The research design stage of a qualitative project often revolves around the research question. In fact, the key is to come up with a research design that will guarantee an answer to that question. The problem is that in doing so, we often forget to take in the bigger picture because our focus is too narrow.
Over time we often become ingrained in our approaches and forget the wealth of information out there, or even right under our noses. As students we are adept at finding (often free) resources, but often as we progress in our careers we forget those useful sites and sources.
But many of the answers we seek as researchers are already there – they are just hidden within existing research readily available from the world’s largest library (the web). Desk research puts your project into a broader context in order to guide the research design, and although it may seem boring, mundane and tedious, it’s an important, practical, and very valuable tool for researchers. And best of all? It’s free and readily available.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel
Every year, there are millions of studies completed and they often reoccur to keep the research up to date. It might take a little bit of time to sort through the information, and you might need to rework some of it to get the answer you’re looking for, but if you spend the time doing the desk research, you could be saving a lot of time and money for both yourself and your client by avoiding repeat questions for information that is already out there. Likewise, if you don’t examine previous research, how will you know if you’re actually going to find something new for your client?
Mix in some big data
Doing some desk research can offer valuable information for next to nothing. At L&E, we’re all about the word of qual, but we also know that the most respected research projects cross borders from qual into quant using a mixed methodology approach. For small qualitative consultants this can be difficult due to strict project budgets. But luckily, the internet is the largest, free source of statistics and data relevant to any industry, any subject, and any project.
Find the bigger picture
Existing research can add value to qualitative research results by putting the findings into a broader context. Whether it’s comparing your results across different industries, or even competitors, it’s worth doing the background work.
Here are some useful resources for desk research.
- Company websites and financial information via annual reports and accounts
- News publications such as The New York Times (data-rich APIs), Wall Street Journal and Guardian Datablog
- Government sources such as Census Bureau and Data.gov
- Report publishers such as Mintel, Euromonitor, Gartner and Forrester (these reports often come with fees, but a lot of data can be found on their blogs and in report previews)
And here are some tips for your search.
- Consider word choice. Could a different word, or arrangement of words, help refine your results?
- Consider different topics. Could searching for similar topics help find more information relating to your research question?
- Consider the source. As a researcher, question how reliable/accurate/relevant the findings are.
There are many reasons to take advantage of existing data. A little bit of extra time spent on desk research in the design stage will save valuable time later on, allowing greater time to be spent on analysis of data. If you’d like to know more about the design stage, including the client problem, the research question, choosing the right methodology, tips for moderators, and new technology to support the design, check out our white paper on Qualitative Research Design here.