As a researcher, you should always take the following eight basic rules of good research into account.
1. Dare to build upon the research of others
Many research questions have been addressed before. And most social science problems are very complex. Each individual researcher is, in a way, an intellectual ‘dwarf’. In the early stages of a small research project, get an overview of the most relevant approaches. Very often there are good textbooks that can give you this overview in a few hours.
2. Dare to make motivated choices
Research is a choice process. You have to dare to make choices, otherwise nothing will come of your research. The worst thing you can do, besides not daring to make choices, is not specifying choices. The choices you have to make and specify include: the problem, the research aim, the level of analysis, theories used, methodologies applied, stakeholder perspective taken into account, sources searched for and audience you intend to address.
3. Always define the most important concepts
Words and concepts can have many meanings. The dictionary definition of a concept is often inappropriate for research, because the dictionary is too general, and frequently gives definitions based on circular reasoning. Use definitions from the relevant literature, and explain your choice of a particular definition if more than one definition exists. Make the definition operational, i.e. understandable and open to testing. Always consider the context in which a definition is introduced.
4. Explain flaws in the research yourself
If you explain the choices that you have made, you should also make clear the flaws in the research design that you have chosen. Include this information in your conclusion. Do not leave this for the readers to discover by themselves. Not explaining the flaws of your design lessens your personal credibility as a researcher, and the value of your research. If you come to the conclusion that you have chosen an inappropriate methodology, it does not necessarily mean that you have to begin your research again. To conclude that a particular research methodology is not useful can also be an important result of your research effort.
5. Make a clear distinction between analytical and normative judgment
A limited research project can only lead to limited conclusions. Always specify the conditions under which you think your research results hold true. Avoid the inclination of many researchers to come to prescription on the basis of weak or very limited description of empirical phenomena. Conclusions can only be based on the results of the research. Speculating on the basis of your research results could be valuable and interesting, but can only be done after the conclusions, and should be explicitly stated as such.
6. Strive for the highest possible integrity
Every researcher should be aware of the ease with which data and figures can be manipulated. You frequently make use of data collected by others, for instance, often at high levels of aggregation. So you should adopt a high level of integrity when assembling qualitative and quantitative data. Likewise, always take into account the possibility that data and arguments have been manipulated by others.
7. Be critical
Good research is critical research. A good researcher is not afraid to ask tough questions. Never stop asking the ‘why’ question. A skilled researcher should be capable of expressing doubt, and asking ‘why’ questions without annoying the recipient of the research question.
8. Good research is disciplined and realistic
Research is not easy. You may hope to be inspired by the aims you set for yourself. But always keep in mind one final ‘rule of thumb’, which is applicable to most research projects; ‘good research is the result of 80% perspiration and 20% inspiration’.
Skill Sheets research
The sixteen Skill Sheets about research address real-life, practical questions and problems that you may face in your academic career. Each Skill Sheet provides you with advice and guidance on a specific area, and gives you tips to improve your writing skills.