Imagine that you wake up one morning and are craving a dish from your childhood. You want to make it, but you don’t know how. To get the recipe, you’ll need to do research. Obviously, you won’t have time to sift through the millions of recipes out there to pick the right one, so you’ll narrow your search down based on particular criteria.
If you want the exact dish from your childhood, you might phone up a relative and ask how to make it. But maybe your relative doesn’t use a recipe, and just adds a little of this and a dash of that and you don’t have enough cooking experience to follow along. Or maybe the dish takes days to make, and you want a quicker version, or you want a vegetarian version or a version with cheaper ingredients. You will narrow down your search based on these constraints.
You’ll also evaluate the recipes based on what you know about cooking. You might choose to read a trusted cookbook whose recipes always turn out well, or you might draw on your cooking experience to know that the ratios of a particular recipe are off. You might read reviews. Or, you might combine elements from a couple of recipes to find one that will work for you.
If your dish turns out well, you’ll file this knowledge away and you won’t need to do such extensive searching next time. If it turns out poorly, you’ll figure out what went wrong.
If you’ve ever done something like this, you’ve used the types of research skills we’ll be talking about in this chapter. In the above example, your research task became easier when you understood why you were using sources. You searched out the recipe to fill in a gap in your knowledge. You called a relative because you needed a recipe that tasted exactly like the one from your childhood, or you tried a 30-minute version because speed was the most important factor.
Sometimes, academic and workplace research is difficult because we know we have to use sources, but we don’t always understand why. Why has my teacher told me that I have to use scholarly articles? Why do I have to use 6 – 8 sources? Why does my boss want me to do a survey?
Research in the workplace runs the gamut from looking up Yelp reviews to find a restaurant to host a holiday party to writing reports of several hundred pages that require both extensive primary and secondary research. However you research, being able to find the most useful sources quickly will help you streamline your work. To find the most useful source, you should ask yourself why you’re using sources in the first place.
In the workplace, you’ll use sources to answer questions that you don’t know. Research can:
- Provide a deep look into a narrow topic;
- Provide a broad overview of something you’re just learning about;
- Show you up-to-date information on a topic that changes quickly;
- Save you time by allowing you to build off of someone else’s work;
- Offer a perspective you haven’t considered yet;
- Test your ideas to see if they’re sound;
- Help you solve a problem by showing how someone else solved it;
- Bring together different perspectives so you can consider a problem from all sides;
- Allow you to analyze the opinions of many different people, so you can find trends;
- Show how someone in a different industry, company or location solved a problem;
In this chapter, we’ll learn how to narrow a research question, then find sources that will be help you achieve your purpose.