Trouble finding a writing angle? try cubing


You have research results. You want to write something – a book, a chapter, a paper. You’re in a field where there is already an active conversation. You’ve done an analysis which seems to repeat what is already out there. Noooo! You know that this probably isn’t going to be good enough; the publisher/editor is going to want something more. Something novel. Something with offers a different perspective. Something which looks at topic and the results from a slightly different angle.

There are several strategies that you can use to generate novel possibilities – the most obvious are brainstorming and free writing. And variants on these. Another approach is cubing. Cubing is a strategy which encourages you to rethink. Cubing is generally attributed to Cowan and Cowan (1980) but has been adapted numerous times and in different ways. (And yes, I’m a cubing adapter too.)

What is cubing I hear you ask? Imagine you are holding a cube. It could be a child’s building block or a Rubik’s cube. Hold it in your hand. Describe it. Now twist it about 30 degrees to the right. Again, describe what you see. Turn it so that you can see what was previously hidden underneath. Describe it. Turn it so that you reveal what was at the back. Spin the cube slowly – what do you see? What surprised you when you moved the cube around? If its a Rubiks’ cube you’re holding, then you can also twist it beyond its basic cube shape.

You get the idea. Of course you can do this with a real cube, just to see what differences emerge when you observe something as apparently straightforward as a cube. You can do this with any object, it’s just that the six sides of the cube create a useful limiting frame. And the trick with cubing is to not dwell on any particular view, but to move quickly.

The cubing strategy can be used loosely. Using the example above as the model, see your current research results as the equivalent of the straight-on view of the cube. So now turn the results. Shift your view so that you can see some of what is underneath. Turn your results so that you reveal what was hidden. What happens if you think of your results as being in motion. Where have they been and where are they going? Were any of these views of your results a little surprising? Do any of these surprises give you an insight about how you might write your book, paper or chapter to show something that other papers, chapters and books haven’t?

But you may find this approach a little waffly and open-ended. So try a more structured approach. Use these six questions about your research results, focussing on description, association, connection, comparison, application, argument. As in…

  1. How can you describe your results – what do they sound like, look like, smell like, taste like? How would you categorise them? Can you break these results up into smaller stand-alone pieces?
  2. If your results were an image what would it be? If these results were a meme what is it? If they were a billboard? A poster? A cartoon ? What do your results remind you of? What popular cultural text or artefact, literary text or work of art might you associate with your results?
  3. How do these results connect with your previous research? What experiences have you had that connect with these research results?
  4. How are your research results different from other work in the field?
  5. How and where could your results be used? Who uses it, where, how and why?
  6. If someone disagreed with your results what would they say? How would you substantiate your case? What are the pros and cons of their counter-argument?

Cubing can also be used to generate new perspectives on a research topic too, particularly one which is already often researched. So, cubing is helpful for developing research bids and research proposals. And cubing is very often used to support reading and interpretation. Readers are asked to write about their text using six prompts (six sides of the cube) – description, comparison, association, analysis, application, argumentation.

Why not give cubing a go? Try cubing next time you are stuck looking at what to write about a set of research results besides the completely obvious.