One of the most understated skills of anyone completing a postgraduate degree is being able to complete effective research. You may have a good grasp on the subject, be an excellent analytical writer, and have some fantastic thesis ideas, but boosting your research skills could give you the edge you need to succeed!
There are a number of steps to go through to ensure that you are not missing a trick, and you have the topic thoroughly covered before you begin putting pen to paper (or finger to keypad!)...
- Clearly Identify Your Research Topic – Too many people get carried away with researching stories and historical events before they have properly considered exactly what the paper is about and what it is asking for. Look at the research topic and write down the main concepts of your research as this will help you to focus your research strategy. This first stage of the research may involve a large amount of background reading on different concepts and ideas to ensure you fully grasp the subject.
- Give Yourself Ample Time – Make sure that you schedule enough time to fully explore all possible research avenues. You may encounter difficulties trying to retrieve certain items of data, and this can take up a heck of a lot of time and even then can still end up being a wild goose chase! Leaving things until the last minute and not allowing enough time for research is one sure-fire way that your paper will not reach its full potential.
- Determine the Types of Information Required – In order to find the right information you need to work out exactly what type of information you are searching for, and the best places to locate this. Will the information be found in books, manuscripts, newspapers, etc? Do you need time-specific information (latest research)? Are you looking for information that is more readily available in one location (local libraries etc)?
- Plan Your Research Strategy – Allocate time and resources to each different section of your research. It is important to evaluate the importance of each section, prioritise the research time towards these specified areas, and then work out if you will require multiple pieces of information from one location. This will make your time management much more effective and ultimately improve your results.
- Document Your Search Results – It is imperative that you systematically log down any places that you find information as this will could act as a lifesaver later on in the process. A well organised search log can prove invaluable as you can keep a track of what you have found and where you can find it again for future reference. Everyone knows how frustrating it can be to desperately look for a piece of information when you cannot remember the source! If you cite references at this point, you will be saving a lot of time and energy further down the road.
- Evaluate Your Results – Each time you document your search results, ask yourself these questions to check that you are still on focus. Is the info relevant to the topic? Is it from a trustworthy source? Does it pose any further research questions on the subject?