How to be an Effective Researcher

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Sarah L. Jacques
A woman wearing a white lab coat standing beside a college campus sign that reads, ‘Engineering Laboratory’.

Research is a central part of academic and societal advancements of industries. As a college student, having keen research skills under your belt will propel your comprehension, broaden the horizons of your knowledge, and support your academic performance. The overall objective of research is to obtain, record and analyze, and present information over time. Here are the basic foundational characteristics and habits of a successful researcher.

Passionate curiosity

Think like a scientist. Ask questions. Most researchers have discovered new topics and interests through an insatiable hunger for learning. If you often find yourself asking, “why?” and “how?” you are on the right track to thinking with the mind of a researcher. Develop sturdy hypotheses by asking questions that are clear and succinct and when you have wondered consciously about a topic, wander to find its answer(s) with structured planning.

Coherent expression

Effective researchers develop strong written and verbal communication skills. A large part of providing information is knowing how to convey and report it. This does not stop at writing essays–explore schematic ways to present data, based on the material. (Is a flow chart or histogram befitting?) Just as it is important to present the findings, it is key to obtain it effectively. Evaluate what is best: survey? Interview or focus group? Familiarize yourself with these methods to organize information clearly and appropriately.

Being trustworthy and acknowledging the work of others

Profound discoveries and cutting-edge leads are only as good as the trailblazers which paved the way for them, by supporting a claim or probing a point for further detail. When you use information such as statistics or direct quotes, be sure to note the source it came from. Most researchers write their papers in MLA, APA, or Chicago format. Knowing how to cite relevant sources is important because it helps the reader understand the topic in context and allows them to refer back to the source for further related information.

Digging deep

Evaluate your approach. Broaden the horizons of your knowledge by visiting institutions, watching, and reading related and trustworthy informational media sources. If applicable, consider the contrast of the group or identities you are studying. What are the focal points? How do they apply to your own thoughts, the thoughts of your peers, or media you have been exposed to? Schema of a productive study can vary, depending on elements such as time frame, type of data (quantitative or qualitative, for instance), etc.

Doing the work

All in all, a productive researcher uses a blend of literary, intuitive, and scientific elements to learn, teach, and propose ideas. No matter what path in a field you choose to study, pick up a pen, visit a lab or library, or take a survey. The next great discovery could be yours!

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