In the next section, we’ll learn how to locate secondary sources. Often, however, your workplace research will ask you to create original research, such as conducting interviews and surveys. The quality of the data you get will depend on the questions you ask and the planning you do.
Conducting Ethical Research
If you conduct scholarly research, such as research that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal, you’ll first have to get approval from a Research Ethics Board. This board will ensure that your research will be beneficial, and won’t harm anyone. Unless you’re a specialized researcher, you likely won’t need research ethics board approval in the workplace. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t consider ethics.
To conduct research ethically, you should consider the risk you’re placing your participants under. Specifically, you can consider:
- How might my research cause harm?
- How can I limit this harm?
Harm doesn’t just mean that the person will be physically injured. Even simple-seeming survey and interview questions can expose people to risk. For example, say you work in H.R. and you’re designing a survey to solicit feedback from a team about their manager. If your survey isn’t carefully designed to preserve anonymity and circulated with care, the manager could figure out who said a particular piece of negative feedback and retaliate against the person who said it.
Minimizing harm also extends to emotional harm. If you’re going to ask sensitive questions that might upset someone, you should notify them in advance so that they can decide if they want to answer these questions. Survey and interview participants should also be able to opt out from answering questions.
You should also take care to store survey data safely. For example, if your workplace receives government funding, you may not be allowed to store client data on servers outside of Canada.
Surveys vs. Interviews
When deciding what type of primary research to do, you should consider your purpose. In general, interviews give you qualitative data. That’s data that can’t be measured and is often descriptive. For example, you might interview someone whose career you admire to get career advice about how to become a business analyst. Surveys give you quantitative data: data that can be measured. For example, you might do a survey of 100 business analysts to find out what percentage of them are happy with their jobs.
Asking Useful Questions
Whether you’re doing a survey or an interview, you’ll want to think carefully about the questions you ask. When you design your questions you should:
- Have a clear purpose: For example, if you want to confirm what you already know or sort survey participants into categories, you would ask a closed question, such as “Have you shopped at our store in the past month?” Closed questions can be answered with a yes or no. If you want a detailed answer, you should use an open-ended question. These are questions that begin with Who, What, Where, When, How or Why, and require more detailed responses.
- Research in advance: Knowing what questions to ask usually takes experience or research. For example, if you have an informational interview with a business analyst to get career advice and you’ve only got 30 minutes with her, you’ll want to make those count. Doing a bit of research, such as reading her bio on the company website or checking out her LinkedIn profile or social media presence, will all you to ask more useful, specific questions. Instead of asking, “What university did you go to?” you could ask, “What was your experience like with UBC’s program? Would you recommend it?”
- Keep it simple: Especially if you’re doing a survey, ask clear, simple questions. Make sure to only ask one question at a time. Show your questions to a colleague and revise them to make sure that they can be easily understood. If some participants misunderstand your question, your data will be skewed.
- Word your questions neutrally: Remember: you’re researching to find out something new, not confirm what you want to hear. Neutral questions don’t make assumptions and are open to a wide range of answers. For example, in 2019, The White House released a survey that asked the question “Do you believe that the media is engaging in a witch hunt to take down President Trump?” It’s clear which way the people who made the survey wanted participants to answer.
It can be tricky to word questions neutrally. Practice your skills by sorting questions into ‘neutral’ or ‘biased.’