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A Beginner's Guide to Starting the Research Process
When you have to write a thesis or dissertation , it can be hard to know where to begin, but there are some clear steps you can follow.
The research process often begins with a very broad idea for a topic you’d like to know more about. You do some preliminary research to identify a problem . After refining your research questions , you can lay out the foundations of your research design , leading to a proposal that outlines your ideas and plans.
This article takes you through the first steps of the research process, helping you narrow down your ideas and build up a strong foundation for your research project.
Table of contents
Step 1: choose your topic, step 2: identify a problem, step 3: formulate research questions, step 4: create a research design, step 5: write a research proposal.
First you have to come up with some ideas. Your thesis or dissertation topic can start out very broad. Think about the general area or field you’re interested in—maybe you already have specific research interests based on classes you’ve taken, or maybe you had to consider your topic when applying to graduate school and writing a statement of purpose .
Even if you already have a good sense of your topic, you’ll need to read widely to build background knowledge and begin narrowing down your ideas. Conduct an initial literature review to begin gathering relevant sources. As you read, take notes and try to identify problems, questions, debates, contradictions and gaps. Your aim is to narrow down from a broad area of interest to a specific niche.
Make sure to consider the practicalities: the requirements of your programme, the amount of time you have to complete the research, and how difficult it will be to access sources and data on the topic. Before moving onto the next stage, it’s a good idea to discuss the topic with your thesis supervisor.
>>Read more about narrowing down a research topic
So you’ve settled on a topic and found a niche—but what exactly will your research investigate, and why does it matter? To give your project focus and purpose, you have to define a research problem .
The problem might be a practical issue—for example, a process or practice that isn’t working well, an area of concern in an organization’s performance, or a difficulty faced by a specific group of people in society.
Alternatively, you might choose to investigate a theoretical problem—for example, an underexplored phenomenon or relationship, a contradiction between different models or theories, or an unresolved debate among scholars.
To put the problem in context and set your objectives, you can write a problem statement . This describes who the problem affects, why research is needed, and how your research project will contribute to solving it.
>>Read more about defining a research problem
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Next, based on the problem statement, you need to write one or more research questions . These target exactly what you want to find out. They might focus on describing, comparing, evaluating, or explaining the research problem.
A strong research question should be specific enough that you can answer it thoroughly using appropriate qualitative or quantitative research methods. It should also be complex enough to require in-depth investigation, analysis, and argument. Questions that can be answered with “yes/no” or with easily available facts are not complex enough for a thesis or dissertation.
In some types of research, at this stage you might also have to develop a conceptual framework and testable hypotheses .
>>See research question examples
The research design is a practical framework for answering your research questions. It involves making decisions about the type of data you need, the methods you’ll use to collect and analyze it, and the location and timescale of your research.
There are often many possible paths you can take to answering your questions. The decisions you make will partly be based on your priorities. For example, do you want to determine causes and effects, draw generalizable conclusions, or understand the details of a specific context?
You need to decide whether you will use primary or secondary data and qualitative or quantitative methods . You also need to determine the specific tools, procedures, and materials you’ll use to collect and analyze your data, as well as your criteria for selecting participants or sources.
>>Read more about creating a research design
Finally, after completing these steps, you are ready to complete a research proposal . The proposal outlines the context, relevance, purpose, and plan of your research.
As well as outlining the background, problem statement, and research questions, the proposal should also include a literature review that shows how your project will fit into existing work on the topic. The research design section describes your approach and explains exactly what you will do.
You might have to get the proposal approved by your supervisor before you get started, and it will guide the process of writing your thesis or dissertation.
>>Read more about writing a research proposal
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Basic Steps in the Research Process
The following steps outline a simple and effective strategy for writing a research paper. Depending on your familiarity with the topic and the challenges you encounter along the way, you may need to rearrange these steps.
Step 1: Identify and develop your topic
Selecting a topic can be the most challenging part of a research assignment. Since this is the very first step in writing a paper, it is vital that it be done correctly. Here are some tips for selecting a topic:
- Select a topic within the parameters set by the assignment. Many times your instructor will give you clear guidelines as to what you can and cannot write about. Failure to work within these guidelines may result in your proposed paper being deemed unacceptable by your instructor.
- Select a topic of personal interest to you and learn more about it. The research for and writing of a paper will be more enjoyable if you are writing about something that you find interesting.
- Select a topic for which you can find a manageable amount of information. Do a preliminary search of information sources to determine whether existing sources will meet your needs. If you find too much information, you may need to narrow your topic; if you find too little, you may need to broaden your topic.
- Be original. Your instructor reads hundreds of research papers every year, and many of them are on the same topics (topics in the news at the time, controversial issues, subjects for which there is ample and easily accessed information). Stand out from your classmates by selecting an interesting and off-the-beaten-path topic.
- Still can't come up with a topic to write about? See your instructor for advice.
Once you have identified your topic, it may help to state it as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about the epidemic of obesity in the American population, you might pose the question "What are the causes of obesity in America ?" By posing your subject as a question you can more easily identify the main concepts or keywords to be used in your research.
Step 2 : Do a preliminary search for information
Before beginning your research in earnest, do a preliminary search to determine whether there is enough information out there for your needs and to set the context of your research. Look up your keywords in the appropriate titles in the library's Reference collection (such as encyclopedias and dictionaries) and in other sources such as our catalog of books, periodical databases, and Internet search engines. Additional background information may be found in your lecture notes, textbooks, and reserve readings. You may find it necessary to adjust the focus of your topic in light of the resources available to you.
Step 3: Locate materials
With the direction of your research now clear to you, you can begin locating material on your topic. There are a number of places you can look for information:
If you are looking for books, do a subject search in the Alephcatalog. A Keyword search can be performed if the subject search doesn't yield enough information. Print or write down the citation information (author, title,etc.) and the location (call number and collection) of the item(s). Note the circulation status. When you locate the book on the shelf, look at the books located nearby; similar items are always shelved in the same area. The Aleph catalog also indexes the library's audio-visual holdings.
Use the library's electronic periodical databases to find magazine and newspaper articles. Choose the databases and formats best suited to your particular topic; ask at the librarian at the Reference Desk if you need help figuring out which database best meets your needs. Many of the articles in the databases are available in full-text format.
Use search engines ( Google , Yahoo , etc.) and subject directories to locate materials on the Internet. Check the Internet Resources section of the NHCC Library web site for helpful subject links.
Step 4: Evaluate your sources
See the CARS Checklist for Information Quality for tips on evaluating the authority and quality of the information you have located. Your instructor expects that you will provide credible, truthful, and reliable information and you have every right to expect that the sources you use are providing the same. This step is especially important when using Internet resources, many of which are regarded as less than reliable.
Step 5: Make notes
Consult the resources you have chosen and note the information that will be useful in your paper. Be sure to document all the sources you consult, even if you there is a chance you may not use that particular source. The author, title, publisher, URL, and other information will be needed later when creating a bibliography.
Step 6: Write your paper
Begin by organizing the information you have collected. The next step is the rough draft, wherein you get your ideas on paper in an unfinished fashion. This step will help you organize your ideas and determine the form your final paper will take. After this, you will revise the draft as many times as you think necessary to create a final product to turn in to your instructor.
Step 7: Cite your sources properly
Give credit where credit is due; cite your sources.
Citing or documenting the sources used in your research serves two purposes: it gives proper credit to the authors of the materials used, and it allows those who are reading your work to duplicate your research and locate the sources that you have listed as references. The MLA and the APA Styles are two popular citation formats.
Failure to cite your sources properly is plagiarism. Plagiarism is avoidable!
Step 8: Proofread
The final step in the process is to proofread the paper you have created. Read through the text and check for any errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Make sure the sources you used are cited properly. Make sure the message that you want to get across to the reader has been thoroughly stated.
Additional research tips:
- Work from the general to the specific -- find background information first, then use more specific sources.
