How to Conduct a Rewarding Research Project
State Library of Victoria, photo from The Age 31 July 1954. via State Library Victoria

Today’s post is for Emily, who recently read about my Research Outfit and wondered exactly what kind of rewarding research project I’m tackling that risks my hair getting caught in machinery.

A reasonable question when you’d think I wouldn’t risk much more than paper cuts because I’m in a library of some description.

I can’t imagine what she must have been thinking!

Rest assured, that for the most part, I am isolated from mechanisms that might catch my hair. Some of the old mechanical compacti are hard to stop once you build up a bit of momentum, but you’re more likely to be crushed than have your hair drag you into the mechanism!

My hair is short right now, but when it gets longer I might follow Victoria Lake’s lead and opt for the Victory Roll (video plays immediately).

Anyway, back to Emily’s actual point, which was how do I conduct research, and how do I know whether it’s going to be a rewarding research project.

What is a Research Project?

All research is essentially an attempt to answer a question.

  • What is X?
  • Is Y true?
  • How does Z?
  • Etcetera.

In practice, that might be to find the best TV to buy, a good local Mexican restaurant to try or just to find out more about something that piqued your interest (like minimally viable housekeeping).

What is a Rewarding Research Project?

In this case, rewarding means something along the lines of smugly satisfying, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment.

Sadly, they don’t all leave you feeling that way. Sometimes you just end up researching in circles or ending up nowhere very useful at all.

Some days you simply have to look for the good in it or you’ll go mad thinking about the time you have wasted.

There’s almost always the joy of learning something you didn’t know before, holding old books, realia or just meeting interesting people.

Start With The End in Mind

So, if research answers a question, you need to know exactly what that is.

  • What is the best homestyle Mexican restaurant closest to all of us?
  • Is it true I can get a good TV for under $1,000?
  • How do I style a Victory Roll? (video autostarts)

Make a Research Plan

As someone who has written four books, believe me when I say you need a plan, if only so that the research will eventually stop!

At its most basic, it’s just a statement of your question, the methods you’ll use to find your answer, and the results you expect. Even though you don’t know what they’ll be, you know what you hope to find.

But you need to include start and finish dates, the kind of resources you’ll use (e.g., books, websites, people, etc.) and how you’ll evaluate their usefulness, credibility and level of bias.

I also like to plan my Records Management for research notes and book drafts, though if it’s something “simple” that you’re unlikely to need to follow up on, you might not bother.

Do the Research

Research almost never goes to plan. At some point leads will go nowhere, or even worse, somewhere too interesting.

For this reason it’s useful to factor in some limitations. The most common ones are location and time specific, but depending on your research topic you could add cost or issues like materials, interviews or travel.

Once you’ve reached the end, it’s time to document your results. In my case books, but you might just buy that TV or book a table at the restaurant.

Evaluate the Research Process

One of the most important parts of any research project, is evaluation. Not just the outcome, but the process as well.

This is where you identify what went well and can be repeated and what went badly and should be avoided in the future. Or comfort issues like needing more comfortable shoes or extra layers at X library.

I also note any interesting snippets of knowledge that come up that I might like to pursue in the future. Or as time goes by, for second editions.

Close Out the Research Project and Celebrate

While some people do evaluate, most don’t close out their research projects.

By which I mean making sure that you’ve closed off all your actions, thanked all the people you need to, and collated and filed all your materials where you can find them again.

Once that’s done, give yourself a pat on the back and do something nice to celebrate. Take a break to rejuvenate before you head into your next research project.


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