Practice as an empirical form of research, while common in fields such as design, engineering, and medicine, is a relatively recent innovation in the humanities, and particularly in the academic study of literature and writing. These fields, for various reasons, have long kept the creative act separate from the study of both the composition process and the creative work itself, apart from the insights applied by writers and artists who are also scholars. Yet writers (and musicians and painters and filmmakers…) – whether student, amateur, or professional – are notably keen to know how it all works. Where do great ideas come from? How and why do we choose this narrator versus that one, this medium over the other? How does intent translate into text, and how does text translate into intent? Answering these questions through observation and/or post-textual analysis is, at best, conjecture; at worst, it is impossible. It may even be impossible for the creator his/herself (through the process of reflection, or answering such questions as those posed by readers), as quite often our attention is on the creative act, rather than the metatextual level of observing ourselves at work.
Practice-based research, and this methodology in particular, provide us with a robust, nuanced research approach to help answer these fundamental questions about practicing and performing art. As interest in this particular combination of practice and research continues to grow, it is important that the critical knowledge developed through creative practice is based in a clear, strong, carefully considered methodology, rather than as an afterthought. Doctoral candidates should not expect to receive a research degree merely for creating an artwork and then reflecting upon it, as that does not meet the criterion of offering new knowledge to the domain; it might be new knowledge to the candidate, but it is also applicable only to the candidate, rather than the domain as a whole. We as the field serving as gatekeepers to our creative writing/arts domain must stand by this criterion, and expect no less of creative research than we do of “traditional” (read: familiar) arts and humanities research. This methodology supports maintaining a stringent standard of critical knowledge developed through thorough research (which, in this case, also includes creative practice; it does not exclude close readings or discourse on theory), and provides us with a new, robust approach that will bring us closer to answering questions about practice and creative work that have previously proven difficult or impossible.