- Don't forget print sources -- many times print materials are more easily accessed and every bit as helpful as online resources.
- The library has books on the topic of writing research papers at call number area LB 2369.
- If you have questions about the assignment, ask your instructor.
- If you have any questions about finding information in the library, ask the librarian.
Librarian 763-424-0733 [email protected] Zoom: myzoom Available by appointment
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How to do a Research Project: 6 Steps
By Zain Nabi
What is a research project?
A year ago I had this crazy idea of experimenting with the final semester of my two-year course. Being an international student in Australia, doing two postgraduate degrees and working at the same time was apparently not enough for me. So instead of choosing to do a professional project and finishing my degree, I decided to do a research project .
If you must know, I literally had no idea of how to do a research project or how to write a thesis . So I went to my professor and told him about my plans to complete a research project for my final semester. “If students imagine completing a research project in three months, I ask them to come and see me. And they later un-imagine it,” came my professor’s reply.
I was then given special permission to take two semesters to finish this research project – and hopefully in a few weeks’ time I will submit my first completed piece of research. In the past few months I have learned a lot of lessons that I want to share, in case you also decide to follow this route without any prior knowledge of how to do a research project!
Research project steps:
- Step 1: Find the right supervisor
- Step 2: Don’t be shy, ask!
- Step 3: Select the right topic
- Step 4: Keep your plan realistic
- Step 5: Prepare a project timeline
- Step 6: Write, write and write
1. Find the right supervisor
My professor asked a faculty member to become my supervisor. I floated an idea about what area I was interested in working on, and she agreed to keep an eye on me. In terms of a supervisor I couldn’t have asked for anything better. She is patient with me, she knows my shortcomings and she always motivates me even if I am unable to see myself progressing. Having such a supervisor makes this journey very comfortable and easy.
2. Don’t be shy, ask!
I told you earlier that I did not have any clue about how to do a research project. That was my reality and I didn’t try to hide it. I communicated my weakness openly to my supervisor and warned her in advance that I would be asking stupid questions throughout the duration of my project just so I could get an idea of what I was doing. “No question is stupid,” she assured me. The credit indeed goes to her, but it is ultimately your responsibility to communicate with your supervisor and ask as many questions as you need to.
3. Select the right topic
Your topic will determine your project. It should be interesting and it should be something that you really want to investigate. So never rely on others for recommendations about what should be your topic of research. Try to read and think a lot and you will find an area of interest. Explore your inner self, even if it takes time. In a few weeks you will start gathering your thoughts and realize what you actually are interested in researching.
4. Keep your plan realistic
Your topic could be the best in the field, but do you have enough resources to finish the project? Suppose your research project involves travelling halfway around the world to conduct a field investigation. The question you must be asking yourself is: can I afford that much time and money? If not, then no matter how brilliant your idea is, you need to think of something else. Save this one for when you receive a healthy research grant.
5. Prepare a project timeline
Having a project timeline is everything. It keeps you on track all the time. You should have a timeline set out in the first week, stating targets that you must achieve throughout the duration of your research project. Things could go wrong here and there, and you can always adjust dates, but it is very important to have a schedule, ideally broken down further into weekly targets. Ask your supervisor about what kind of targets you should set and try to achieve these on a weekly basis. Doing this should help you avoid becoming overwhelmed.
6. Write, write and write
If you’re unsure how to write a thesis, the best advice I can give is not to leave the writing stage until last. Start writing from day one. This is something I learned the hard way. My supervisor always suggests writing, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that unless I have all the information in hand. However, I’ve learned how important it is to write down whatever you do, and make notes of whatever you read. Documenting the whole process as you go will help you finalize the project in a very effective way. So don’t worry about writing things that are “wrong” or that don’t make sense. Remember, it only has to make sense once the whole project is finished. So even if it seems raw, keep on writing and get regular feedback from your supervisor.
These are some general rules that apply to every research project. You will definitely have to alter a few things here and there depending on your area of interest and your topic. I wish you good luck for this. And if you need to talk to me, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Finally, remember that persistence is the key. You may feel like giving up when things go off track, but stick with it and you’ll not only emerge with a completed project, you’ll also gain lots of invaluable skills along the way.
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This article was originally published in July 2015 . It was last updated in February 2023
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Hailing from Pakistan, Zain finished a Masters of Journalism and International Relations at Monash University in Australia. He is working as a journalist and media trainer in Melbourne along with secretly harboring an ambition to become a filmmaker.
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How to Get Started With a Research Project
Last Updated: January 31, 2023 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, PhD . Chris Hadley, PhD is part of the wikiHow team and works on content strategy and data and analytics. Chris Hadley earned his PhD in Cognitive Psychology from UCLA in 2006. Chris' academic research has been published in numerous scientific journals. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 11 testimonials and 91% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 301,699 times.
You'll be required to undertake and complete research projects throughout your academic career and even, in many cases, as a member of the workforce. Don't worry if you feel stuck or intimidated by the idea of a research project, with care and dedication, you can get the project done well before the deadline!
Development and Foundation
- Don't hesitate while writing down ideas. You'll end up with some mental noise on the paper – silly or nonsensical phrases that your brain just pushes out. That's fine. Think of it as sweeping the cobwebs out of your attic. After a minute or two, better ideas will begin to form (and you might have a nice little laugh at your own expense in the meantime).
- Some instructors will even provide samples of previously successful topics if you ask for them. Just be careful that you don't end up stuck with an idea you want to do, but are afraid to do because you know someone else did it before.
- For example, if your research topic is “urban poverty,” you could look at that topic across ethnic or sexual lines, but you could also look into corporate wages, minimum wage laws, the cost of medical benefits, the loss of unskilled jobs in the urban core, and on and on. You could also try comparing and contrasting urban poverty with suburban or rural poverty, and examine things that might be different about both areas, such as diet and exercise levels, or air pollution.
- Think in terms of questions you want answered. A good research project should collect information for the purpose of answering (or at least attempting to answer) a question. As you review and interconnect topics, you'll think of questions that don't seem to have clear answers yet. These questions are your research topics.
- Don't limit yourself to libraries and online databases. Think in terms of outside resources as well: primary sources, government agencies, even educational TV programs. If you want to know about differences in animal population between public land and an Indian reservation, call the reservation and see if you can speak to their department of fish and wildlife.
- If you're planning to go ahead with original research, that's great – but those techniques aren't covered in this article. Instead, speak with qualified advisors and work with them to set up a thorough, controlled, repeatable process for gathering information.
- If your plan comes down to “researching the topic,” and there aren't any more specific things you can say about it, write down the types of sources you plan to use instead: books (library or private?), magazines (which ones?), interviews, and so on. Your preliminary research should have given you a solid idea of where to begin.
Expanding Your Idea with Research
- It's generally considered more convincing to source one item from three different authors who all agree on it than it is to rely too heavily on one book. Go for quantity at least as much as quality. Be sure to check citations, endnotes, and bibliographies to get more potential sources (and see whether or not all your authors are just quoting the same, older author).
- Writing down your sources and any other relevant details (such as context) around your pieces of information right now will save you lots of trouble in the future.
- Use many different queries to get the database results you want. If one phrasing or a particular set of words doesn't yield useful results, try rephrasing it or using synonymous terms. Online academic databases tend to be dumber than the sum of their parts, so you'll have to use tangentially related terms and inventive language to get all the results you want.
- If it's sensible, consider heading out into the field and speaking to ordinary people for their opinions. This isn't always appropriate (or welcomed) in a research project, but in some cases, it can provide you with some excellent perspective for your research.
- Review cultural artifacts as well. In many areas of study, there's useful information on attitudes, hopes, and/or concerns of people in a particular time and place contained within the art, music, and writing they produced. One has only to look at the woodblock prints of the later German Expressionists, for example, to understand that they lived in a world they felt was often dark, grotesque, and hopeless. Song lyrics and poetry can likewise express strong popular attitudes.
