Authors: Meredith Steffen and Sofia Ruzo
When given a research assignment, do you often feel overwhelmed and ask yourself, “Where do I begin?” The feeling is very common. Research is not easy, and for some people, not fun. But, having a plan before you tackle the assignment can help make the task a whole lot simpler. Below are five easy steps our team at Marketwave practices when we are faced with a research assignment.
Step 1: Gather Your Thoughts
Before you start digging through resources for information, take a moment to gather your thoughts and decide exactly what it is you want to find. If you’re doing a research report on a company or organization, outline some areas you want to make sure you cover, such as the organization’s background/history, its mission and values, culture and possible competitors. If you’re completing an assignment on a potential program or solution for a client, draft out questions you will need to answer, such as:
- How will this help my client?
- Is there proof of this strategy helping other companies, if so how and when?
- What is my client’s target audience for this program?
Organizing your thoughts and developing an outline will help you later on when you gather your research findings and develop an executive summary.
Step 2: Determine a System
There are many different methods to organizing research information. You can write notes on index cards to help you visually create a report by placing the cards in a certain order, or keep a running word document that collects the resources and information you plan to use. Some people prefer to bookmark websites and reference books first, and then pull the information when they are ready to draft their report. Whichever method you prefer, it’s important that you establish a system before you begin researching so you can keep your information organized.
Step 3: Determine Your Resources
Contrary to what some may think, Google is not the only resource out there. Ok, so we’re only kidding—we understand you all know this—but collecting a diverse and reliable pool of research resources is very important. Once you develop a resource database, future research assignments will move much faster. Common research resources include newspapers, magazines, journals, books, online databases and articles and encyclopedias.
Step 4: Determine Your Methods
Deciding whether your topic requires primary, secondary or both types of research methods is essential.
Primary research methods require you to go out and get the data yourself. Some methods, such as analysis, focus groups, interviews and surveys, involve preparing questions or criteria beforehand and then gathering responses to these preset parameters. Other methods, such as observational research, tracking and ethnographies, involve observing behaviors, activities or market tendencies and taking notes about it to develop a conclusion.
Secondary research can be conducted from your desk, which is why it’s often called “desk research.” It requires collecting, summarizing and analyzing existing research. Some popular and reliable market research databases are: First Research, Forrester, MarketLine Advantage, MarketResearch.com, Mintel Oxygen, Nielsen, Simmons Oneview, Simply Map, SRDS and Standard and Poor’s NetAdvantage. Some databases offer consumer general market trends, statistics and specific markets’ demographics and psychographics, while others listed offer corporate profiles of U.S. companies and economic forecasts.
Step 5: Create an Executive Summary
After you collect all the information you need, draft an executive summary of your research findings by returning to step one and either filling in the outline of topics you developed or answering your list of questions. Do not copy and paste the information. Instead, rewrite the sources using your own words and citing your sources when appropriate. It’s important to always give credit to your source to avoid any form of plagiarism.
When developing a research report it’s important to keep in mind the purpose, which is to state what you know, not what you think. Research is about the facts, so let the facts speak for themselves. Remember, the intent of researching is to learn something new that you didn’t know before. As Albert Einstein once said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”
Do you have tried-and-true research methods that you find work best? Take a moment to share additional market research methods and databases that we have not mentioned.