8 research fundamentals to get you started

During my career in Local Government I have been a Scrutiny Research Officer for 9 years. In the simplest terms this means I research subjects being investigated by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Subjects can cover a huge range given the public services a Local Authority is responsible for. Over time I have knuckled down 8 fundamental ways of ensuring research is thorough, information and accurate.

Here I have summarised 8 simple fundamental approaches to research:

  1. Know your subject: Before you can start any research you must identify the specifics — what is your subject matter, who do you need to know about.
  2. Give yourself a deadline: Give yourself plenty of time but write down a timescale of what you need to research and by when
  3. Scope your subject: I usually start with a mind map to bundle the questions I need to address under each of the titles How What When Where Why Anything-else.
  4. Who are you researching for: By knowing who your audience will be this will help you phrase your research, prioritise what information you record or put to one side, and how to structure any report you need to write.
  5. Find your resources: Gathering a list of resources of where you can find the information and prioritising that list in terms of accessibility and how it fits within your timeframe can help you focus where and when you research. (Resources can include: books, magazines, videos, people, organisations, encyclopaedias, internet, social media)
  6. Address each question in turn: You should have a list of questions to answer from your mind map and/or in addition to questions to put to you from those asking for the research. Work your way through the list
  7. Framework your report: Whether you are researching for yourself or for others, a good framework will help you organise the information you find. This can be a simple as a collection of Pinterest boards or folders on your computer categorising the information you find.
  8. Review your findings: Do you have all the information you need? Do you need to use all of the information gathered or can you cross-reference and use a summary? Check your spelling and grammar. Have you acknowledged your sources and given credit? It is important that you do not infringe copyright or use images (such as infographics and charts) without permission of the original author.

In perspective I have been a researcher since my early youth. My earliest memory is from when I was 8 years old and curious about all things Egypt, I went to the library and read multiple books about the pharaohs, drew pictures, and got a book with stamps on hieroglyphics to teach myself how to write like they did. Not much has changed in way of approach to maximise resources and learning.

What are your fundamentals when researching a subject? Do you have any other techniques useful to others?

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