If You Can’t Answer “Yes” To These 5 Questions, Your Research Is Rubbish
Have you ever had a mentor who totally disrupted the way you think? Someone who challenged the way you see the world?
I’m talking about the kind of mentor who just thought differently. They innocently or intentionally challenged the status quo.
These people are rare.
They are often disliked.
And, they could be the key to your success.
Here’s what I learned from my disruptive mentor:
Bad research is rampant
Good research is scarce
We create and consume research every day. Governments make policies, organizations develop products, and people change their lives based on[bad] research. Academics spend their careers filling shelves (or the cloud) with research that will never get read and quite frankly, never should.
Do you want to create good research? Do you want to create research that will have an impact?
If you can’t answer “yes” to these five questions your research will be rubbish.
1. Is your research interesting?
Research is ‘good’ not because it is true (Big ‘T’ truth or little ‘t’ truths) but because it is interesting. Interesting research challenges rather than reinforces accepted ideas and ways of thinking.
Instead of stating what is known or obvious, explore the unknown and unapparent.
In other words, research will “only be noticed when it denies an old truth” –Murray Davis in That’s Interesting.
To conduct interesting research, you need to be willing to throw convention out the door. To critique rather than believe every text you read. And to charter new territory. Look for correlations among things that have previously been deemed unrelated. Hypothesize order among things that seemed to be disorganized.
Make it interesting.
2. Is your research innovative?
Robert Sutton, in his book Weird Ideas That Work said that innovations aren’t “conjured out of thin air” but result from using “old ideas in new ways, combinations, or places.”
In his book he points out that Viagra (an erectile dysfunction pill) was originally designed to treat hypertension. Had the company’s researchers not been attentive to the drug’s side effects, a billion dollar industry wouldn’t exist today.
How does this relate to your research?
Here’s another example. I study leisure. If you asked one of my colleagues to name a ‘leisure’ theory, they would be hard pressed to do it. Most of our theories are borrowed from other disciplines. We’ve applied existing theories to a new context, leisure, and it has worked incredibly well.
Innovation isn’t so much about originality as it is about creativity.
Creative combinations and applications can elevate your research from the mundane to the interesting.
3. Is your research useful?
A 2003 study conducted at the St. Thomas School of Medicine, London, identified four criteria for ‘good’ research. The first and foremost was that research should have practical application for its field. It needs to be useful to someone. In their case, ‘good’ research informed the development of health services or interventions.
Who will use your research?
Most of the people I work with are doing research because they want to make a difference. And yet, I would wager, that very few have them have published something that has impacted policy, changed someone’s life, or even had more than fifty reads.
Make your research useful.
Partner with people who need it.
Get it in the hands of the people who want it.
An academic journal shouldn’t be your first or last publisher. If you need a research question, go find someone who has a real problem and then work with them to solve it. Look around. We’ve got plenty of problems to solve.
4. Is your research empirically derived?
A growing trend in the social sciences is to woo your audience (and impress reviewers) with complex and contemporary statistics. But if you don’t have a good research question or a good data collection strategy, it doesn’t matter what you do with your data.
Bad data with robust analysis does not ‘good’ research make.
Your research question should be interesting, innovative, and useful. But, and this is just as important, your method should be too. If it isn’t, you probably don’t have a very valid or reliable study. And you surely won’t have good data.
There’s not much you can do with bad data.
Start with a good question.
Collect good data.
Do good research.
5. Is your research vertically integrated?
Don’t get stuck in a box. Just because you are a self-proclaimed biology student or in a biology department doesn’t mean your research can’t pull from other fields. In fact, ‘good’ research is often interdisciplinary. Something that has a biological explanation should have a good sociological and psychological explanation too (and visa versa).
Good research goes up and down the line. It can be tested in different contexts and from different perspectives. If your research can’t be studied or explained across disciplines it might not be so ‘good.’
If you are doing research you are likely working in a department, within a discipline, at a university, in a community, in a society that all shape the way you think.
Take a step back and scrutinize your thinking and behavior.
Make sure you actually believe in what you are doing.
If not, be disruptive.
Try something new. Make something ‘good.’
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