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Planning a Writing Project

Research Your Writing Project

The first step to conducting thorough research and properly investigating any topic is to understand your objective and knowing what you wish to achieve as the end result. If you know what you want to convey to your audience, only then you will be able to conclude the kind of story or layers you need in the document to show and tell them your message.

Secondly, if you want your document to be effective, then it is best to understand the topic at hand and make the audience understand it in your own way. See if there is a way to explain things that what not only grab the audience’s attention but also clarify things for them like never before. In addition to that, always make it a point to add all the necessary info and leave no guesswork for the audience; be thorough in your research and explanation. This will not only be beneficial for your audience, but will also help establish your work as credible and worth checking out.

When you are conducting your research, look out for your audience’s needs. For example, is there something new that you can add to the topic that would make it more interesting and worthwhile for the audience? Whether the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, make sure that you understand what information is essential for the audience and what can be left out. In short, focus on the ‘key points’. This will help make your document look clean, which will not only relieve you from covering too much information in a limited space but will also be more valuable for the readers.
Remember, nobody wants to read lengthy documents. Most people look for easy-to-read and to-the-point information that can help them understand the topic at hand in the simplest way possible.

Planning Your Research

There are two main points that you must keep in mind while planning the investigation for required information:

  • Know the purpose of your report – The purpose of your report here refers to the question(s) you want to explore and answer in the report. This will help you stay focused on the topic at hand and save you from going astray.
  • Know the scope of your report – This will help you evaluate how much time you need to put in for research and plan your schedule accordingly.

Conducting Report Research

The basis for conducting successful research for any report is to focus on solving a specific problem. There are four main steps to the problem-solving process, which are as follows:

  • Identifying and defining the problem/issue
  • Selecting a feasible method of solution
  • Collecting and organizing the data
  • Arriving at a solution

Recognizing and Defining the Problem

In order to solve any problem, you need to recognize the problem first. In case of a report, this can be done by finding out the purpose of the report.

Ask yourself these questions to find the purpose of your report:

  • What is the report about?
  • Why are you making this the report?
  • Who is this report for?’

Once you have recognized the problem, you may define it in three ways, that is, by making a problem statement, by giving a statement of purpose, or by proposing a hypothesis.

  • Problem Statement: Here you define the ‘what,’ that is, what exactly are you trying to solve or find out through your research? Here, you simply state a problem on which your report is based on.
  • Statement of Purpose: Here, you define the ‘why,’ that is, why are your conducting the research? Here you define a particular goal, which includes the aim and objective you seek to accomplish.
  • Hypothesis: Here, you give a proposal statement, which is then, proved or disproved via research.  It is also important to limit the scope of the problem while defining it in order to conduct a successful research. It helps in setting boundaries to the extent to which the report needs to be researched and prepared.
  • Limits imposed on the scope may be further of two types:
    • Limitations: These are the pre-set boundaries that researcher has to work with. For instance, deadline, budget etc.
    • Delimitations: These are the boundaries set by the researcher himself to make things easier and more manageable. For instance, deciding the sources and methods for creating the report.

Selecting the Method of Solution

The second step after recognizing and defining the problem is to select the method by which you will arrive at a solution. There are mainly two types of research: primary and secondary.

Primary Research: It refers to the research that is conducted from scratch in order to obtain original information. There are 3 methods to conduct a primary research:

  • Observational Studies: In this method, the researcher observes and compares various facts/ events/ cases to either prove a fact or establish a new fact or discovery. Surveys are the perfect example of observational studies, as the researcher concludes a result simply by observing the answers given in the survey.
  • Experimental Studies: In this method, two or more samples/situations are studied by side and the researcher manipulates the results by adding variables to one or more samples/situations. For example, the competency of a training program has to be tested. In this case, the training program is carried out in two branches of a business. One of the branches is given the original training program, whereas the other has added variables. The efficacy of the training programs is then measured by comparing the competency of the trainees from both the branches.

This method requires extreme focus and careful record keeping. Additionally, it is important to take consent from any and all participants of the study.

  • Normative Studies – This method is used to specify the status of a product/service/theory at any given time. In other words, it helps in identifying the current norm in the market and/or society. For example: election polls. This kind of study can be conducted using survey instruments, such as checklists, interviews, questionnaires and opinion surveys. It also requires sampling for practical reasons.
  • Sampling – Sampling is a technique that eradicates the need for surveying the entire population. Here, a significant number of people from a random area of the population are chosen as representatives of the entire population. One noteworthy point here is to keep the characteristics of the sample same as that of the population in question. For example, if the election polls of America are to be studied, then the sample must be from America and not China. Sampling also requires certain principles and planning procedures to ensure that the data collected is valid and reliable.

Secondary Research: It refers to the process of collecting information through research already conducted by others. In this type of research, certain truths and facts about the topic exist as a result of the original research, thus freeing you from a lot of responsibility. However, there is always space for improvement and expansion. For example, if you were to conduct secondary research on information system, you would collect data from other sources to establish the results.

The sources for secondary research may be any of the following:

  • Printed Sources: These are the sources that are published on paper and can be broadly divided into 3 major categories:
    • Books- Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, etc.
    • Periodicals- Newspapers and Magazines
    • Journals – Out of all these, journals are the most research oriented. They contain exclusive interpretive data and results of very specific studies.
    • Government Documents- Statues, Judicial Opinions, Filings, Explanatory Guides, Regulations, etc.
  • Electronic Sources: These are the sources that can be found on your computer. These sources include:
    • Search Engines- Google, Bing, Yahoo etc.
    • Databases- These are structured set of data collected and stored in an organization’s computer system. It may or may not be protected and hidden from search engines.

