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:
- You are researching because you have to. You start a research project because you need the information. For example, to improve your project, provide accountability, feed decision-making, or create support. However, think about what you want to achieve with the research. Do not research because it fits the process or because it is the way it should be done when you don't need that information.
- Asking the wrong research question ultimately prevents you from getting the answers you are looking for. Formulating the right research question is essential to obtaining the information you need. Formulate the research question based on the information you need. The research question often cannot be changed during the research. If you are collecting information, you can not deviate too much from this during the data collection. Pay attention to this when formulating your research question.
- Choosing the wrong research method. The research method you choose depends on the type of information you need. Hence, don't choose a questionnaire if you want to know underlying motivations. Or: don't choose interviews if you want a lot of numbers and percentages from a large group of people.
- Becoming lost in the amount of information. Once you have gathered all the information, the key is not to get lost in the information and get back to your research question. The results of a research study are not a collection of facts but a coherent answer to your question. Therefore, the facts are clustered so that connections are transparent (and thus formulated), and the conclusions are a logical consequence and answer your question.
- Doing nothing with the results. Just doing a survey won't get you there. The results need to be implemented. How you do this depends on the research you have done. Learning moments or action points often emerge logically from a research study. Sit down for this (with colleagues) to formulate an action plan or implementation plan. Formulate concrete agreements with colleagues about what you will do with the information.
Want to read more about how to go through the steps of doing research properly? Then read these previously published blogs:
- How to arrive at the right research question
- How to choose a suitable research method
- How to conduct data collection?
- Tips for analyzing and reporting research
After formulating your goals, designing the research instrument, and collecting information, it is time to analyze and report the data. Some things to keep in mind when analyzing and reporting your research:
- Analysis and reporting go hand in hand in practice, while they are actually two different steps that can be done separately. By performing the steps at the same time, you keep the overview and save time.
- Before you start the analysis, it is good to check whether the fieldwork was carried out and recorded correctly. You check whether you have a sufficient response rate (especially for quantitative research), the representativeness of your data and whether you were able to collect adequate information (especially for qualitative research)
- Describe your research group. Especially in quantitative research, you may be asked questions about how you arrived at your conclusions and data.
- The core of the analysis and reporting is answering your sub-questions. Therefore, always consider whether the information also answers the sub-question and whether it adds anything.
- In qualitative research, you're going to group the answers by topic and sub-question. In quantitative methods, you will look at percentages, mean scores, and correlation with a data processing program like excel or spss.
- Determine the suitable form for your report. Consider the report's purpose (to inform, persuade, provoke action, etc.) and who the target group is.
- Make connections between the details and conclusions in your report. Which answers to sub-questions enhance each other? Where do you see links throughout the study? Pull the paragraphs and chapters together with these connections and conclusions.
One of our most-read blogs is about the questions you should ask in a process evaluation. Such an evaluation is focused on the way you work and (have) worked together. Yet, at the start of the project, you also have questions, and in the interim and after the end of a project, you want to make the effects insightful: What is the initial situation? What assumptions have we made, and are they correct? Has the goal been achieved? To what extent has the target group been reached? What are the success factors of the project? And what are the points for improvement? During a project evaluation, you hold the result up against the light. With this information, you can improve the project and future projects. Questions you can ask during the various phases of the project:
At the start of the project
- What does the target group look like?
- What are the needs?
- What are current developments that you want to respond to?
- What are stakeholder priorities that you need to take into account?
- What is the starting situation?
- What is the desired situation, and what goals result from this?
- What are the lessons learned from previous projects?
- What problem do you want to solve with the project?
- What is the best way to do this?
- What are the opportunities, threats, strengths, and weaknesses? (SWOT)
- What is your target reach compared to the initial situation? (examined at the start of the the regime).
- What effects has the project had so far?
- What adjustments do you need to make to better achieve your goals?
- What have you learned from the project thus far, and how can you apply it?
After the project is completed
- What is your target coverage compared to the initial situation and halfway through the project?
- What are the effects of the project?
- What are the success factors of the project?
- What did you learn from the project (areas for improvement), and how can you apply that?
Answer these questions within the project team and involve other parties, such as the focus group, collaborative partners, and other stakeholders.
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:
- When observing, use an observation list. With a structured observation list, you consistently record objective information, and you can quickly analyze the collected data.
- While observing, show an open and inquisitive attitude. Avoid jumping to conclusions about behaviors. Make an objective report of what you see.
- Name or record verbatim what you actually see happening, not what you think is happening.
- Don't just look at random gestures. A loose gesticulation doesn't say much. Its meaning becomes understandable only when combined with other gestures and signals.
- Depending on the situation, make it known that you will observe people, for example, if you will follow them during the activity.