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- Start early. The foundation of a great research project is the research, which takes time and patience to gather even if you aren't performing any original research of your own. Set aside time for it whenever you can, at least until your initial gathering phase is complete. Past that point, the project should practically come together on its own. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
- When in doubt, write more, rather than less. It's easier to pare down and reorganize an overabundance of information than it is to puff up a flimsy core of facts and anecdotes. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
- Respect the wishes of others. Unless you're a research journalist, it's vital that you yield to the wishes and requests of others before engaging in original research, even if it's technically ethical. Many older American Indians, for instance, harbor a great deal of cultural resentment towards social scientists who visit reservations for research, even those invited by tribal governments for important reasons such as language revitalization. Always tread softly whenever you're out of your element, and only work with those who want to work with you. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 8 Not Helpful 2
- Be mindful of ethical concerns. Especially if you plan to use original research, there are very stringent ethical guidelines that must be followed for any credible academic body to accept it. Speak to an advisor (such as a professor) about what you plan to do and what steps you should take to verify that it will be ethical. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 6 Not Helpful 2
You Might Also Like
- ↑ http://www.butte.edu/departments/cas/tipsheets/research/research_paper.html
- ↑ https://www.nhcc.edu/academics/library/doing-library-research/basic-steps-research-process
- ↑ https://library.sacredheart.edu/c.php?g=29803&p=185905
- ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/common_writing_assignments/research_papers/choosing_a_topic.html
- ↑ https://www.unr.edu/writing-speaking-center/student-resources/writing-speaking-resources/using-an-interview-in-a-research-paper
- ↑ https://www.science.org/content/article/how-review-paper
About This Article
The easiest way to get started with a research project is to use your notes and other materials to come up with topics that interest you. Research your favorite topic to see if it can be developed, and then refine it into a research question. Begin thoroughly researching, and collect notes and sources. To learn more about finding reliable and helpful sources while you're researching, continue reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to plan a research project
Whether for a paper or a thesis, define your question, review the work of others – and leave yourself open to discovery
by Brooke Harrington + BIO
is professor of sociology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Her research has won international awards both for scholarly quality and impact on public life. She has published dozens of articles and three books, most recently the bestseller Capital without Borders (2016), now translated into five languages.
Edited by Sam Haselby
Need to know
‘When curiosity turns to serious matters, it’s called research.’ – From Aphorisms (1880-1905) by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Planning research projects is a time-honoured intellectual exercise: one that requires both creativity and sharp analytical skills. The purpose of this Guide is to make the process systematic and easy to understand. While there is a great deal of freedom and discovery involved – from the topics you choose, to the data and methods you apply – there are also some norms and constraints that obtain, no matter what your academic level or field of study. For those in high school through to doctoral students, and from art history to archaeology, research planning involves broadly similar steps, including: formulating a question, developing an argument or predictions based on previous research, then selecting the information needed to answer your question.
Some of this might sound self-evident but, as you’ll find, research requires a different way of approaching and using information than most of us are accustomed to in everyday life. That is why I include orienting yourself to knowledge-creation as an initial step in the process. This is a crucial and underappreciated phase in education, akin to making the transition from salaried employment to entrepreneurship: suddenly, you’re on your own, and that requires a new way of thinking about your work.
What follows is a distillation of what I’ve learned about this process over 27 years as a professional social scientist. It reflects the skills that my own professors imparted in the sociology doctoral programme at Harvard, as well as what I learned later on as a research supervisor for Ivy League PhD and MA students, and then as the author of award-winning scholarly books and articles. It can be adapted to the demands of both short projects (such as course term papers) and long ones, such as a thesis.
At its simplest, research planning involves the four distinct steps outlined below: orienting yourself to knowledge-creation; defining your research question; reviewing previous research on your question; and then choosing relevant data to formulate your own answers. Because the focus of this Guide is on planning a research project, as opposed to conducting a research project, this section won’t delve into the details of data-collection or analysis; those steps happen after you plan the project. In addition, the topic is vast: year-long doctoral courses are devoted to data and analysis. Instead, the fourth part of this section will outline some basic strategies you could use in planning a data-selection and analysis process appropriate to your research question.
Step 1: Orient yourself
Planning and conducting research requires you to make a transition, from thinking like a consumer of information to thinking like a producer of information. That sounds simple, but it’s actually a complex task. As a practical matter, this means putting aside the mindset of a student, which treats knowledge as something created by other people. As students, we are often passive receivers of knowledge: asked to do a specified set of readings, then graded on how well we reproduce what we’ve read.
Researchers, however, must take on an active role as knowledge producers . Doing research requires more of you than reading and absorbing what other people have written: you have to engage in a dialogue with it. That includes arguing with previous knowledge and perhaps trying to show that ideas we have accepted as given are actually wrong or incomplete. For example, rather than simply taking in the claims of an author you read, you’ll need to draw out the implications of those claims: if what the author is saying is true, what else does that suggest must be true? What predictions could you make based on the author’s claims?
In other words, rather than treating a reading as a source of truth – even if it comes from a revered source, such as Plato or Marie Curie – this orientation step asks you to treat the claims you read as provisional and subject to interrogation. That is one of the great pieces of wisdom that science and philosophy can teach us: that the biggest advances in human understanding have been made not by being correct about trivial things, but by being wrong in an interesting way . For example, Albert Einstein was wrong about quantum mechanics, but his arguments about it with his fellow physicist Niels Bohr have led to some of the biggest breakthroughs in science, even a century later.
Step 2: Define your research question
Students often give this step cursory attention, but experienced researchers know that formulating a good question is sometimes the most difficult part of the research planning process. That is because the precise language of the question frames the rest of the project. It’s therefore important to pose the question carefully, in a way that’s both possible to answer and likely to yield interesting results. Of course, you must choose a question that interests you, but that’s only the beginning of what’s likely to be an iterative process: most researchers come back to this step repeatedly, modifying their questions in light of previous research, resource limitations and other considerations.
Researchers face limits in terms of time and money. They, like everyone else, have to pose research questions that they can plausibly answer given the constraints they face. For example, it would be inadvisable to frame a project around the question ‘What are the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict?’ if you have only a week to develop an answer and no background on that topic. That’s not to limit your imagination: you can come up with any question you’d like. But it typically does require some creativity to frame a question that you can answer well – that is, by investigating thoroughly and providing new insights – within the limits you face.
In addition to being interesting to you, and feasible within your resource constraints, the third and most important characteristic of a ‘good’ research topic is whether it allows you to create new knowledge. It might turn out that your question has already been asked and answered to your satisfaction: if so, you’ll find out in the next step of this process. On the other hand, you might come up with a research question that hasn’t been addressed previously. Before you get too excited about breaking uncharted ground, consider this: a lot of potentially researchable questions haven’t been studied for good reason ; they might have answers that are trivial or of very limited interest. This could include questions such as ‘Why does the area of a circle equal π r²?’ or ‘Did winter conditions affect Napoleon’s plans to invade Russia?’ Of course, you might be able to make the argument that a seemingly trivial question is actually vitally important, but you must be prepared to back that up with convincing evidence. The exercise in the ‘Learn More’ section below will help you think through some of these issues.
Finally, scholarly research questions must in some way lead to new and distinctive insights. For example, lots of people have studied gender roles in sports teams; what can you ask that hasn’t been asked before? Reinventing the wheel is the number-one no-no in this endeavour. That’s why the next step is so important: reviewing previous research on your topic. Depending on what you find in that step, you might need to revise your research question; iterating between your question and the existing literature is a normal process. But don’t worry: it doesn’t go on forever. In fact, the iterations taper off – and your research question stabilises – as you develop a firm grasp of the current state of knowledge on your topic.
Step 3: Review previous research
In academic research, from articles to books, it’s common to find a section called a ‘literature review’. The purpose of that section is to describe the state of the art in knowledge on the research question that a project has posed. It demonstrates that researchers have thoroughly and systematically reviewed the relevant findings of previous studies on their topic, and that they have something novel to contribute.