You can make your electronic research more relevant by following the below techniques.

    • Look into various databases and search engines to find the most accurate information.
    • Use specific keywords to get the most specific results.
    • Use the suggestions given for related topics.

Secondary research may be more advantageous in comparison to primary research in a lot of ways, such as:

  • It saves time since you have to look for the data and results from previous researches.
  • It cuts down the budged needed for research purposes
  • It increases the scope of research on a given topic by establishing a point of expansion.

Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Research can further be divided into two fundamental Qualitative and Quantitative.

  • Qualitative Research – Qualitative research mainly refers to the quality of the data collected. In this type of research, the meanings, context, examples, symbols and descriptions are considered very carefully. It explores the deeper issues of the topic, thus explaining not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘how’ and ‘why’ in the process. Since the major focus is given on the quality, samples from a contained population are enough to conduct the research. For example, in order to analyze the performance of a product, a survey questionnaire is given to customers at random, including questions regarding the quality of the product, such as ‘how it feels’ or ‘how likely are you to re-purchase it?’ etc.
  • Quantitative Research – Quantitative researcher mainly refers to the quantity of the data collected. In this type of research, the main focus is to get answers and/or data in the highest percentage, from as many participants as possible. The data collected is then measured and analyzed numerically to conclude a result. It is usually used to study a hypothesis.

Validity, Reliability and Statistical Significance in Research

Validity – Validity refers to the degree to which the data collected or the result inferred is true or false. It indicates the practicality of your proposition. It allows your readers to know that you have put enough time in gathering information, have provided valuable evidence and that your report is worth the read. In short, it gives your audience confidence that the facts presented by you have value and are not mere assumptions. It is advisable to cite all your referred sources to enhance the validity of your research.

Reliability – Reliability is the extent to which your measurements and/or facts are consistent over time. The consistency must also be present in terms of independent samples. For example, if a certain hypothesis is considered true, it should provide the same result when tested on a different sample.  Often times, inter-rater reliability is also considered when studying a report. In this case, different evaluators must come up with the similar results in similar contexts for a given study/hypothesis.

Statistical Significance – Statistical significance refers to a very high degree of reliability. This means no matter how many times a particular test is conducted on the same subjects, it will always give the same results in the exact same context every time.  Here, the reliability is represented by using percentage points prefixed to the result values. For instance, +/-3; in this example, the results may have varied to the given approximation of three times.

Collecting and Organizing the Data

Collecting and organizing data through primary research. In case you decide to do primary research, you can collect data through surveys via mail (physical or e-mail), telephone, and personal interviews.  Here are some characteristics of a good survey instrument to keep in mind:

  • It must be brief with clear and concise directions.
  • It must have a logical sequence.
  • The design must be simple and easy on eyes.
  • The questions must be straightforward and easily comprehendible. Try to avoid awkward questions.
  • The suggested answers must be short, direct and cover all possibilities in case of multiple-choice questions.
  • Ask the participants to provide factual information or treasons for their answers, wherever possible.

In addition to the above, make sure to test the survey questionnaire internally before distributing it to the actual participants. This can help you catch and correct any faults.
Further, the samples you use to collect data must be all-inclusive; however, avoid making it too small or too large. The final data collected also must contain only relevant information from unbiased sources, covering all the critical aspects of the topic in hand.

Lastly, always make sure to cite all your referred sources. It allows you to give rightful credit to the original source, act as a proof for your research, and avoid copyright issues.

Collecting and organizing data through secondary research

Collecting data through secondary research can be speedier and more efficient. In this case, you can easily analyze the relevance of data by swiftly going through the table of contents of the book or the abstract of an article. Once you have established the relevance, note down all the significant points from the material, and enlist them in a neat manner.  You can use information for other sources in two ways:

  • Direct Quotes – Cite the information as it is from the source along with links, referred page numbers and parentheses.
  • Paraphrase – Read the information from the source and then write it in your own words without changing the context.

Whether you use direct quotes or paraphrase the material, make sure to cite the source(s) to avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is the practice of wrongful representation of someone else’s work as your own. It is considered dishonest and is against journalistic ethics.

Here are a few suggestions for correct referencing and documentation:

  • Use only one authoritative reference manual to cite direct quotes. For example, in-text parentheses (APA or MLA), footnotes or bibliography.
  • Refer as many sources as possible; the more, the better.

Use either of these two to cite the paraphrased material:

  • Source Notes: Here you acknowledge the original author or co-author
  • Explanatory Notes: Here you provide detailed reference or link to the source that cannot be added in your own text. This can be in reference to a particular table or section of your report.

Arriving at an answer

Conclusion is the last step to making a report. It involves analyzing and interpreting the data. In this process, you separate the useful information from the notes and combine it in a comprehensible manner. It may or may not include charts, graphs, tables and/or summaries, depending upon the data collected and the purpose of the report.

Key points to avoid while analyzing and interpreting the usefulness of data:

  • Forcefully trying to prove a particular idea
  • Forcing commonality in contradictory points
  • Changing context to support a biased view
  • Assuming cause-effect relationships when there is none
  • Not considering all the factors
  • Not collecting enough evidence
  • Ignoring alternate theories or possibilities

Lastly, combine your research into a report in the following sequence:

  • Findings- Write all the facts and figures collected from your research, including the evidence.
  • Conclusion- Summarize the result of your findings.
  • Recommendation- Suggest a particular action based on the conclusion of your research.

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