March 27

Use your strengths in research & writing


Earlier this week, I talked about Buckingham and Clifton's book, Now, Discover Your Strengths.

We could talk about using your strengths to find your best career, lifestyle, or any number of other aspects about life. For the moment, though, I want to focus on how you can use your strengths in the writing and research that you are doing right now.

Well, first, I'll talk about how not to focus on your weaknesses. It's difficult to build up your strengths and try to build up your weaknesses at the same time. We have limited resources, money, time, and energy. So, we have to learn to be intentional in our focus.

If you focus on your weaknesses, you are wasting your resources.

My own battle with my statistical weakness.

Let's start with a story about my weaknesses, particularly my quantitative research skill weaknesses. Now, my grad program for Sociology was highly quantitative. Every first-year took two semesters of Multivariate Analysis, and when I was in the program, the “failure rate” (which was any average B- or lower) was about 75%.

I was, admittedly, intimidated when I first stepped into the class because mathematics and statistical analysis had never been my strong suit. I was determined, though. I'd graduated top of my class as an undergrad, and I had written an award-winning thesis… using qualitative research… If I focused enough of my energy into this class, I could surely overcome my weakness.

I came into the grad student office every day at 8am and left after 8pm. (My husband was in law school on the same campus, so his workaholism motivated me.) I neglected every other class, not to mention relationships, for the sake of conquering statistics.

And I failed. It's always painful to write those words. Part of me wants to blame the professor or the circumstances or point out that I did get a B-, but I believe at the heart of the matter was that I insisted on diverting all of my resources into a sinking ship. I failed statistics, and I received worse marks in my other classes than I would have otherwise. I had to re-take statistics the next year, and I passed the second time. (Part of me wants to say because of the different professor…)

Now, of course, this is real life, and sometimes we have to make bare minimum to pass degree requirements. I had to pass statistics at some point in order to earn the masters.

However, this experience taught me that when it is avoidable, I should not pour all of myself into my weaknesses. I am glad that I now understand statistics, but I don't know what opportunities I sacrificed for that improvement. Instead, I feel it's a better use of my resources to pour myself into my strengths.

How can you focus on your strengths into your own research and writing?

Well, here are a few concrete suggestions:

Use the type of analysis that best suits you.
Sure, feel free to explore a new mode of analysis, if you really want to, but if you're a qualitative researcher at heart, don't succumb to the pressure to pursue quantitative avenues. Same goes for the other way around. Your research will be 100 times more compelling, if your heart is behind it. (That's a qualitative statement, not a literal, quantitative one!)

Learn how you best think and process ideas.
If you are outgoing and talkative, join a small group to discuss research ideas. You may have your best breakthroughs in conversation. If you are a reflective thinker, block time during your best thinking hours, and be protective of that time. Don't schedule coffee or cocktails (and don't log in to Facebook!) because you may discover your genius in the quiet solitude.

Team up with a co-author.
If you are a great story teller but often frustrated by numbers, team up with someone who is thrilled by normal curves and outliers. If you are a statistical wizard but grammatically disinclined, find yourself a wordy buddy (or a worthwhile editor)!

Above all, be intentional in your research and writing.

Don't fall into the habit of researching or writing in a particular way just because someone says, “Do it this way!” Be reflective and intentional of your own strengths.

You will be more productive, more fulfilled, more enthused by your own work if you pursue your projects using your strengths, rather than your weaknesses.

What about you? Have you found a weakness that you try to avoid or a strength that you try to build up in your own work? Do you have strategies for getting work done, using your strengths?

Leave a comment below. I'd love to read about your experiences!


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