Toolkit - research skills

When starting a research project, it’s good to think about what existing skills and resources you and others in your organisation have that you can build on. For example, you may have picked up some interview techniques while working on oral history projects, made a video to post on YouTube or perhaps you’ve used Survey Monkey to collect information. Use the list to review your past experience and that of colleagues to remind yourself how much you already know about:

  • interviewing (facilitating open chats and discussions, one-to-one and with a group)
  • audio recording
  • making videos and taking photos
  • designing surveys and questionnaires
  • playing feedback games
  • observing people and writing down your observations.

Open and closed questions

An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge and/or feelings. It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. Open-ended questions also tend to be more objective and less leading than closed-ended questions.

Example: Do you like being in the woods? (closed – respondent could just answer yes or no); How do you feel when you are in the woods? (open – respondent has to give a full answer)

Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as ‘Why’ and ‘How’ but treat questions beginning with ‘why’ with caution as they can be difficult to answer. Starting with phrases such as ‘Tell me about…’ can be easier to respond to.

Leading questions

Leading or suggestive questions subtly prompt the respondent to answer in a particular way. They are generally undesirable as they result in false or slanted information.

Example: Why do you like being in the woods? (This is leading because it presupposes that the respondent enjoys being in the woods).

Collecting negative responses

It’s important that your research project gathers negative responses as well as positive ones, so make sure you emphasise this in your surveys, questionnaires and interviews.

Example: what was the best part of your day out? what was the worst?

Verifying your research findings

If you are using your own observations as evidence, for example from videos or using your own notes about a session, it is advisable to use an additional method so that you can verify your findings. This is especially important with participants who don’t find it easy to express their feelings or reactions.

Example: Source 1: researcher noted that the group had enjoyed making the fire. Source 2: care worker reported the group had asked to make fires again next time.

Research v evaluation

This is a difficult thing to define and academics have a range of ideas about what research is as opposed to evaluation. In terms of your project what is important to remember is that if you have been rigorous in your methods, aware of bias and have clear evidence, your findings will be viewed as valid outside of your organisation and field of work. Find out more about research v evaluation in research motivations.