As I contemplate this subject I'm struck by how fundamental these steps are to good research in general. It's clear to me that the steps addressed here are, or should be, evident to any researcher. I am also certain that practicing the fundamentals is just as important for a researcher as it is for a doctor, lawyer, baseball player, guitarist, artist, or golfer. I bring these tidbits of knowledge to the table to enable us to stay on the right path and hopefully get better all the time.
1. Clearly Define The Scope
Research projects usually begin with an email or a phone call. Often, the person commissioning the research often has only a sketchy idea of what they need. It is best to pin down and document exactly what they expect the outcome of the research to be. You need to know exactly what the deliverable is and how it will be delivered. This will save you time and potentially cost far fewer lives. As a bonus, if you get clarity around the research project there will be no surprises when the project is delivered. Understand, Document and Deliver.
2. PPPPPP - Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance
There are more Ps than there are words. Hmmm...Use your imagination. Doesn't it seem so obvious? We are often anxious to get things done quickly. We want to meet deadlines and impress our customer so they will come back often. Sometimes, without thinking we just skip this step. You might get lucky and be able to zip right to the right answer in no time at all. Right?
Wrong. This is not, I repeat, NOT an habit you want to get into. Document your approach and make an effort to plan your steps. Many people plan trips to the grocery store better than they plan their research projects. I am positive it will come back to bite you in the backside.
Documenting your approach and thoroughly thinking it through will give you confidence in the process, it will uncover approaches you may not have considered, and it will help you make laser like progress toward your research goal. If you it seems sometimes like you are not making progress, trust the process. This will help you avoid the next pitfall.
3. Don't Step Through The Looking Glass
If you DON'T get a clear idea of what the outcome will look like, up front, you expose yourself to two things.
First, there is an enormous potential for the customer to not be satisfied with the result. You could hit all the wrong bases and create an impressive report that will not hit the mark. End result - customer not happy.
Second, and just as important - if you're like me - lots of stuff is just really, really interesting. That's part of the reason I like research - I'm always learning new things. Sometimes you might end up following a trail that just don't lead anywhere productive. That kind of meandering through information is just plain fun and very distracting. Though I love to learn, that kind of foray into unrestricted research is not what why you're getting paid. If you do it you will remain poor and you'll be frustrated because of your meager income. Stay focused.
4. Know Your Sources
There are so many sources available to researchers that it can be a bit daunting to know which sources are best for which projects. If you don't know, it is probably a good idea to make your first step to understand the sources that you might need.
If you are looking for financial information on a large public company you might choose a different source or methodology than you would if you were researching a smaller private company that doesn't publicly report their financial information. You should know that Dun & Bradstreet catalogs and reports information differently that Experian. If you are looking for financials on a public company you should know if you want "as reported data" or data that is "normalized" across companies. There are many variables and knowing where to go to get what is essential.
You'll come across conflicting data or at least data that points in different directions. That happens way more often than you expect. When it does happen, you need to make sure you have your ducks in a row. Do not ignore inconsistencies. They'll certainly catch you out in the long run. Always be good to yourself and and your client and make sure you can sleep at night. If you cannot resolve the inconsistencies, at least, make sure to annotate what you have found.
6. Catalog The Process
As you go through the process of actually conducting the research it is important to document the process you followed and the results you get. If you keep track of all of the steps you take in doing your research, you will be less likely to repeat things you've already done and possibly notice holes in your research. Research is a methodical process that you can repeat over and over again. If you document what you've done and not done you can learn and get better all the time.
7. Always Add Value
Finally, always add value to the results you get. If you are tasked with getting a contact list. Provide an opinion, validate the number, do something unexpected that raises your product to a level that cannot easily be replicated. There are efficient ways to add value and you can put your own flair on your research. Don't just gather information and paste it in a document and try to pass it off as research. Format the results in a logical order or organize the results in a pleasing manner. Create an analysis of the results. Add value or your customer might as well have hired a High School student to search the internet and feed them documents.
If you follow these seven steps on the stairway to better research, you are bound to get better and better at your craft over time. It is a practice just as law or medicine Make it your practice to do things the best way you can and you will become known for your meticulousness and professionalism. That will generate more business and give you a leg up on your next project.
I am an artist, an analyst, a researcher, and an online development specialist serving the online information industry.