Research Skills

This article will discuss some of the skills involved in conducting research.

Research is a useful life skill. Research means getting answers. Yes, you need to it succeed in school, but it is so much more than that. I use research skills in my career, but even if I did not, research is useful as a personal skill.


  • Ask the right question the right way.
    • Research involves answering a question. Being able to ask the question correctly matters. One of the keys here is prior research. We can take advantage of prior research to help answer our question. Many times the research will outright answer our question. To obtain this advantage, however, we must become familiar with the prior research. If we become familiar with the prior research and realize the answer is not there, it may still be advantageous to phrase our question in the framework of prior research. This is because even if prior research does not outright answer our question, it may contribute. Furthermore, by framing our question in a common framework with other researchers we facilitate communication, interest, and even cooperative research.
    • Sometimes it may be easier to answer our own question in without tapping into prior research.
    • Research should be important, interesting, and feasible. Basically the main reason we care about research being interesting and important is to prevent waste and optimize the chances of successfully finding an answer. A poor question may not yield an answer, or it may answer it at a greater cost than a well-poised question.
    • A question is important if it has significant, practical, teleological, or moral implications. For example, the gas mileage of a car is an important factor in deciding what kind of car you want to buy because it has significant implications for the overall cost of the car. Furthermore, cost minimization is a teleological and potentially moral thing because I want to, and perhaps even should, maximize my return on investment per dollar spent.
      • Significant can mean any of the following:
        • The research is expected to result in real changes to the actions or thoughts of people.
        • The research is valuable enough to outweigh the cost of its execution.
        • The research is valuable enough to justify its execution including opportunity costs.
        • [Technical use] A research finding has a high level of explanation, magnitude, or confidence. Usually there are multiple significance levels including a 10%, 5%, 1%, and other thresholds which are accepted depending on the particular field of science in question. Notably, I have argued in favor of a 50% significance level as this corresponds to the logic “more significant than not,” where other significance levels are generally arbitrary and groundless, other than being democratically agreed to in academia as “high standards of significance.”
      • Practical means that the research is somehow actionable.
      • Teleological means that the research somehow relates to the intent of people.
      • Moral means that the research somehow relates to what people ought to do.
    • An interesting question is one which helps develop theory.
      • Read these Ten Rules for Interesting Research.
      • Academics generally do not call a question which has already been answered in the literature as interesting, although outside of academia a question is still interesting as long as it is important, even if someone else has answered it already.
      • In a statistical distribution, for example, an outlier might be an interesting, but less important, case when compared to the usual case or the overall trend. A marketing firm, for example, might consider the answer to the questions, “How do I attract a bulk of consumers?” and “What is the general trend in consumption?” more important than the question, “Why did this outlier group not fall in the general pattern?”
    • Feasibility of research refers to three things.
      • Research is feasible if, at a minimum, it can be conducted to answer some question.
      • Feasibility secondly often refers to whether that research can be conducted in a particular time frame and with a particular budget.
      • Lastly, feasibility can refer to the degree of ease of a research project. Given that two projects are both strictly and technically feasible, meaning that they can both be executed within budget to answer a question, one project may be more feasible, meaning that it can be answered more probably, on an even smaller time frame, or on an even smaller budget, and so on. In short, feasibility of research can also be synonymous with ease of research.
  • Asking the question the right way ensures that it is falsifiable, which is a component of strict feasibility for some kinds of research. That is, asking the question the wrong way might make it technically impossible to answer, regardless of budgets and so on. Time and cost effectiveness, however, are among the other components of feasibility and these go beyond the mere phrasing of a question.
    • Good researchers are also effective time managers.
      • Search skills for search engines such as Google, for example, can reduce time spent identifying relevant material.Creating a clear plan before research begins is another example of time management skill. Such a plan should have a detailed task list with clear expected costs.
    • Good researchers are efficient in their use of resources.
  • Good researchers know how to obtain reliable information.
    • How to tell a reputable source from a non-reputable source.
    • If necessary, how to generate the information through first-hand conducting of experimentation or whatever else.
    • How to technically obtain information.
      • Use of databases.
      • Use of search engines.
      • Use of social resources.
      • Identification of probable chains of information through books, non-aggregating web resources, and so on.
  • Good researchers know how to state their research.
    • In a way that is easily understood.
      • This depends on the audience. An academic paper should speak an academic language. A professional deliverable should use industry language. A simple in-house or personal communication should use as much of the listener’s language set as possible.
    • In a way that is rigorous.
    • In a way that is concise.
    • In a way that accurately and transparently represents and presents sources used and so on.
  • Good researchers know how to spread their research.
    • This is not often discussed, but a good researcher will be able to get people to read their research. This might involve anything from academic or professional literature all the way to personal email lists and social networks, professional or social club presentations, media outlets, and more.

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