Your own research project should include something like this, even if it’s a high-school term paper. In the research planning process, you’ll want to list at least half a dozen bullet points stating the major findings on your topic by other people. In relation to those findings, you should be able to specify where your project could provide new and necessary insights. There are two basic rhetorical positions one can take in framing the novelty-plus-importance argument required of academic research:
- Position 1 requires you to build on or extend a set of existing ideas; that means saying something like: ‘Person A has argued that X is true about gender; this implies Y, which has not yet been tested. My project will test Y, and if I find evidence to support it, that will change the way we understand gender.’
- Position 2 is to argue that there is a gap in existing knowledge, either because previous research has reached conflicting conclusions or has failed to consider something important. For example, one could say that research on middle schoolers and gender has been limited by being conducted primarily in coeducational environments, and that findings might differ dramatically if research were conducted in more schools where the student body was all-male or all-female.
Your overall goal in this step of the process is to show that your research will be part of a larger conversation: that is, how your project flows from what’s already known, and how it advances, extends or challenges that existing body of knowledge. That will be the contribution of your project, and it constitutes the motivation for your research.
Two things are worth mentioning about your search for sources of relevant previous research. First, you needn’t look only at studies on your precise topic. For example, if you want to study gender-identity formation in schools, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to studies of schools; the empirical setting (schools) is secondary to the larger social process that interests you (how people form gender identity). That process occurs in many different settings, so cast a wide net. Second, be sure to use legitimate sources – meaning publications that have been through some sort of vetting process, whether that involves peer review (as with academic journal articles you might find via Google Scholar) or editorial review (as you’d find in well-known mass media publications, such as The Economist or The Washington Post ). What you’ll want to avoid is using unvetted sources such as personal blogs or Wikipedia. Why? Because anybody can write anything in those forums, and there is no way to know – unless you’re already an expert – if the claims you find there are accurate. Often, they’re not.
Step 4: Choose your data and methods
Whatever your research question is, eventually you’ll need to consider which data source and analytical strategy are most likely to provide the answers you’re seeking. One starting point is to consider whether your question would be best addressed by qualitative data (such as interviews, observations or historical records), quantitative data (such as surveys or census records) or some combination of both. Your ideas about data sources will, in turn, suggest options for analytical methods.
You might need to collect your own data, or you might find everything you need readily available in an existing dataset someone else has created. A great place to start is with a research librarian: university libraries always have them and, at public universities, those librarians can work with the public, including people who aren’t affiliated with the university. If you don’t happen to have a public university and its library close at hand, an ordinary public library can still be a good place to start: the librarians are often well versed in accessing data sources that might be relevant to your study, such as the census, or historical archives, or the Survey of Consumer Finances.
Because your task at this point is to plan research, rather than conduct it, the purpose of this step is not to commit you irrevocably to a course of action. Instead, your goal here is to think through a feasible approach to answering your research question. You’ll need to find out, for example, whether the data you want exist; if not, do you have a realistic chance of gathering the data yourself, or would it be better to modify your research question? In terms of analysis, would your strategy require you to apply statistical methods? If so, do you have those skills? If not, do you have time to learn them, or money to hire a research assistant to run the analysis for you?
Please be aware that qualitative methods in particular are not the casual undertaking they might appear to be. Many people make the mistake of thinking that only quantitative data and methods are scientific and systematic, while qualitative methods are just a fancy way of saying: ‘I talked to some people, read some old newspapers, and drew my own conclusions.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. In the final section of this guide, you’ll find some links to resources that will provide more insight on standards and procedures governing qualitative research, but suffice it to say: there are rules about what constitutes legitimate evidence and valid analytical procedure for qualitative data, just as there are for quantitative data.
Circle back and consider revising your initial plans
As you work through these four steps in planning your project, it’s perfectly normal to circle back and revise. Research planning is rarely a linear process. It’s also common for new and unexpected avenues to suggest themselves. As the sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1908 : ‘The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before.’ That’s as true of research planning as it is of a completed project. Try to enjoy the horizons that open up for you in this process, rather than becoming overwhelmed; the four steps, along with the two exercises that follow, will help you focus your plan and make it manageable.
Key points – How to plan a research project
- Planning a research project is essential no matter your academic level or field of study. There is no one ‘best’ way to design research, but there are certain guidelines that can be helpfully applied across disciplines.
- Orient yourself to knowledge-creation. Make the shift from being a consumer of information to being a producer of information.
- Define your research question. Your question frames the rest of your project, sets the scope, and determines the kinds of answers you can find.
- Review previous research on your question. Survey the existing body of relevant knowledge to ensure that your research will be part of a larger conversation.
- Choose your data and methods. For instance, will you be collecting qualitative data, via interviews, or numerical data, via surveys?
- Circle back and consider revising your initial plans. Expect your research question in particular to undergo multiple rounds of refinement as you learn more about your topic.
Good research questions tend to beget more questions. This can be frustrating for those who want to get down to business right away. Try to make room for the unexpected: this is usually how knowledge advances. Many of the most significant discoveries in human history have been made by people who were looking for something else entirely. There are ways to structure your research planning process without over-constraining yourself; the two exercises below are a start, and you can find further methods in the Links and Books section.
The following exercise provides a structured process for advancing your research project planning. After completing it, you’ll be able to do the following:
- describe clearly and concisely the question you’ve chosen to study
- summarise the state of the art in knowledge about the question, and where your project could contribute new insight
- identify the best strategy for gathering and analysing relevant data
In other words, the following provides a systematic means to establish the building blocks of your research project.
Exercise 1: Definition of research question and sources
This exercise prompts you to select and clarify your general interest area, develop a research question, and investigate sources of information. The annotated bibliography will also help you refine your research question so that you can begin the second assignment, a description of the phenomenon you wish to study.
Jot down a few bullet points in response to these two questions, with the understanding that you’ll probably go back and modify your answers as you begin reading other studies relevant to your topic:
- What will be the general topic of your paper?
- What will be the specific topic of your paper?
b) Research question(s)
Use the following guidelines to frame a research question – or questions – that will drive your analysis. As with Part 1 above, you’ll probably find it necessary to change or refine your research question(s) as you complete future assignments.
- Your question should be phrased so that it can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
- Your question should have more than one plausible answer.
- Your question should draw relationships between two or more concepts; framing the question in terms of How? or What? often works better than asking Why ?
c) Annotated bibliography
Most or all of your background information should come from two sources: scholarly books and journals, or reputable mass media sources. You might be able to access journal articles electronically through your library, using search engines such as JSTOR and Google Scholar. This can save you a great deal of time compared with going to the library in person to search periodicals. General news sources, such as those accessible through LexisNexis, are acceptable, but should be cited sparingly, since they don’t carry the same level of credibility as scholarly sources. As discussed above, unvetted sources such as blogs and Wikipedia should be avoided, because the quality of the information they provide is unreliable and often misleading.
To create an annotated bibliography, provide the following information for at least 10 sources relevant to your specific topic, using the format suggested below.
Name of author(s):
Title of book, chapter, or article:
If a chapter or article, title of journal or book where they appear:
Brief description of this work, including main findings and methods ( c 75 words):
Summary of how this work contributes to your project ( c 75 words):
Brief description of the implications of this work ( c 25 words):
Identify any gap or controversy in knowledge this work points up, and how your project could address those problems ( c 50 words):
Exercise 2: Towards an analysis
Develop a short statement ( c 250 words) about the kind of data that would be useful to address your research question, and how you’d analyse it. Some questions to consider in writing this statement include:
- What are the central concepts or variables in your project? Offer a brief definition of each.
- Do any data sources exist on those concepts or variables, or would you need to collect data?
- Of the analytical strategies you could apply to that data, which would be the most appropriate to answer your question? Which would be the most feasible for you? Consider at least two methods, noting their advantages or disadvantages for your project.
