What is practice research?  

Practice research is an umbrella term that describes all manners of research where practice is the significant method of research conveyed in a research output. This includes numerous discipline-specific formulations of practice research, which have distinct and unique balances of practice, research narrative and complementary methods within their projects. 


In practice research, practice is the significant method conveyed in a research output, and the field of practice research is unique in its focus on sharing the (often) unrecognised ways of knowing that emerge in practice.   In this way the unique potential of practice research, with its ability to convey intuitive, embodied, tacit, imaginative, affective and sensory ways of knowing is brought to the fore. 


Understanding the relationship and distinction between practice and practice research is of crucial importance when discussing practice research. Excellent practice may not necessarily translate into excellent practice research, and vice versa.  For practice to be practice research the research has to be articulated. The ways of knowing that emerge in practice are shared in practice research through a research narrative. 


Practice research is where knowledge becomes knowing, actioned through practice: a “reflection-in-action,” that develops new ways of knowing. Put simply, knowing ‘what’ is important, knowing ‘how’ is crucial. Practice is an experiential mode of inquiry that when located in a research framework, as practice research, reveals insights and understandings that expand our capacities for knowing. 


Research into/on/about art and design is research that has art practice in the broadest sense of the word as its object. Often seen within art historical research and arts education. Its focus tends to be on Historical research, aesthetic or perceptual research, social, political, critical, economic, iconographical, technical, material, structural research. Outputs tend to be text based.



Research for art and design is research where the end product is an artefact, where the thinking is embodied in the artefact, where the goal is not primarily communicable knowledge in the sense of verbal communication but in the sense of visual or iconic or imagistic communication. This tends to be research for the production of your artwork or design and can be described as applied research in a narrow sense. In this type, art is not so much the object of investigation, but its objective. Outputs are stand along artefacts. 

Drawn from ‘Art as Research’ section of James Bulley & Özden Şahin (eds.) Practice Research - Report 1: What is practice research? and Report 2: How can practice research be shared?. (London: PRAG-UK, 2021), and Mick Wilson and Schelte van Ruiten, eds. SHARE handbook for artistic research education. ELIA European League of Institutes of the Arts, 2013 

 Research as defined by the Arts and Humanities Research Council:  

“A process of enquiry - generating new insights - that are effectively shared”

“The practice, whatever it may be, is at the heart of the methodology of the project and is [itself] presented as substantial evidence of new insights.”  -- Robin Nelson

Practice research as defined by Midlands4Cities: 

“‘Practice research’ is used for consistency, however M4C recognises that a variety of other nomenclatures are preferred in specific disciplines including practice-led, practice-based and practice-as -research and that these alternative terms are equally valid. In all its forms, practice research is a process of investigation in order to gain new knowledge and original insights by a practitioner-researcher in which creative output can be produced or practice undertaken as an integral part of the research process and which is then disseminated in an appropriate form to the fields/ communities who benefit from such knowledge. Indicative examples include research undertaken through artwork, exhibitions, compositions, performances, events, creative writing, design, textiles, film or digital interactive media. In line with the AHRC’s guidelines, M4C expects this practice to be accompanied by some form of documentation of the research process, as well as some form of textual analysis or exposition to support its position and to demonstrate critical reflection.”



https://www.midlands4cities.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/M4CScoringCriteria.pdf (last accessed 25 Jan 2022)

James Bulley & Özden Şahin (eds.) Practice Research - Report 1: What is practice research? and Report 2: How can practice research be shared?. (London: PRAG-UK, 2021).


Christopher Frayling, “Research in Art and Design,” Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol 1, No. 1, 1993/94 (London: Royal College of Art, 1993).

Robin Nelson, Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)


Vytautas Michelkevicius, Mapping Artistic Research: Towards Diagrammatic Knowing, (Vilnius, 2017)