Whether you are developing a new product or enhancing a current one, preparing to design a new piece of software, or getting ready to write a paper, the importance of research cannot be underestimated. The development and success of your project begins at the research phase. Unfortunately, though you are implicitly expected to do research, effective research skills and methods are not taught. These skills are highly valuable both in school and after you get out.
The definition of research according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:
- studious inquiry or examination; especially : investigation or experimentation aimed at the discovery and interpretation of facts, revision of accepted theories or laws in the light of new facts, or practical application of such new or revised theories or laws.
- the collecting of information about a particular subject.
Research can be divided into two categories: Pure research, also called basic research, and applied research. Here we will look at the elements of pure research, since it is the underpinning of applied research. Pure research arises out of that beautiful human faculty called curiosity. Curiosity is the foundation of all human discovery – without it nothing would move forward. Curiosity is that irresistible drive we humans have to understand the world in which we live. Its aim is simple: to increase one’s knowledge for the sake of understanding. Pure research is the source and foundation of new ways of seeing, and thus eventually being in, the world around us. The pure researcher is Galileo when he looked through his telescope and saw the moons of Jupiter or Columbus when he sailed into the unknown. It’s the little boy who dissects the dead animals he finds or the little girl who cracks open rocks with a hammer. Pure research does not really aim toward any proposed goal, other than a desire to see and to know.
Pure research lays the foundation for the advancement of human knowledge. The value of pure research is the generation of new theories, principles, or ideas – whether or not they are accepted and utilized at the time of their discovery. Galileo was not only forbidden to talk about his discoveries and their implications, but he was also placed under house arrest under “vehement suspicion of heresy.”
Pure research has four primary purposes: documentation, discovery, interpretation, or the research and development process associated with businesses. Documentation is the record of everything we know or postulate about a subject. It allows us to trace the sources of what we have already found. We can use it to prove what we already know or to go back and see where we may have gone wrong. Discovery is the observation of something new, whether that something new is actually different from what we have seen before or simply a different way of seeing it. Interpretation is the analysis and explanation of what you are seeing. Research and development is the process a business goes through when bringing a new or enhanced product to life.
In general, your research should have two elements. The first is primary research. In primary research, you will be accessing original documents – poems, treaties, or other texts as they are, not someone else’s interpretation of them. If all you rely on is what others say, then you are only giving a report on what’s already out there and not contributing anything to the field. Whenever you can, you should access the original material first and answer this question: what are your thoughts about the material? Write them down as part of your documentation process. In your secondary research, you will read what others have to say. Ask yourself whether or not you agree. If so, then state why. If not, lay out your argument based on the original material.
Now, let’s look at how what we have already discussed fits into various fields.
Marketing Research and Development
How can you apply the phases of research to marketing? Research and development is an essential aspect of any business plan, especially in the field of marketing. A company must constantly analyze customer’s needs, desires, and demands, and at the same time, keep up with the ever-changing trends in the market. In the research and development phase you must first clearly define your target market, and then, come up with a plan of action to bring your product or service into that market.
The Discovery Phase
Marketing research is the method of gathering information about the current state of the market in which you are competing. You need to gather information on both your current and potential customers. You want to find out how much people are willing to spend on what you offer. What are their needs versus their desires? You also have to gather as much information as possible on your competitors. If they are successful, what are they doing? What does your product have that theirs does not? Or, how is your service better than theirs?
Primary and Secondary Market Research
Your marketing research helps you develop your marketing strategy – the plan you will put into place that gets your customers to buy your product or service. Primary research in marketing is the information you can get first-hand through interviews, surveys, feedback forms, questionnaires, or focus groups. Secondary research is simply using someone else’s documentation. These are the facts, figures, or other general statistical information that you can find in consumer or governmental reports.
Your marketing requirements document the compilation of everything you have discovered in your research. In this phase you would also determine what you would like to accomplish with this new product or upgrade. Let’s say you want to put together a marketing requirements document for a new product or for an update on an existing one. You will have to give your engineers as much information as possible to help them create or revamp the product. This document describes all of the desired key features of the product, something which requires closely working with your engineers. Using the data you collected from your market research will help you streamline your feature requirements.
Research in Software Product Development
The documentation phase of software development is the text that states the requirements of the product and lays the foundations for what is to be implemented. Your documentation describes the overall architecture and design of the software; provides the technical explanations of the code, algorithms, interfaces, and API and end user manuals; and finally, offers possible marketing strategies for the product.
The discovery phase of product development is where the expectations for the product are laid out – everything from the details of the screen to the flow of the pages. You need to have an idea of branding, web copy, user traffic and launch dates. For the software developer, taking this phase into account before you start coding may save you a lot of wasted time. This is your chance to find out what is most important to your client and for your client to find out what is possible and what is not possible within the given parameters of the project, parameters such as desired launch dates, projected traffic, and stated budget.
Researching and Writing a Paper or Article
Research for your writing projects is valuable, no matter what type of writing you do. As we said before, most people receive no training in how to research and write. Sometimes even the best of researchers do not even know how to write an effective research paper. Whether you are doing hardcore research for a science paper or field research for a current events article, there are fairly well-defined phases to the research and writing process.
The Discovery Phase
The discovery phase of a writing project is part of the fun of it all. There are two basic types of research for this phase. The first is field research. Field research, which is the equivalent of primary research, is that which you do outside of the library or internet. When you are in the field you are gathering information on your topic based on your observations of and your interactions with the material you are working on. If you are writing about people or events, then you want to interview people who are involved. If many people are involved, you can use a survey or questionnaire format. If you are writing about an innovative concept or method/approach to something, then you can interview experts in that field.
Documentation: Observation and Note-Taking
A true scientist would watch the scene as an objective observer before imposing his or her own theories into the matter. As you watch your surroundings, you have to not only describe what you see, but you also have to analyze and interpret what you see. You are looking for insight into the meaning and significance of what you are observing. As you observe, you should do it from as many different perspectives as you can. Moving and stationary perspectives will lend different insights. Take written notes on or incorporate visual note-taking and sketch pictures of everything you see. Describe how it makes you feel. What insights do you have by watching what is happening?
Now you must ask yourself, “What did I learn?” Did see something you did not expect to see? If so, write out how you were changed by what you saw. Whatever you can contribute that is beyond your readers’ expectations will make your work far more interesting than if you wrote only about what they expect. Once you have effectively researched your topic, you are ready to learn how to craft an essay or article good enough for a top publication.