Links & books
One of the best texts ever written about planning and executing research comes from a source that might be unexpected: a 60-year-old work on urban planning by a self-trained scholar. The classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs (available complete and free of charge via this link ) is worth reading in its entirety just for the pleasure of it. But the final 20 pages – a concluding chapter titled ‘The Kind of Problem a City Is’ – are really about the process of thinking through and investigating a problem. Highly recommended as a window into the craft of research.
Jacobs’s text references an essay on advancing human knowledge by the mathematician Warren Weaver. At the time, Weaver was director of the Rockefeller Foundation, in charge of funding basic research in the natural and medical sciences. Although the essay is titled ‘A Quarter Century in the Natural Sciences’ (1960) and appears at first blush to be merely a summation of one man’s career, it turns out to be something much bigger and more interesting: a meditation on the history of human beings seeking answers to big questions about the world. Weaver goes back to the 17th century to trace the origins of systematic research thinking, with enthusiasm and vivid anecdotes that make the process come alive. The essay is worth reading in its entirety, and is available free of charge via this link .
For those seeking a more in-depth, professional-level discussion of the logic of research design, the political scientist Harvey Starr provides insight in a compact format in the article ‘Cumulation from Proper Specification: Theory, Logic, Research Design, and “Nice” Laws’ (2005). Starr reviews the ‘research triad’, consisting of the interlinked considerations of formulating a question, selecting relevant theories and applying appropriate methods. The full text of the article, published in the scholarly journal Conflict Management and Peace Science , is available, free of charge, via this link .
Finally, the book Getting What You Came For (1992) by Robert Peters is not only an outstanding guide for anyone contemplating graduate school – from the application process onward – but it also includes several excellent chapters on planning and executing research, applicable across a wide variety of subject areas. It was an invaluable resource for me 25 years ago, and it remains in print with good reason; I recommend it to all my students, particularly Chapter 16 (‘The Thesis Topic: Finding It’), Chapter 17 (‘The Thesis Proposal’) and Chapter 18 (‘The Thesis: Writing It’).
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How to undertake a research project and write a scientific paper
University of East Anglia,, UK
Research and publishing are essential aspects of lifelong learning in a surgical career. Many surgeons, especially those in training, ask for guidance on how they might start a simple project that may lead to a publication. This short paper offers some practical guidelines on the subject.
How to get started with a project
How to get started varies depending on whether the project is suggested by a trainer or educational supervisor. Projects suggested by a senior are always offered as an encouragement to a trainee, who should be careful not to respond in a negative way by ignoring the suggestion, coming up with a string of excuses or doing the project badly! Here are some simple steps that may contribute to an organised start on the project. You need a protocol but first you must be clear about what the project will involve.
- Undertake a literature search on the suggested topic.
- Read all the papers from the last ten years and summarise them on a single page of A4.
- Make a note of how many similar series have been produced, their size, the length of follow-up and any special aspects of the subject that have already been addressed.
- List aspects of the topic that have not been well covered, perhaps morbidity or surgery for rare indications, or long-term outcomes.
- Discuss your thoughts on the subject with your colleagues.
- With the strengths and weaknesses of the current literature clear in your own mind, summarise your thoughts in bullet points on a single side of A4 and arrange ten minutes to discuss them with the senior who suggested the topic.
The six steps listed above can be easily completed within a couple of weeks. Once you have discussed and agreed the aims of the project as well as how they can be achieved, you can write your protocol. It is also possible that having studied the literature you decide the suggested project is unlikely to add to our current knowledge and that another topic might be better studied.
A protocol and approval from your trust’s research and development (R&D) department as well as from the research ethics committee (REC) are needed before you begin a research project. If you are planning a service evaluation, REC approval may not be needed. When you have secured the approvals, the process of collecting the data begins.
Examining a case series, there may be hundreds of medical records that need to be studied and it is crucial to draw up a ‘proforma’ on which to record patient data. This should ideally fill no more than one or two sides of A4 and needs to include all the data that you have decided to collect for your particular study. It is crucial not to leave out a dataset you might later wish to look at but on the other hand it is also important not to collect too many data. Because of this fine balance, it is important to draw up a proforma and agree its composition with your supervisor and any co-workers on the project before starting to collect data from the medical records.
Data collection can be time consuming and it may be that several colleagues can work on this to speed the project along. Once all the data proformas are filled in, the data need to be entered into the database, spreadsheet or statistical package of your choice. It is best to use the software favoured by the department or colleagues in medical statistics.
Having looked at the data, discipline yourself to produce a succinct summary on one side of A4. Again, arrange a meeting with your supervisor and any other co-workers to discuss the findings, and give everyone the opportunity to comment and correct the summary. Once the findings are agreed, you are ready to write up the project.
Sometimes you will want to develop an idea of your own. It is even more important with a self-generated project to do a thorough literature search to make sure that your ideas will contribute to our knowledge. The discussion of a more ambitious project like a randomised trial should be with as many colleagues as possible, both for advice and also to garner support for your idea. Having produced a single side of A4 summarising your idea, identify a senior colleague who can advise you and proceed as described above.
As noted previously, REC approval is needed for any clinical research involving patients or their data. You will need to prepare an application on the Integrated Research Application System website ( https://www.myresearchproject.org.uk/ ). If you have never done this before, seek advice from your trust’s R&D department. REC approval is time consuming; the following comments may help:
- Much of your initial work producing a summary of your idea will be helpful in completing the ethics committee form. It is crucial that submission to your local ethics committee is checked by all your co-workers.
- Colleagues from medical statistics and any other parallel disciplines such as radiology or medical chemistry need to be involved right at the start of this formal submission so that all aspects of the study are academically correct. It is especially important to have expert statistical input because it is very demoralising to finish a trial only to be told that your study is woefully underpowered and cannot answer the question that it set out to address!
- It is wise to present your idea to the committee in person as this can save time and iron out minor misunderstandings. These ‘glitches’ in an ethics submission can soak up months of precious time and a personal meeting with the REC can help to avoid them.
- Many institutions also have research governance or internal review boards that must also pass a project after it has gained ethical approval. Their role is often to assess the financial and organisational impact of a study.
This process seldom takes less than 3 months and may take nearly 12 months. Do not be disheartened by this. If your study is worth doing, then it is worth persevering.
The recording of data using a concise proforma, entry into appropriate computer software and production of a summary of your findings are all conducted in the same way as in the first section of these guidelines.
Writing up a study
One of the most challenging aspects of surgical research is writing a paper. Putting together a manuscript for submission to a journal can be broken down into several simple and relatively self-contained steps:
- Journal guidelines : All journals have a set of instructions for potential authors. The suggestions below are an overall guide to writing a paper but should be viewed in the context of the specific guidelines on submission to the journal you have chosen for your work.
- Title : Keep this simple and concise.
- Authorship : This topic may be a source of some problems. My own observation about authorship is that if you leave somebody out who feels they have contributed to your project, you can make an enemy for life! It is easy to forget colleagues, especially when a project has run for several years. Try, within the internationally agreed authorship guidelines, to include all colleagues who have contributed significantly to your study.
The order of authorship may also cause problems. It is generally agreed that the main researcher who also produced the first draft of the paper is the first author. The second author has usually been the second main contributor to the project. The last author is the senior person supervising the work. Between these positions come all other authors who fulfil the guidelines for authorship. If in any doubt about who should or should not be in the authorship, discuss it with your senior author.
All papers have a corresponding author responsible for answering queries after submission of the manuscript. It is best if he or she is a permanent member of the department as queries may arrive several years after a paper is published.
- Abstract : This is usually 200–250 words and should be written in the style of the journal. Generally, this includes sections on background, methods, results and conclusions.
- Introduction : This should introduce the reader to the subject covered in the study and explain why this particular study has been undertaken. It should be kept to two or three paragraphs. The first paragraph sets the scene and summarises the current literature. The second paragraph should justify why this particular study or series of cases has been put together.
