Feeling overwhelmed by your research commitments? Welcome to academic life! But with a little effort, you can streamline the research process, hopefully making life less stressful into the bargain. Check out our top five tips for ensuring efficient research to find out what you can do.
1. Create a Research Plan
Too often, we know what we need to do but misjudge how long it will take. And this results in cramming all your research into short period, which is rarely an effective approach.
Instead, make a plan as soon as you receive an assignment. To do this, break the research down into steps and set aside time for each task you need to complete. You’ll then know exactly how much work you need to do and how long you will need to do it.
2. Focused Research and Reading
Part of efficient research is selecting the best sources for your project, as reading every single book or article on a subject would take far too long. What you need to do, then, is find the sources that are most relevant to your own work and focus on them. This may involve:
- Using your reading list as a starting point or asking for recommendations
- Setting yourself a clear research question to guide your reading
- Checking the reference list in good sources for similar titles
- Developing a strong search strategy to find sources online or in databases
Skim reading can also be helpful if you need to find specific information in a long book or article. However, this is a skill, so make sure to slow down if you find yourself skipping key details.
3. Effective Note Taking
Efficient research requires taking good notes, both when reading and in lectures. And while this might seem like a simple case of writing everything down as quickly as possible, this won’t be much help if you can’t understand your notes a week or a month later when you check them. The answer, then, is to strike a balance between speed and organisation by:
- Using common abbreviations or shorthand to aid note taking
- Summarising key passages from books rather than writing them out in full
- Trying recognised note-taking methods, such as outlining and charting
- Noting down the author’s name and title of each book you use, along with relevant page numbers, so you can find the full text again if required
- Writing the date and name of the lecturer on lecture notes to make them easier to find while you are writing up your research
This should leave you with in-depth notes that are easy to use.
4. Get Organised
Writing up your research will be much easier if you are organised. And this may come down to… filing! Okay, it’s not the most exciting prospect, we admit. But it is worth keeping your notes organised so that you can find them easily as and when needed. This may involve:
- Using coloured labels or folders to sort paper notes visually
- Organising your notes alphabetically or creating an index sheet
- For digital notes, labelling folders and files clearly on your computer
More generally, you’ll also want to create a tidy workspace for conducting research. This is especially important when you’re working from home, as it will help you avoid distractions.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling with something. Your supervisor or lecturer should be available to offer academic advice if required. And even little things – like asking a friend or family member for support – can help reduce the pressure you’re feeling.
Summary: How to Ensure Efficient Research
When you have a lot of work to do, efficient research is vital. Make sure to:
- Plan your research as soon as you have an assignment. This will ensure you set aside enough time to do all the reading required.
- Focus on the most relevant sources. Try setting yourself a question you need to answer and looking for sources that address this. If you have a useful source, moreover, check the bibliography or references to find other sources on similar subjects.
- Work on your note taking. The best notes are focused on the most important information but detailed enough to understand when you read them. Try using abbreviations to save time.
- Make sure that your research is well organised. This will save time if you need to check something while writing up or revising your paper.
- If you need assistance, ask for it. Your lecturer or supervisor should be able to help with any academic problems.
And for extra efficiency, you may want to have your written work checked by a proofreader. This will save time spent looking for typos, allowing you to focus your efforts elsewhere.