What is Practice-Based Research? 

All professionals have a practice. Practice-based research focuses on the problems of professionals from within their practice. Practice can only be explored through indirect means such as language, calling for experts in applied linguistics and professional communication to work with practitioners to understand their problems.  

Practice-Based Research

Practice-based research is emerging as a substantial field in organisational studies (for example, see Gherardi, 2008; Gherardi, 2009; Corradi, Gherardi & Verzelloni, 2010; Ros & Vermeulen, 2010).

Practice-based research has the potential for creating new knowledge or expanding existing knowledge of practice (Candy, 2006). Exploring practice enables the researcher to “investigate empirically how contextual elements shape knowledge and how competence is built around a contingent logic of action” (Corradi, Gherardi, & Verzelloni, 2010, p. 267).

Practice-based research is typically undertaken in collaboration with practitioners at their workplace, considers ad-hoc problems that they have to solve, and increases the potential of research findings to contribute to change as a result (Ros & Vermeulen, 2010).

While there is no generic theory of practice (Postill, 2010; Schatzki, 2012), and hence no generally agreed definition of it, practice can be interpreted as:

  • The organised activities of multiple people
  • Being rooted in human activity based on non-propositional bodily abilities
  • Being a nexus of doings and sayings
  • Counteracting the subject-object split that exists in social scientific thought (Schatzki, 2005, 2012)

It logically follows that practice-based research considers organised human activity such as that undertaken in the workplace. Practice-based research is here defined as the "analysis of knowing within a situated practice [and exploring] where knowledge is socially constructed and how it is socially constructed" (Gherardi, 2001, p. 137).

Focus on Communication

Practice, argues Schatzki (2012), is an abstract phenomenon that can only be explored through indirect means such as language.

However, as Fairclough (1992) notes, there is a tendency for the social sciences to view “language as transparent” (p. 2), with little focus on issues such as ideology and power. In fact, exploring discourse rather than language offers the researcher an entry point for revealing and explaining how practitioners’ worlds are produced (Deetz, 2003; see also Sarangi & Candlin, 2011). Discourse can be defined very broadly as language in use, i.e. language as it is actually used by real-life agents performing workplace activities in which they pursue various personal, professional and organisational goals. As Candlin (1987) argues, “it is the purpose of an explanatory mode of discourse analysis precisely to attempt to unpack what is naturalised and taken-for-granted in such discourse” (p. 414).

Methodological Approach

Ideally, practice-situated research is undertaken using an approach that takes into account multiple perspectives (Gherardi, 2001). One useful approach is offered by Kemmis (2010) who develops a multi-disciplinary and multi-perspectival practice framework. Importantly, he notes that his goal is to stress the dimensionality of practice rather than providing a definitive definition of it.

As such, a researcher may employ a range of methods to explore practice including ethnography and research interviews, and a multi-perspectival approach for informing interpretation and analysis (Crichton, 2003, 2010; Candlin and Crichton, 2011a, 2011b, 2012).


Candlin, C. N. (1987). Explaining moments of conflict in discourse. In R. Steele & T. Threadgold (Eds.), Language Topics: Essays in Honour of Michael Halliday Vol.11 (pp. 413-429). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Candlin, C. N. & Crichton, J. (2011a). Emergent themes and research challenges: Reconceptualising LSP. In M. Petersen & J. Engberg (Eds.), Current trends in LSP research. Aims and Methods (pp. 277-316). Bern: Peter Lang.

Candlin, C. N. & Crichton, J. (2011b). Introduction. In C. N. Candlin & J. Crichton (Eds.), Discourses of Deficit (pp. 1-22). Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan.

Candy, L. (2006) Practice Based Research: A Guide (CCS Report: 2006-V1.0). University of Technology, Sydney: Creativity & Cognition Studios

Corradi, G., Gherardi, S., & Verzelloni, L. (2010). Through the practice lens: Where is the bandwagon of practice-based studies heading? Management Learning, 41(3), 265-283.

Crichton, J. (2003). Issues of interdiscursivity in the commercialisation of professional practice: The case of English language teaching. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Crichton, J. (2010). The Discourse of Commercialisation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Deetz, S. (2003). Reclaiming the legacy of the linguistic turn. Organization, 10(3), 421-429.

Fairclough, N. (1992). Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press

Gherardi, S. (2001). From organizational learning to practice-based knowing. Human Relations, 51(1), 131-139.

Gherardi, S. (2008). Situated knowledge and situated action: What do practice-based studies promise? In D. Barry & H. Hansen (Eds.), Sage Handbook of New Approaches in Management and Organization (pp. 516-525). London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Gherardi, S. (2009). Knowing and learning in practice-based studies: An introduction. The Learning Organization, 16(5), 352-359.

Jones, A. & Sim, S. (2012). Achieving professional trustworthiness: Communicative expertise and identity work in professional accounting practice. In C. N. Candlin & J. Crichton (Eds.), Discourses of Trust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kemmis, S. (2010). What is professional practice? Recognising and respecting diversity in understandings of practice In C. Kanes (Ed.), Elaborating professionalism: Studies in practice and theory (pp. 139-166). Heidelberg: Springer.

Postill, J. (2010). Introduction: Theorising media and practice. In B. Bräuchler & J. Postill (Eds.), Theorising Media and Practice (pp. 1-32). Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books.

Ros, A. & Vermeulen, M. (2010). Standards for practice-based research. Paper presented at the European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning in Education and Professional Practice, Lisbon, Portugal, 24-26 November, 2010.

Sarangi, S. & Candlin, C. N. (2011). Professional and organisational practice: A discourse/communication perspective. In C. N. Candlin & S. Sarangi (Eds.), Handbook of Communication in Professions and Organisations (pp. 3-58). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schatzki, T. (2005). The sites of organizations. Organization Studies, 26(3), 465-484.

Schatzki, T. (2012). A primer on practices: Theory and research. In J. Higgs, R. Barnett, S. Billett, M. Hutchings & F. Trede (Eds.), Practice-Based Education: Perspectives and Strategies (pp. 13-35). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

What is a Leader?

"To be a leader is to means to think for yourself, to break away from the crowd, and entice it to follow, in other words, to lead. Leaders don’t imitate. People who hop onto moving bandwagons are not leaders. Nor are the schools that cater to them.

Henry Minzberg (1984) Leadership and management development: An afterword. Academy of Management Executive, 18(3), 140-142.