- Patients and methods : The most frequent mistake in this section is to include results as well as patient details. It is important to stick to describing the study population, how they were collected and, crucially, how any analyses were undertaken. Always describe what statistical tests were used and justify why they were appropriate.
- Results : These should be presented concisely with as few tables or figures as possible. Use a logical sequence and follow the same sequence in the methods and discussion sections.
- What are the main findings of your work? State clearly what you can conclude from your observations, taking care not to overestimate what you can conclude.
- Why are these findings valid (sample size, methods etc)? Explain what leads you to conclude that your findings may be relied on. Also make sure you highlight any potential weaknesses in your data and consider other potential confounding variables that might invalidate your conclusions.
- How do your observations compare with other work in the same area? Discuss how results from your work compare with other papers on the same subject, either explaining similarities or examining differences.
- Any other business? Are there any unexpected side observations that merit separate discussion? This might include unexpected complications in a trial or a unique subset of patients in a clinical series.
- Restate your main findings and suggest what further work might be helpful in providing more information on the topic of your project.
- References : Make sure these are presented in the style of the journal you have selected.
Publication of the paper
This can be the biggest hurdle you have to clear! Some basic rules will help to make this easier. First, never submit a paper without all authors having read it and agreed to the content. Second, never submit a paper to more than one journal at a time. Finally, remember that submission is not the end of your paper but just the beginning.
Selection of the right journal is important. On the basis of their impact factor, journals may be divided into four divisions. Think of it like the football league! The premier division contains journals with impact factors greater than 10, the second division those with impact factors from 5 to 10, the third division with impact factors from 1 to 5 and, finally, the fourth division with impact factors less than 1. Just as with football, journals may be promoted or relegated so it is wise to check online for a journal’s current impact factor.
Discuss with your co-workers what your target journal should be. It is acceptable to aim just higher than you think your paper ranks but obviously pointless sending a small case series to one of the premiership journals. A second consideration is which articles have appeared in your target journal over the last 12 months. If there have been one or more papers on the same subject as your work, it may be better to select an equally ranked journal that has not had a paper on your topic for several years.
Peer review is the process used by journals to select papers for publication. Many papers are rejected immediately but those deemed of potential interest are sent out for peer review. This process usually takes 3–4 months (although some journals such as the Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England have a much quicker turnaround). There are four potential outcomes:
- Accept without corrections – this is very rare!
- Minor corrections needed followed by resubmission for publication
- Major corrections needed and resubmission invited but without any promise to publish
- Major criticisms and rejection (for most major journals this is the single largest category of outcomes)
When you receive the reviewer’s comments don’t take them personally! The best way to regard the reviewer’s criticisms is as helpful suggestions to improve your paper. It is crucial to deal with each of the reviewer’s comments carefully, systematically and politely. If possible, respond to the comments within a few days of receiving them.
If your paper has been rejected, then the reviewer’s comments are an excellent set of suggestions to improve the manuscript for submission to another journal. This should probably be in one division lower than your first submission. Again, there is no reason to delay resubmission to another journal more than a few days. Make sure that all possible advice on rewriting and correcting your paper is taken and your work will almost certainly get published eventually!
How to Set Up a Research Project (in 6 Steps)
Written by Casey Scott-Songin
Research projects, 0 comment(s).
It can be really exciting to embark on a research project, but knowing where to start can feel overwhelming! Setting up a research project properly means that you will save yourself a lot of stress, worrying about whether you’ll collect useful information, and will save you time analysing results!
Before you even begin to think about what research method you should use or where to recruit participants , you need to think about the purpose, objectives, and key research questions for your project. Below are the six steps to starting a research project that you can be confident in!
1. Define your purpose
The first thing you need to do is have a clear understanding of the purpose of your project. If you had to summarise why you wanted to do this project in two to three sentences, what would they be?
These should include:
- what problem you are trying to solve
- the context for that problem
- the purpose of the project
The problem you are trying to solve
Think about how to summarise your main problem in one sentence. Is it that your product is not selling? Are you not sure why some ads are more successful than others? Is it that you are struggling to grow you client list? Or maybe There is a high bounce rate on a particular page on your website. Whatever it is, clearly identify it in one sentence (okay, two sentences maximum).
The context for that problem
This is the opportunity to think about what you already know. This should be a summary of what data or research you already have access to. This could include analytics from your website or social media pages, previous qualitative research you may have done, or sector or industry research you have access to. Basically, this is the data that has helped you realise you had a problem to begin with. Knowing where you are starting from will help you significantly when you finish your research because you’ll have a clear understanding of where you are coming from in order to define where you want to be in the future.
The purpose of the project
This should be a sentence about why you decided to do this research project in the first place. If you are working with stakeholders and will be using this to get research approved, this sentence should be your commitment that research can help solve the problem you have identified.
2. Clarify your Objectives
This section should focus on what the research will add to the overall project. It should clearly identify the goals you want to achieve by the end of the research project. Try to focus on one or two goals maximum. You will know you have succeeded at the end of the project if you have achieved these goals.
For example, if the problem you have identified is that you have a high bounce rate on the main sales page on your website, your objectives of the research may be:
- To identify the key problems on the sales page that is resulting in a high number of users leaving without buying anything
- To understand which audiences are most likely to leave without purchasing anything
Finally, you should identify (if you can) what type of outcomes you want to have from this research project. Will you be writing a report? Will it result in a list of recommended changes to your website? Being very clear about what to expect at the end of the project helps stakeholders get on board and support research projects like these.
3. Define your Key Research Questions
A very important step in any research plan is to identify your key research questions. These are very useful and help you narrow the focus of your research project. They are also really useful when you are analysing your data! When you go to write your report, if you use the data to answer the questions you’ve asked for this project, you’ll know you will have done what you set out to do.
These questions should be the key questions you are hoping to get an answer to. Try to keep to around five to ten questions. Being as specific as possible to help you focus your research project and get the answers you need to solve your problem.
Key research questions should be as specific as possible to help you focus your research project and get the answers you need to solve your problem.
These questions could fall into some of the below categories:
- Why is something happening?
- Why are your customers behaving a certain way?
- Why is something not being used?
- What are your audiences’ needs?
- What is motivating your users to do something?
- What specific questions do you have about the product or service?
- What questions do you have after looking into the data that is already available?
The questions you write should not be the questions you ask your audiences. These are often complex and overarching questions, and will most likely need to be broken down when asking your audiences in order to collect useful data.
4. Write out your Hypotheses and Challenge your Assumptions
An often skipped step, but an important one nonetheless, is to think about any hypotheses you have. Do you expect to have any particular outcomes to the research? Go back to your research questions and write down what you think the answers might be. What do you expect your audiences to do, think or feel? These will entirely be your thoughts and don’t necessarily have to be based in data. To make sure it is clear, you should write these starting each sentence with “I think….”.
Now take a look at your research questions again. Have you made any assumptions when crafting your research questions? Did you leave anything out because you assumed you knew the answers? Did you assume something would be more important that something else?
In order to make sure your research is as objective as possible, you need to be aware of what biases you are bringing to the research.
Understanding your hypotheses and assumptions is a crucial step to making your research objective. In order to make sure your research is as objective as possible, you need to be aware of what biases you are bringing to the research. These biases will mean you will be more likely to hear some things over other things. This is called confirmation bias, and it can lead to you making some results more or less important than they actually are.
It’s useful to document these so you can refer back to them throughout the research process. If you lay out all the things you think might inadvertently impact your interpretation of the results, it will help you from letting confirmation bias influence your research.
5. Choose your Methodology
Now that you have a good understanding of what your research project is trying to accomplish, it’s time to choose the right research method to get the information you are looking for!
There are two main types of research methods to choose from: quantitative research and qualitative research.
Quantitative research identifies what your users are doing while qualitative research helps to understand why users do what they do.
