3 tips for primary research

Posted by: Cecily Miniaci

I remember cringing at the thought of a research report. Looking online, checking out books, and interviewing sources made me uneasy. But, as I have learned with many things, practice causes appreciation. Being a college student means you need to become comfortable with doing research. No matter if its secondary or primary, research is a tool you will use the rest of your life.

This semester I have been doing primary research for my public relations capstone class on the topic of civility. I have researched the general public of Des Moines, asking them how they felt about civility and if they think Des Moines is a civil community. Since starting this campaign, I have learned more about research and I have began to appreciate it, rather than dread it.

Here are three tips to help you when conducting primary research:

1. Know your audience 
Before starting your research, you must know who you are actually looking at. You need to know their interests, preferences for communication, dislikes, and where to reach them in the community. This helps the overall research process. You can’t assume the senior community is on social media, or will respond to an online survey. You have to tailor your methods to fit the audience.

2. Create a timeline
Creating a timeline will help you in the end, trust me. It may feel silly at first, since methods and tactics could change, but it puts you ahead. Sticking to a timeline will keep you sane once all of the data begins to flow in. You are also more productive breaking it down week by week, rather than one large goal for the month. Working towards getting 80 completed surveys is a lot easier than scrambling to get 400 before the end of the research period. Once again, trust me. Scrambling is not fun, it’s painful.

3. Be patient 
If you start to freak out, it’s okay. That’s actually normal when doing research. If things are going completely opposite from how you planned, just be flexible. Don’t get discouraged when response rates are low, or people decline to be interviewed. In the end, there will be interesting data to sift through. You’ll find out information about your public, that no one else knows. You are now the expert.

Have faith and get excited for what you will find out from the research. Once completed, your unique research and data will put you ahead of the rest.

Do you have any other tips when conducting research? Do you prefer doing primary or secondary research and why?

A more detailed breakdown of primary research can be found at Purdue OWL.


6 responses to “3 tips for primary research

  1. Cecily, I feel like your reaction to doing primary research is a lot like my initial reaction to asking people for interviews for articles. It took me a lot of time to actually ask for interviews for my first couple of articles and that sting of rejection feels like a punch in the stomach the first couple of times. The only advice that I have for research, interviews, or anything else that requires you to reach out into the community is to kill them with kindness. I didn’t realize how negatively some people would react to me asking for an interview and I’m sure that you had some not-so-positive responses on your surveys. The best thing that you can do is be polite and keep moving on.

    • I completely agree with you. The fear of rejection really made me afraid to go out and talk to people. Being super friendly to them makes it a lot harder for them to say no. 🙂 And even after they would say no, I would continue to be incredibly nice…maybe to make them feel a little bit guilty!

  2. These are really good tips for this type of primary research. I think you offer a great deal of good suggestions. I think Kenzie makes a good suggestion to kill people with kindness. Many times, people will take pity on you and answers a question.

    I thought of a couple of things. First of all, you should probably make the research process as easy for people as you can. If it’s easy, people are more likely to do it. That requires writing focused questions and getting right to the point.

    Another suggestion might be to give people something for their time (if the budget allows). You would be surprised how people will willingly do things for a little trinket or something like that. People will do all sorts of things for something free.

    • I agree, making it as easy as possible is definitely important. Our survey took about 8 minutes for print versions and about 5 minutes for online. We really wish that we would have shortened it because some people picked it up and then declined because they thought it was going to take them 15-20 minutes. A front and back side of one sheet would have been ideal.

  3. I relate to your first tip, specifically. Often, I choose a topic and jump immediately into my research with preconceptions I stubbornly hold on to. Research, however, means testing my own preconceptions.

    While conducting research, I often focus solely on the final product. Again, though, research means challenging my own assumptions while advancing my topic. Research benefits student and discipline alike.

    • I also tend to focus on the end result, which makes me more nervous and stressed out. It is important to focus on the small details in order to get to the large goal.

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