- Combine observations with a (short) interview to indicate what you have seen.
- By making many observations, you can make representative statements about your research topic or group with supporting figures.
- The observers should be given clear instructions so that everyone records the observed in the same way and that interpretation of observation is avoided. To make different observers equal, you can do the first observations together.
- When observing, you can use all kinds of technical aids. There are various tracking devices on the market, but you can also consider a stopwatch to help you measure how long someone is using something.
- Always observe and consider the circumstances. If someone is standing in a cold room with their arms tightly crossed, chances are they are not defensive and closed, but simply cold.
- Make a schedule of when to observe in advance and do so at different times under different conditions so that the picture you get is as varied and complete as possible.
- Disrupt the situation you are observing as little as possible. Thus, do not talk to those being observed and be as inconspicuous as possible.
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:
- Start organizing the group discussions well in advance. You otherwise run the risk that not enough people can join. Scheduling the group interview well ahead of time increases the likelihood that everyone will attend.
- Make sure the minutes are written by someone who is experienced in it. Writing the minutes for a group discussion is more complicated because of the dynamics of several participants speaking.
- If you are not sure the reporter will be able to keep up with the live coverage, then make a video or audio recording of the interview and write out the minutes later. Ensure that the recording equipment is present and ready to use before you decide to use the equipment.
- Make sure your interlocutors feel comfortable. Provide them with a pleasant ambiance, something to drink, and a snack.
- Have everyone at the table introduce themselves so that everyone knows with whom they are sitting at the table. Create a cheat sheet with names and functions/backgrounds for the participants at the table.
- Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
- Pay attention to the body language of the participants.
- Monitor time and stick to the agreed time frames. It's disappointing when you don't get to ask all of your questions.
- Explain what will be done with the results of the interview. Also, explain what you will do with the minutes made of the exchange (including the audio recording). Will you be the only one who has access to these files, or will you publish it? In the latter case, make sure you get feedback on the minutes before publishing them.
- Summarize during the interview and relay your statement back to the group to make sure everybody understood the message the same way.
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:
- Determine your research population. It is not always necessary to interview everyone to get a representative picture. Especially in the case of large numbers, such as the voting behavior of all Dutch citizens, a representative sample is drawn.
- Keep a close eye on representativeness while collecting the data (in quantitative research). Does everyone in your sampling actually cooperate? If your subgroups are not equally represented, you can still question the missing respondents or decide to leave out a particular subgroup.
- Check whether you have enough information, especially in qualitative research. If this is not the case, you can conduct an additional interview.
- The data must be registered in a way that the data is clearly arranged and ready for analysis. Having a large pile of completed questionnaires is in itself insufficient for analysis. The best way to register results depends on the research method you have used.
A questionnaire is used as a measuring tool to answer your research questions. It is essential that you can use the results of the questionnaire. The quality of the questionnaire determines the quality of the data collected. It is therefore important to carefully formulate the survey questions. Here are a few tips and rules of thumb to help you formulate well-structured questions:
- Keep the questions simple. Don't use complex language, and consider your audience in your choice of words. For example, "What do you prefer to do in your free time?" is better than "How do you prefer to relax?
- Provide an unambiguous interpretation. 'I am satisfied with the quality of the exhibition' is an example of how not to do it. What is quality? The type of artwork, interactive elements, crowds, venue, the light?
- Formulate the question as precisely as possible. Refer to place and time and mention numbers. Try to delineate questions such as "Have you recently..." to a specific period, for example, "Have you in the past six months...".
- Avoid vague wording and avoid terms like ‘often’ and ‘sometimes’, also in the answer categories. Everyone interprets often and sometimes differently, so it is better to ask for a specific number of times.
- Avoid duplicate questions. No 'and' or 'or' in the questions. A question like "What did you think of the performance and the actors?" cannot be answered with one answer if the audience thought the performance was a little off, but the actors were excellent.
- Do not formulate (double) denials in the question. A negation in the question is confusing. For example, 'I am not dissatisfied with what I have seen' or 'I don't like to visit a museum.'
- Ask short questions.
- Be careful with examples in the question and suggestive questions. Chances are that the respondent may only think of these examples. This can happen with a question like 'How often do you undertake a cultural activity such as a visit to a museum or a play.' The respondent will be inclined to think that a visit to a festival or a dance performance is not part of the equation.
- Make sure the question measures up: The question should answer the research question. If you want to know if an exhibition inspired someone, do not ask how long they stayed. It is possible that the length of stay was longer or shorter because the respondent had to wait or had to leave earlier and had no choice.
- The answer categories to the questions should be mutually exclusive, and it should be clear to the respondents which answer to tick/indicate.