Quantitative research helps to answer the question: What are your consumers/audiences/users doing? These methods can capture large data sets relatively quickly and give a basic understanding of audience behaviours. Having a large data set allows you to provide a strong confidence in findings relatively quickly. You’ll be able to quickly and easily see if any patterns are emerging.
While quantitative research is very good at capturing what users are doing, it cannot easily capture what users’ underlying decision making processes are. Further, it does not allow you to follow up on unexpected findings, or have the flexibility to investigate different areas on inquiry.
Qualitative research helps to answer the question: Why are users doing what they’re doing? These research methods can provide an in-depth understanding of user behaviours, attitudes and decision making processes. These methods also allow you to have the flexibility to explore unexpected results, which is often where important or insightful data lies. It usually results in much smaller data sets, but the data is often very rich and cn provide a deep dive into the research questions you are hoping to answer.
Qualitative research does not provide a large data set, and analysis can be time consuming. Further, it is often important to make sure you’re project setup is as objective as possible, as it is possible to accidentally skew your data with your own biases.
Choosing your Research Method
When deciding on a research method, it can be useful to evaluate whether your key research questions fall into one of the following three categories:
If you are looking to collect breadth in data, you are most likely looking to answer questions around what a large group of people think. Some examples of research methods that can provide breadth in data are surveys, task analysis, or card sorting. These are research methods that work best when a wide range or a large quantity of people need to be reached in order to answer your question. They are useful because the methods themselves allow for data to be categorised relatively easily, which helps analyse quickly. These methods are most useful when testing a hypothesis rather than defining a problem.
If you are looking to understand the context of something, you are most likely trying to get a better understanding of what problems might exist. Research methods that look for context are most useful when there isn’t much knowledge about the subject. They can often help define the questions as well. Context can be captured with qualitative or quantitative methods. Web or social analytics is a good example of understanding context using a quantitative research method. Qualitative research methods that capture context include participant observations in natural or group settings. Overall, these methods are good at finding out people’s natural behaviours with little intervention – what they do vs. what they say they do.
Looking for depth in your key research questions most likely means you’ll be using a qualitative research method, such as interviews or focus groups, to answer your questions. These types of research methods allow you to use open questions to dig deeper into answers and explore topics in greater depth. Depth methods allow you to most accurately define a problem you are hoping to solve with your service or product. Methods such as co-creation or participatory design allow for you to work closely with your audiences to design solutions you know they will like.
If you’d like to learn more about choosing the right research methods, check out my post: How to Choose the Right Research Method for your Project
6. Recruit your Participants
Once you have chosen the research method that would be best for your project, it’s time to think about who you want to speak to, and how you are going to recruit their help to your project. This is often the most difficult task, but it is one of the most critical things to get correct.
How do you recruit participants for your research project?
The first thing you need to do is identify who you would like to speak to. It could be your entire audience, it could be a subset of people, or it could be people who currently don’t engage with you!
Finding people from your audience
Once you have an idea of who you want to speak to, think about where you might find them. Maybe you have an email list so it’s as simple as reaching out to your current subscribers! If you don’t currently have anyone on your email list, think about where your audience might be. Would they be in a particular facebook group? Maybe they follow you on social media? Reaching out to your audiences on owned channels such as your social media accounts, via email, or even as a pop up on your website can be a really cheap and easy way to speak to your audiences.
Finding people who don’t know who you are
And if you’re just starting out, or you want to speak to people who don’t currently follow you, you can always recruit through panels. Depending on how many people you’d like to speak to, you can recruit via panels for relatively low costs, and ensure you’ll get participants that will be relevant to your key research questions. Some survey tools (such as Survey Monkey) have panels you can use built right into their software, or you can search for panels in your country (or the country you’re interested in speaking to participants to) to find a company that would be a good partner for your project.
How many participants is enough?
How many people is enough for your research project will depend entirely on the research method you choose and the complexity of the questions you are trying to answer. For me, I generally try to get at least 100 survey responses if I’m sending out a survey, and anywhere from six to twenty participants for qualitative research methods such as interviews, focus groups, or co-creation.
Taking slightly more time to set up a research project has huge benefits and means that your results will be as useful as possible and findings and recommendations will come together much easier and quicker than they would otherwise.
To find out more about a variety of elements that go into research projects in more detail, check out the other posts on my blog !
What steps do you take when starting research?
Let me know in the comments below if you have tried any of the above methods!
And don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter to recieve more on what research methods to choose, research best practice, and a variety of other relevant and informative content!
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How To Build Your Academic Research Project With Stormboard
Today's post is written by Dr. Ben Ellway, the founder of www.academic-toolkit.com . Ben completed his Ph.D. at The University of Cambridge and created the Research Design Canvas, a multipurpose tool for learning about academic research and designing a research project.
Ben is the author of two books, Making A Positive Start To Your Ph.D. Or Professional Doctorate , and Building Research Models . Based upon requests from students for a digital version of the Research Design Canvas, Ben has created a template for Stormboard based on this tool. This is his brief guide on how to use it.
Academic research is complex
The complexity of a Ph.D., Professional Doctorate, or Research Masters can be overwhelming. To effectively design your project, you must review literature in your topic while simultaneously learning about the principles and process of academic research. This is tough!
Due to the complexity of these tasks, many students experience thoughts, ideas, questions, and worries constantly running through their minds. If at some point you feel confused, get stuck, or become frustrated, you are certainly not alone.
How can you tackle the complexity of academic research?
Use the Research Design Canvas Template to reduce complexity
The Research Design Canvas Template simplifies academic research into nine fundamental building blocks, each with targeted questions to guide you when applying academic principles and making crucial decisions to design your project.
Moreover, by placing the fundamental components of your research project side-by-side, you’ll be able to more easily recognize connections and build coherence in your project.
Build your research project on Stormboard
The visual simplicity of Stormboard and the Research Design Canvas Template will enable you to create a ‘birds-eye view’ of your research project. In conventional documents, ideas and points can easily become lost in pages and pages of writing, often leading to a disjointed, confused, or unfocused project. By creating your Research Design Canvas in Stormboard, you’ll have a visual summary of your project, which you can easily access at any time.
Crucially, your understanding of academic research and the literature in your topic area will evolve over time. This means that your project is essentially composed of moving parts — which influence and impact upon each other. A decision you make in one area of your project is likely to influence another part of your project.
Luckily, Stormboard is dynamic. You can use digital sticky notes to quickly add, remove, update, and refine ideas on your research design canvas. So, you’ll have a permanent visual summary of what your research is about, and how you are tracking in developing the various components of your project. As you make progress, you can quickly add new content and easily consider how this might potentially impact or influence parts of your project.
Where should I start?
Where you feel comfortable! There is no right or wrong place to start.
Some projects start with a real-world problem while others start with a theoretical issue. Some projects start with a tentative research question or hypotheses, whereas other projects may start with a preexisting dataset. Relax and add content in any order you want. Do what makes sense for the uniqueness of your project.
To help you make a start, consider the focus of the nine building blocks below.
Phenomenon / Problem What does your research focus on? What will you investigate? Does your project involve a real-world problem?
Literature There is a lot of literature out there! To help you avoid getting sucked into literature review quicksand, recognize up front the key area or areas of literature of relevance to your project.
Observations & Arguments After finding literature, you need to make sense of it. Use this building block to summarise the most crucial points from past research. This could include key evidence and issues, and possibly also a gap.
Research Questions/Hypotheses What are your tentative research questions and/or hypotheses? These may change — monitor and update this building block regularly.
Theory & Concepts List relevant theory and concepts. Theory testing or theory building. How important is theory to your research? In some projects, theory is crucial, while in other projects it plays a less important role.
Methodology / Design / Methods How will your investigation proceed? State the methods or research design here.
Sample / Context What data will you use? What sampling method? Is the research context important?
Contributions Think about the intended outcomes from your project. What value-add might your research provide — either to academics or real-world stakeholders?
Philosophical Assumptions / Research Paradigm These ideas are abstract and as a consequence can be challenging to understand. The relevance of this building block will differ across disciplines. Ask your supervisor for advice about this.
