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Conducting primary research – what I wish I’d known

It can be daunting to begin conducting your own research, especially if you’re new to it. As someone who is just starting to write my second dissertation (14,000 words this time!) primary research is something I have slowly grown more comfortable with.

If you’re just starting out or you want a refresher, here are some things to keep in mind when you’re conducting your own research.

Ask for help

One of the most important things I wish I had learnt sooner is that it is good to ask for help.

It can be tempting to pretend you know it all and try and do it all yourself, but why would you? One of the best things about Lincoln is there is probably an expert on your topic or research method who is willing to speak to you.

If you don’t know who to speak to, ask! Subject librarians are a great place to start and in my experience, have always been incredibly helpful.

Plan your time

When you’re working on big projects like a dissertation or a research paper, it is easy to let time get away from you.

My advice is to plan your time right from the beginning so you have tasks to complete each week. This stops you from ending up with tonnes of work to do in not enough time and your work will benefit in the long run.

Build on your literature review

It turns out there is a reason why your literature review comes first! Whatever you’re choosing to research should be building on the existing literature and this will help you in designing your research.

It can be easy to get an idea in your head and want to run with it, but make sure you’re checking the existing literature first.

Choose a method you’re comfortable with

Research methods can be sorted into two main types. Quantitative research is concerned with facts, figures and numbers – it’s very black and white. Qualitative research is more about understanding and describing a topic – it’s more about interpretation.

If you’re a numbers person and you are all about standard deviations and chi-squares then you might find yourself more comfortable with a quantitative research method.

If you’re more of a words person and you enjoy interpreting data and describing things, you might prefer qualitative research.

This doesn’t have to be a deciding factor, it’s perfectly possible to learn one or the other. But it’s okay to play to your strengths too.

This article is featured on Learning at Lincoln.

Please note: This content was created prior to Coronavirus, and some things might be different due to current laws and restrictions. Please refer to the University of Lincoln for the latest information.