- Provide the same direction in the response order for scale questions. If at one point you are asked to rate something on a scale from totally disagree to totally agree (increasingly positive) and a few questions later on a scale from very satisfied to very dissatisfied (increasingly negative), there is a chance that people will fill this out incorrectly.
- For scale questions, try to keep the scale the same for each question. So do not use a scale of 1 to 5 for one question and a scale of 1 to 7 for another. This also makes it easier to analyze.
- See which scale fits best. A rating scale of 1 to 10 offers a lot of variation but is also more challenging to interpret (for some, a 10 is good, others think a 10 is perfect and therefore don't give it easily). A 2 (good/bad) or 3-point scale (good, average, bad) offers minimal variation and makes it harder to answer a question if it is an opinion (opinions are typically nuanced). An even scale causes a respondent to have to choose; with an odd scale, you offer the opportunity to sit safely in the middle.
- Also, provide the option of a reasoned non-answer, for instance, by creating an answer option like not applicable or don't know/no opinion.
For many people, when they think of a research report, unfortunately, they still think of a bulky tome that reads like an exciting book (it works slowly towards the conclusion). However, there are other ways of reporting that are becoming more popular. Depending on how much you want to broadcast the research results, below are some options:
1. A report written like a website
Another method of written reporting is to answer a research question for each chapter. Within these answers, you begin with the conclusion and then explain how the answer is composed.
In addition to a written report, a presentation is also possible. Many people find it easier to listen or watch than to read. With a presentation, listeners get the opportunity to respond immediately and ask questions when something is not clear. To preserve the production, you can film it.
3. PowerPoint report
In this kind of report, the emphasis is on graphs and tables. Conclusions are stated succinctly. This is inconvenient for the author because they can add fewer words to make nuances. For the reader, it is more transparent and requires less reading. The nuances are in the graphs and tables and may therefore require some interpretation by the reader.
On the Internet, infographics are increasingly common. They are informative illustrations that use text, graphs, and drawings. It is a quick way to share information.
To distribute research results to a broader audience, an animation film is an excellent option to tell and show information in a pleasant way and easy to distribute. By using YouTube and social media, the information can be spread widely. People will be more inclined to watch it because it is accessible and attractively presented (e.g., compared to a written report).
6. Leaflet or flyer
Another way to distribute information in an accessible and attractive form is a leaflet or flyer. The main points are summarized and attractively designed with graphics and illustrations. The advantage of a leaflet is that it can be printed and distributed physically (e.g., at a meeting) and digitally.
Another approachable way to broadcast information is in the form of a magazine. The design makes the information more appealing. The method of writing in single articles and columns will make the information more accessible.
9. Article in a magazine
Writing an article and then publishing it in a magazine ensures a wide distribution of your results among your target group. Choose the magazine you want to publish in and tailor your article accordingly. An article for a trade magazine looks different than an article for a popular magazine.
Individual and group interviews allow you to find out a lot. For example, about the impact of an activity, the course of a program, or the influences of different actors.
But how do you get the most out of your interviews?
- Make sure you are talking to the right people. Thoroughly explore your options in this respect. Who can answer the questions you have? What perspectives are out there?
- See if interlocutors can complement each other (group interviews) or tell more when they are alone (individual interview). When conducting a group interview, make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak.
- Make sure your interlocutor(s) feel at ease. Provide a pleasant space and beverages. Provide anonymity if necessary. Be polite and respectful to your interlocutor.
- Make sure your questions are consistent with your research topic and your interview questions are all-inclusive.
- Prepare your interview by formulating questions that are attuned to what your interlocutors know.
- In an introductory narrative, tell who you are, why you are conducting this research, your research question, who your client is, whether it is anonymous or not, and what the interview is essentially about.
- Formulate your questions in a way that your interlocutor understands them.
- Stay objective. Keep your opinions to yourself.
- Let your interlocutors finish speaking. Three seconds of silence does not mean that they finished speaking. They may want to think about the rest of the answer.
- Pay attention to your interlocutor's body language.
- Try to make the interview as natural as possible. Don't read the questions from your question list. Make a connection with what has already been said. Don't interrupt your interlocutor only to return to that topic later. At the end of the interview, check whether you have asked all the questions.
- Summarize your interlocutors’ answers so that they know you have understood them correctly and so that they hear the mainline repeated.
- Appeal to your interlocutor's responses.
- Monitor the time and adhere to the agreed-upon time. It is frustrating if you have not been able to ask some of your questions because your interlocutors have to go to their next appointment.
- Explain what happens to the conclusions of the interview. Also, explain what you will do with the report made of the interview (e.g., the audio recording). Will you use it only to refer to it yourself, or will you also publish it or hand it over to your client? In the latter two cases, make sure you give everyone feedback on the report.