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What Makes a Good Research Project

Judith Barton
Judith Barton, Director of Coaching & Mentoring

This is the first of a series of blogs about research in the context of coaching. This week I will be looking at what research is and what makes research different from other forms of enquiry.

‘Research’ can be used as a general term as in ‘researching the best restaurant/hotel/car’ through use of a specialist website such as Tripadvisor or WhatCar, or looking for the best insurance provider or financial services provider through a comparison website.

However, in this blog I will be writing about more technical research, asking specific research questions with rigorously sound research design and methods.   This is not to say that the general research we all carry out to organise our daily lives is inferior, just different.

Briefly, the stages of a good research project are:

1)   You need to have an idea, a topic for your research project – this topic could be something that comes to you as a result of your coaching practice, reading literature on the subject, talking to colleagues or a combination of all three. Be clear about the aims or your research, and the rationale for carrying it out. Why is the topic of interest and relevance? How will it help develop the theory and/or practice of coaching?

2)    From your topic or area of interest you should then develop a research question which is amenable to answer by investigation and inquiry. Check with the literature that your research question has not already been addressed; or, if it has,

3)    Once you have refined your research question you need to decide on a design and methodology which is appropriate to the question and ethically acceptable. It is usual to test the methodology – a pilot study – to check that it is workable and gives you the information you need.

4)    Then you collect your data, using the methodology as decided at 3)

5)    Move on to analysis, using techniques appropriate for the type(s) of data you have collected (steps 4) and 5) could be an iterative process, particularly in action research)

6)    From the analysis, draw your conclusions.

7)    Write up your research. It may be worth writing up some aspects of your project as you go along – but don’t write the introduction until you have completed the work and know exactly what it is you are introducing!

You will need to consider if your research project is feasible and practical – can you collect and analyse the data and write the report with the time and resources you have at your disposal? How easy will it be to collect the information – will you need the agreement of employers/organisations or individuals?

You will need to be confident that you operate within any relevant law – e.g. data protection if you are collecting ‘personal identifiable data; copyright if you are quoting or using other people’s work for your project; and relevant ethical constraints – e.g ensuring you have the consent of people whose information you plan to use in your project.

In summary, identifying the right research topic, research question(s) and methodology are key to a successful research project. Do not underestimate the time and resources required for completing your work.

Finally, plan your project in detail (SMART objectives really do make life easier and completion of the research more achievable); review your plan as you progress; and be prepared to revise your plan if necessary.

Future blogs in this series will look in more detail at the stages of carrying out and completing a successful research project.

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