You know why you need to do your research and get feedback or information, but what about? How do you select what topics or questions you ask when you do your research?

Context and Purpose

The most important point to consider first is why you need the information or feedback that you are gathering. Your context is hugely important to how you design your approach to gathering this information, and understanding your purpose will help you in researching efficiently. If you are a Course Rep, you may wish to balance informal and formal approaches, but you are ultimately looking to gather academic feedback, as this is the purpose of the Course Rep role. If you are in a professional setting, you may want to use more formal methods, and you may have a specific task or project you have been assigned which necessitates you gathering the information. It’s helpful to think about your context and purpose first, before you try to design the questions that you ask whilst researching.

What do you want to understand better as a result of your research?

Secondly, after identifying the purpose behind your research, you should focus in on the specific question or problem you are looking to answer or understand in more detail. If you are a Wellbeing Champion in a society, that question might be centred around the issues impacting your society members, because you want to understand how they are feeling and how you can help them. In a professional context, you might have a specific target audience you want to research in order to better understand their preferences or dislikes. Regardless of your role, it’s important to focus your research to a specific topic or area that you need to understand in more detail.

What is relevant?

Once you have identified your topic or subject area, you’ll need to think about what is relevant to that topic. You might want to think about sub-topics or specific questions that cover the subject matter you want to understand in more detail, and carefully consider each question to ensure it is relevant to the purpose of your research. For example, as a Course Rep looking to better understand student opinion about their academic experiences, a relevant question would be to ask students about how they feel about the amount of contact hours on their course. By contrast, an irrelevant question might be one that does not focus on students’ academic experiences, and wouldn’t contribute towards the aim of the research.

What is most critical?

You may only be able to ask a set amount of questions when you do your research. Therefore, it’s helpful to decide what is most critical to research and understand, and this might help you structure your research and remove questions that are less important or less helpful to the overall research you are doing.

What is appropriate to ask about?

Finally, it’s important to consider what is appropriate. You may not want to ask questions which require too much personal information, and you should not do research which makes people feel uncomfortable or upset. Very carefully consider the way you phrase your research questions, and ensure that they are not going to be misunderstood.