Doing research can benefit you in many ways. You gain insights with which you can make informed decisions and take appropriate actions. Provided you do it right. But if you don't, research will not (or hardly) provide you with what you want and will only cost you unnecessary time. In this blog, I will mention a few pitfalls to watch out for to help you on your way:
Want to read more about how to go through the steps of doing research properly? Then read these previously published blogs:
Already I have written several blogs about the use of research methods. But how do you choose a suitable research method for your research? Here are several steps to take.
Think carefully about what information you need to answer your research questions. You may already have information at hand that you can use to answer your research questions. Think, for example, of a data file that you keep with data from participants and the cash register printout of your sold tickets.
Still, you might need more information to answer your research questions.
► Look at the information you already have and can use to answer your research questions. Think about what information you still need and want to collect.
Once you have an idea of the information you need to answer your research questions, determine where you can find that information. Do you need to conduct interviews to obtain extensive information, or do you want to reach large numbers of respondents with, for instance, a questionnaire? Carefully consider how you will approach the respondents; young people should be approached differently than older people. Or maybe you need to search further in the literature to find the correct information.
► Therefore, clearly define what information you want to find, which persons can help you with the information, and how you will approach them.
Once you have a clear idea of what information you want to collect and who you will consult, you can establish what you can combine. Which subjects will recur in the interview, and what will you pay attention to when making your observations.
► Make a diagram showing what information you want to collect, from whom, and in what way.
Each research question requires its own way of researching. For some research questions, the answer is best found by doing qualitative research. For other inquiries, quantitative research is more appropriate. But what exactly do qualitative and quantitative research entail? In this blog, I will explain this to you.
Qualitative research is aimed at obtaining information about what matters and why. It provides in-depth information by examining the underlying motivations, opinions, wishes, and needs of the research group.
The following methods are appropriate for qualitative research:
Quantitative research focuses on quantity. It gives you numerical results about a specific group. To speak of representative research, you need a minimum number of participants within your target group who give their opinion. For this, you can draw a sample. When this sample has a specific size and characteristics (depending on the research question), statements can be generalized to the entire target group.
For quantitative research, a (digital) questionnaire/survey is primarily used as a method. The answers from the questionnaire are then processed in a data processing program (e.g., Excel or SPSS), after which you can conduct analysis and calculation. Percentages and numbers usually describe the results.
In my next blog, I will explain for which answers it is best to do qualitative research and when, on the contrary, it is wiser to choose quantitative research.
A questionnaire is a commonly used research method to measure the effects of an activity, project, or program. The question is whether a questionnaire is always an appropriate method. Do you want to make statements about the entire target group and collect a lot of data? Then it is a smart method. Do you want insight into the underlying motivations and opinions of your target group? Then a questionnaire is a less wise choice. Why is a questionnaire a good method, and why a less good method? Here you will find the pros and cons explained:
In conclusion, questionnaires can be a valuable research tool when applied correctly and when the research objectives align with the method's strengths. They are particularly useful for gathering data from a large and diverse audience, enabling researchers to make generalizations and perform in-depth statistical analyses. However, the limitations of questionnaires, such as potential response bias, inability to probe underlying motivations, and low response rates, should be carefully considered. Depending on the research goals, it may be necessary to complement questionnaire data with other research methods, such as interviews or focus groups, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the target group's opinions and motivations
Suppose you want to research a target group of as many as 10,000 people. Do you have to interview all 10,000 people to get the right results? Certainly not; only a part of the research population needs to participate in your research to get representative results. Let me explain what representativeness means and when the results are deemed characteristic.
Representativeness means the degree to which the respondents in a sample group are a good reflection of the target group of your research. Therefore, your research is representative, which means that the conclusion of your research is true for 'everyone' in your research population.
