By Victoria Hepplethwaite
Conducting good research whether for academic or work purposes requires skill, patience and a high level of interest in the research topic. A lot of the time when we need/want to carry out research especially when we are new to it, we find ourselves wondering how exactly to go about it, what to do and where to start from. When we listen to the experts talk about research, they make it seem like it is a walk in the park. Well today before you scroll down take a moment, reflect and accept that it very well can be for as long as you do it right and put in the work. Remember nothing is impossible!
Finding a Research Topic
The starting point to conducting good research and writing the seemingly perfect paper is finding the perfect research topic for you. This requires a lot of reading and as ironic as this may sound a lot of research. New information comes out every day in different subject areas and as such you have to be up to date with the latest trends as well as past trends to ensure that you have a holistic understanding of the subject area you are interested in. To guide your research on a topic you need to first identify a subject matter that interests you and that you can work on for an extended period of time without losing focus. This point cannot be over emphasized. Research can be draining and can test your patience and if you do not find your topic interesting chances of you giving up are high.
Secondly, try to remember a problem that you may have encountered or that people continue to complain about that interests you. This may become your research topic. Remember that for research to be carried out a problem has to exist. Research therefore, seeks to provide an in depth understanding and to establish recommendations on how best to solve the problems identified.
Thirdly, ensure that your research topic is unique. Whilst no one is necessarily asking you to re-invent the wheel it is important for your research to have a unique/nouveau aspect to it. Is it that the particular topic has never been covered in a particular geographical area, or is it that you are adding a new component to how other studies have addressed a particular subject, or are you combining different aspects from different studies carried out in different regions? It could be anything really but just let it have a unique aspect that will garner interest in your research.
Fourthly, ask the experts. Seek guidance when you are not sure and things just might be put into perspective for you. You can ask a supervisor, a lecturer or even a mentor about your ideas and you will be surprised to see how differently they think and how they open your mind to new and interesting ideas.
Lastly, don’t be afraid or averse to conducting preliminary research where necessary. If you do realize that there is a problem but you are not sure how exactly the problem presents itself or how exactly people feel about it you can get information from them regarding this. You can carry out a survey, speak to a few people, observe and even search for secondary data to get better understanding of a research topic that you may be considering. This can additionally serve as a justification for why you are choosing to carry out research around a particular topic and it also shows your respondents that you care about their life problems and they will be more willing to invest their time and help you with your research going forward.
Research objectives put your study into context. They communicate in a brief and comprehensive way exactly what your research aims to achieve. When setting objectives you will have a main objective or aim that states overall what your research topic is attempting to accomplish. From your main objective you will then have specific objectives which break down and explain how you intend to achieve the main objective. Simply put an aim is what you hope to achieve while your objectives are the actions you will take to achieve your aim. Your objectives should be stated using action verbs; to evaluate, to examine, to compare, to assess, to determine, to verify, to describe, to explain, to calculate etc.
In order to set good objectives you need to ensure that they are SMART:
Specific – clear to understand and well defined. Your goal should articulate what you set out to accomplish and how exactly you intend to achieve the laid out plan.
Measureable – You should have a criteria in place to measure your objectives. Setting a measurable objective means you will know exactly what to see or expect once the goal has been achieved.
Achievable – set objectives that are attainable and achievable for you. Don’t set objectives that prove to be too much to achieve. At the end of the day you want objectives that you will actually start and complete.
Realistic –set objectives that are within your reach and relevant to you and the people who are likely to benefit from your research. Will you be able to acquire the right amount of funding, time and man power to achieve your objectives? Don’t go beyond your means but at the same time don’t be too afraid to challenge yourself a little.
Timely – your goals should be time bound. There is no point of setting an objective if you do not put a start and end date in place. There will be no urgency to do the work. Remember that time is money!
Before you conduct your research people need to know and understand what problem you have identified and how your research intends to address and investigate this problem. This sounds simple enough but writing your problem statement and ensuring it is well understood and articulated is no easy feat. With the right guidance however, you can get it right and not find yourself having to explain or convince people of the problem at hand. If your problem statement can answer all of these questions then it will without a doubt be clear and concise:
What is the problem that your research is trying to address and get a clearer understanding of?
How is it a problem?
Why is it a problem? What aspects constitute it being a problem and what impact is it having.
Where is the problem? The location of this problem and what is significant about this area that makes the problem even greater?
Who is affected by the problem?
What is your research doing or aiming to do about this problem?
From the on-set there is need to understand that literature review is a long ongoing process. It requires you to be patient, meticulous, organized and to have sharpened desk research skills. Literature review starts from the moment you consider conducting any research right up to the point you conclude writing your research paper.
The first important aspect of conducting a good literature review is to use credible sources of information. The most trusted credible sources of information are peer reviewed journal articles, books, government reports and articles as well as reports and articles by high level international organizations such as the World Bank, FAO, WFP etc.
As you conduct your literature review you need to look at articles from a few years back then move into current articles. This gives insight into how your research topic has evolved over the years as well as what theories have been at play in that subject area. As you read you will begin to come across prominent names that will either support or critique the subject. It is good to review both sides. Further, it is important to pay attention to what methodologies were being used, to help you pick on a methodology. Read on how it was used and why then compare it with yours and why you are using yours. When you have reviewed enough literature you will begin to identify gaps in the other researcher’s work that you may want to fill.
Research gaps constitute the areas in a research field that are yet to be explored. Gaps can range from a particular research topic having not been conducted with a certain population (men, women, children etc.) to a research topic having never been conducted in a particular geographical area, certain research methods having never been used or combined or other research variables or conditions having never been used. As you get to read more articles you slowly start to identify these gaps until you reach a point where you feel you can fill in a gap/s that you identify.
As you delve into the world of research remember that conducting research is limitless. Use the internet to your advantage and you will realize that there are several ways of going about your research, from your methodology to the theories adopted and all you need to do is pick the one that bests suits you.