable of contribution, one that might well be aimed at production or industry development, but that primarily aims to enable or communicate new knowledge. In the analysis, the authors draw on empirical insights about creative and practice-led research, thesis writing and doctoral learning, to explore the manifestation of such challenges in the hope of better explaining them to novice researchers. Key areas of consideration are how candidates position their screenplays methodologically and conceptually; and the complexity of reasoning, consistency and coherence demonstrated in addressing contribution. As the number of screenwriting doctorates thrives internationally, it becomes important to map the initial work being undertaken from the stance of both research education and research quality.
Batty C & Holbrook A. (2017).Contributing to knowledge in creative writing research: what, where, how? TEXT Special issue 44, The Exegesis Now. http://www.textjournal.com.au/speciss/issue44/content.htm
Stevens-Long, J., and R. Barner. 2006. Advanced Avenues in Adult Development and Learning: The Role of Doctoral Study. In Handbook of Adult Development and Learning, edited by C. Hoare, 455–75. New York: Oxford University Press.