There is no right or wrong place to start on the canvas. Focus on the sections which you feel most confident with first. Each student starts out with different levels of understanding about the various components of academic research.
As you add content and ideas, you’ll gradually be able to build your project and begin to see it take shape. Indeed, as your canvas evolves on Stormboard, you’ll have an ongoing visual reminder of the progress you are making. Good luck!
Are you interested in trying the Research Design Canvas? Sign up for a free trial now!
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TIP Sheet HOW TO START (AND COMPLETE) A RESEARCH PAPER
You are a re-entry student and it's been fourteen years since you've written a paper. You coasted through high school on your charm and good looks and never actually wrote a research paper. You have written research papers, but every time is like the first time, and the first time was like a root canal. How do you start? Here is a step-by-step approach to starting and completing a research paper.
- Choose a topic.
- Read and keep records.
- Form a thesis.
- Create a mind map or outline.
- Read again.
- Rethink your thesis.
- Draft the body.
- Add the beginning and end.
- Proofread and edit.
You may read this TIP Sheet from start to finish before you begin your paper, or skip to the steps that are causing you the most grief.
1. Choosing a topic: Interest, information, and focus Your job will be more pleasant, and you will be more apt to retain information if you choose a topic that holds your interest. Even if a general topic is assigned ("Write about impacts of GMO crops on world food supply"), as much as possible find an approach that suits your interests. Your topic should be one on which you can find adequate information; you might need to do some preliminary research to determine this. Go to the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in the reference section of the library, or to an electronic database such as Proquest or Wilson Web, and search for your topic. The Butte College Library Reference Librarians are more than happy to assist you at this (or any) stage of your research. Scan the results to see how much information has been published. Then, narrow your topic to manageable size:
Once you have decided on a topic and determined that enough information is available, you are ready to proceed. At this point, however, if you are having difficulty finding adequate quality information, stop wasting your time; find another topic.
2. Preliminary reading & recordkeeping Gather some index cards or a small notebook and keep them with you as you read. First read a general article on your topic, for example from an encyclopedia. On an index card or in the notebook, record the author, article and/or book title, and all publication information in the correct format (MLA or APA, for example) specified by your instructor. (If you need to know what publication information is needed for the various types of sources, see a writing guide such as S F Writer .) On the index cards or in your notebook, write down information you want to use from each identified source, including page numbers. Use quotation marks on anything you copy exactly, so you can distinguish later between exact quotes and paraphrasing. (You will still attribute information you have quoted or paraphrased.)
Some students use a particular index card method throughout the process of researching and writing that allows them great flexibility in organizing and re-organizing as well as in keeping track of sources; others color-code or otherwise identify groups of facts. Use any method that works for you in later drafting your paper, but always start with good recordkeeping.
3. Organizing: Mind map or outline Based on your preliminary reading, draw up a working mind map or outline. Include any important, interesting, or provocative points, including your own ideas about the topic. A mind map is less linear and may even include questions you want to find answers to. Use the method that works best for you. The object is simply to group ideas in logically related groups. You may revise this mind map or outline at any time; it is much easier to reorganize a paper by crossing out or adding sections to a mind map or outline than it is to laboriously start over with the writing itself.
4. Formulating a thesis: Focus and craftsmanship Write a well defined, focused, three- to five-point thesis statement, but be prepared to revise it later if necessary. Take your time crafting this statement into one or two sentences, for it will control the direction and development of your entire paper.
For more on developing thesis statements, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
5. Researching: Facts and examples Now begin your heavy-duty research. Try the internet, electronic databases, reference books, newspaper articles, and books for a balance of sources. For each source, write down on an index card (or on a separate page of your notebook) the publication information you will need for your works cited (MLA) or bibliography (APA) page. Write important points, details, and examples, always distinguishing between direct quotes and paraphrasing. As you read, remember that an expert opinion is more valid than a general opinion, and for some topics (in science and history, for example), more recent research may be more valuable than older research. Avoid relying too heavily on internet sources, which vary widely in quality and authority and sometimes even disappear before you can complete your paper.
Never copy-and-paste from internet sources directly into any actual draft of your paper. For more information on plagiarism, obtain from the Butte College Student Services office a copy of the college's policy on plagiarism, or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
6. Rethinking: Matching mind map and thesis After you have read deeply and gathered plenty of information, expand or revise your working mind map or outline by adding information, explanations, and examples. Aim for balance in developing each of your main points (they should be spelled out in your thesis statement). Return to the library for additional information if it is needed to evenly develop these points, or revise your thesis statement to better reflect what you have learned or the direction your paper seems to have taken.
7. Drafting: Beginning in the middle Write the body of the paper, starting with the thesis statement and omitting for now the introduction (unless you already know exactly how to begin, but few writers do). Use supporting detail to logically and systematically validate your thesis statement. For now, omit the conclusion also.
For more on systematically developing a thesis statement, see TIP sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay."
8. Revising: Organization and attribution Read, revise, and make sure that your ideas are clearly organized and that they support your thesis statement. Every single paragraph should have a single topic that is derived from the thesis statement. If any paragraph does not, take it out, or revise your thesis if you think it is warranted. Check that you have quoted and paraphrased accurately, and that you have acknowledged your sources even for your paraphrasing. Every single idea that did not come to you as a personal epiphany or as a result of your own methodical reasoning should be attributed to its owner.
For more on writing papers that stay on-topic, see the TIP Sheets "Developing a Thesis and Supporting Arguments" and "How to Structure an Essay." For more on avoiding plagiarism, see the Butte College Student Services brochure, "Academic Honesty at Butte College," or attend the Critical Skills Plagiarism Workshop given each semester.
9. Writing: Intro, conclusion, and citations Write the final draft. Add a one-paragraph introduction and a one-paragraph conclusion. Usually the thesis statement appears as the last sentence or two of the first, introductory paragraph. Make sure all citations appear in the correct format for the style (MLA, APA) you are using. The conclusion should not simply restate your thesis, but should refer to it. (For more on writing conclusions, see the TIP Sheet "How to Structure an Essay.") Add a Works Cited (for MLA) or Bibliography (for APA) page.
10. Proofreading: Time and objectivity Time permitting, allow a few days to elapse between the time you finish writing your last draft and the time you begin to make final corrections. This "time out" will make you more perceptive, more objective, and more critical. On your final read, check for grammar, punctuation, correct word choice, adequate and smooth transitions, sentence structure, and sentence variety. For further proofreading strategies, see the TIP Sheet "Revising, Editing, and Proofreading."
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Step 1: Choose your topic · Step 2: Identify a problem · Step 3: Formulate research questions · Step 4: Create a research design · Step 5: Write a research proposal.
Step 1: Identify and develop your topic · Step 2 : Do a preliminary search for information · Step 3: Locate materials · Step 4: Evaluate your sources · Step 5: Make
Research project steps: · Step 1: Find the right supervisor · Step 2: Don't be shy, ask! · Step 3: Select the right topic · Step 4: Keep your plan realistic · Step 5
The easiest way to get started with a research project is to use your notes and other materials to come up with topics that interest you. Research your favorite
How to Setup a Research · Brainstorm for ideas · Choose a topic that will enable you to read and understand the literature · Ensure that the topic is manageable
At its simplest, research planning involves the four distinct steps outlined below: orienting yourself to knowledge-creation; defining your
It should be kept to two or three paragraphs. The first paragraph sets the scene and summarises the current literature. The second paragraph should justify why
How to Set Up a Research Project (in 6 Steps) · 1. Define your purpose · 2. Clarify your Objectives · 3. Define your Key Research Questions · 4. Write out your
The Research Design Canvas Template simplifies academic research into nine fundamental building blocks, each with targeted questions to guide
Choose a topic. · Read and keep records. · Form a thesis. · Create a mind map or outline. · Read again. · Rethink your thesis. · Draft the body. · Revise.