If you have a research population of 10,000 people, you will ultimately need to interview 400 people to arrive at the opinion of the larger group. This does not mean that you only need to approach 400 people. You have to deal with a response rate. This is the percentage of people who participate in your survey. Your response rate depends on the subject you are researching, how easy and fun it is to participate in your research, and what people get in return. I often use a response rate of 30% because I usually research fun subjects, and I am experienced in making it easy to participate in a survey. I also ask the client for a nice gift for the people who participate in the survey. Tips to increase your response rate
Because not everyone will participate in your survey, you will need to have a larger sample group. If you need 400 respondents and assume a response rate of 30%, you will need to interview a sample group of 400/30%=1,333.
When you conduct a survey, you must keep in mind that the smaller the research population is, the larger the number of respondents will be to arrive at the desired representative results. Sometimes, however, respondents' input is more valuable than the number of participants. In this case, you're referring to qualitative research, and it can be more important to focus on the research results than the representativeness in some cases.
If you want to know how many respondents you need for your research population: go to a sample calculator. These will often immediately tell you how many people you need to approach in your sample.
The range of research methods on offer is enormous, so you can sometimes not see the wood for the trees. That's why I give you a handy overview of different research methods in this blog. With some of the research methods, you will find a link to a blog with more information.
In this overview, I characterize quantitative and qualitative research methods. Would you like to know more about these? In my previous blog, 'When to choose: qualitative research or quantitative research,' you will find information about the difference between these two types of research.
Observation is a method of finding out and recording actual behavior. You choose the observation method to determine how activities, programs, or projects are received and when you want to register spontaneous reactions. While observing, you make an objective report of what you see; there is no direct contact with the respondents. I give you some tips on how to observe effectively:
There are different things to consider when organizing and conducting a group interview than during an individual interview. With group interviews, you are dealing with group dynamics. Below are 10 tips for leading a group interview:
10 tips for holding a group discussion http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6
When having a group discussion, make a map of the table with names and function as a cheat sheet http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6
During a group discussion, make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6
Pay attention to the body language of the participants during the group discussion http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6
In my previous blogs, I explained how to determine the right research question and how to choose the proper research method. The next step in the research process is data collection. While gathering data, there are several things you need to keep in mind. I'll give you some tips:
If you are going to conduct research, it is essential to formulate the right research question. The purpose of the research and the research question indicates what the setup of the research will contain. A good research question ensures that you have the correct information to actually work at the end of the research. There are five steps to formulating the right research question:
The first step in deciding on a proper research question is to answer the question, "why are you going to research, evaluate, or monitor? Answering these questions will give you an idea of the type of research question you will ask, what information you need, and which answers you need. Do you want to improve a project, or do you want to justify your project? With both goals, you're going to be evaluating, but the answers you wish to obtain afterward are very different—improvements versus demonstrated effects.
Based on your goal (Step 1), you can determine what information you need to meet this goal. What do you need to know to meet your goal? Do you want to improve goal attainment? If so, you need information in the form of points for improvement (what is going well and what could be improved?) Is the goal to legitimize your project for funders? Then you need information in the form of the impact of the project. Do you want better alignment with the target group, and is this the goal of your research? Then you need information in the form of characteristics, wishes, and needs of the target group. Always ask yourself the question: what am I going to do with this information? This will enable you to set priorities.
Based on your research goal and the accurate description of your information needs, you can formulate your research questions. Formulate these questions as precisely as possible. When preparing the questions, remember that you or a researcher will soon be answering them. So will you achieve your research goal, and can you take follow-up action if you get answers to these questions?
Various preconditions can be linked to the research. It is essential to gain insight into this in the phase of formulating the research question. Preconditions you need to consider include time, budget, availability of specific data, and so on.
Research results can be delivered in a variety of forms. <LINK to blog>Digitally, physically, a report, a fact sheet, a book, a video, an article, a discussion session, a presentation, a website, a PowerPoint presentation, an infographic, an animation, a magazine, a flyer, to name a few. And what is communicated therein? Impacts, arguments, or areas for improvement. Make a representation of what you would like to get at the end of the research and whether you can use it to take your intended action, convince others, improve policies or activities or make a decision.