By its very nature, research is a process. It requires starting with a question, developing a hypothesis and searching for and evaluating data to form a conclusion. After that, a determination can be reached to as to whether a conclusion can be trusted. Trusting this process, appropriately enough, results in research outcomes that others can trust.
Whether searching for biographical information on a potential business partner’s chief executive, or studying archived patent filings, research findings that aren’t verifiable and trustworthy lack the requisite credibility to drive decisions.
Not everyone is an expert researcher, but even research experts can get a refresher on these four simple tips for research that’s trustworthy from beginning to end.
Skeptically Scrutinize Sources
Research is only as good as its sources, and if the sources of a research project aren’t trustworthy the outcomes won’t be either. Determining source credibility lends itself to a post of its own, but it is so vital to the process that a discussion of quality research isn’t complete without it.
It’s important to possess a healthy sense of skepticism when evaluating sources by considering a few questions:
Are there any biases the source may have that would potentially influence its findings?
Is the source relevant and its outcomes timely?
Generally speaking, is the source considered trustworthy?
A chef wouldn’t ruin a five-star recipe with one-star ingredients, and your research shouldn’t be tainted by a source that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Be Wary of Bias
Checking sources for bias is important, but it’s equally important for researchers to consider their own individual biases. The research process requires an open mind to follow research where it naturally leads to avoid confirmation bias that only considers data backing up a preconceived notion.
This can be difficult, especially for researchers within a larger organization that look to research to provide a strategic advantage. Too often, confirmation bias occurs when research is invoked too late. At its best, research should occur before or at the very beginning of any strategic decision-making cycle to investigate before decision options are theorized. Later in the process only to confirm decisions that have already been made.
Start with the Right Question
One of the most common mistakes novice researchers make is jumping head first into the research process without considering the first—and perhaps most important—step: what is your research question?
Without grounding research endeavours in a well-formed question, research is at risk of being disorganized and disjointed. Starting with the right question informs every other step of the process by serving as a filter for relevancy, search parameters and accuracy.
Get a Second Opinion and a Third…
Research shouldn’t be a solitary effort. Trust is a social transaction; trustworthy research should be equally collaborative. Outside experts can help to formulate the question, a trusted advisor can help check individual biases, and a research partner can help to evaluate and uncover more quality sources than one person could hope to do alone.
This type of collaboration is extraordinarily valuable. Trusted partners are able to complement each other’s efforts and provide important quality checks throughout the process, ensuring a research product that everyone can believe in.