Your Guide to Conducting Independent Research Projects
For me, asking questions is the best way to stay curious and inspire others.
I am currently earning my undergraduate degree in Dance and minor in Modern Languages – French at Point Park University. I am a part of their honors program in which I have been given various opportunities to do research that has been published and presented at national conferences.
I want to note that you do not have to do research through an organization. The project I’m currently working on is for a conference and will not receive any academic credit for it.
You probably have already done a research project and did not even realize it. I was first introduced to how to do research in high school, so after finding what worked best for me, I wanted to share my process to make the project less daunting and more fun.
Step 1: Define the project
What is your subject?
Normally the subject is related to your major, but if you are interested in a subject, your project can be based on something you have no previous knowledge about.
When applying to conferences, my research typically fit under a certain category and theme. When choosing a subject, look at the requirements closely to determine if the subject will work.
What is its purpose?
Answer the question: Why do I want to do this research project? Is it to forward your academic goals, spread awareness, inform or persuade a group of people, or to learn more about a subject you are passionate about?
Having a purpose behind your work can fuel your passion and help with motivation. Whatever your research entails will make an impact, so recognizing this could also help you feel more fulfilled after it is finished.
If you have to do it as a requirement, try to reframe your mindset to a more positive one where you can find something positive to gain from your research. This could be a new skill acquired or improved upon.
What format will it be in?
Some examples of different formats could be an essay, poster, speech, or an artistic piece.
Depending on the format, there could be different requirements for the information or an element incorporated that is not included in the other formats.
If you have a choice of format, be sure to assess your strengths and weaknesses. I pride myself on being a good public speaker and performer, so I prefer giving a speech rather than writing an essay.
However, if you want to improve a certain skill, you could choose a format that challenges a skill you want to work on.
What question is being answered?
I have been taught that good research answers a complex but specific question. Therefore, create a question that requires critical thinking and is focused enough to be answered by a comprehensive thesis statement.
Step 2: Gather information
This may be self-explanatory, but it’s time to research! Have a variety of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.
- Primary Source – an original source; first-hand experience
- Examples: Journals/Diaries, Speeches, Photographs, Raw Data
- Secondary Source – created as a response to the original source; did not have the experience first-hand
- Examples: Journal Articles, Biographies, Textbooks / Encyclopedias / Dictionaries
- Tertiary Source – a piece of work that summarizes, compiles, or interprets primary or secondary source information
- Examples: Manuals, Textbooks / Encyclopedias / Dictionaries, Bibliographies
Good places to find sources are your local library, school databases, or Google Scholar. Since not everything on the internet is true, vetting your source is crucial. Some things to keep in mind before using a source are the author, time period, peer-review status, publisher, and intended audience.
Step 3: Compile findings and provide a takeaway
Using the data you have collected to support your thesis, answer your initial question. This article explains how different kinds of theses are used in different research contexts.
The thesis is generally at the end of the first introductory paragraph. Coming up with a thesis is easier said than done, but finally reaching an answer should be gratifying.
Make sure all the points in your paper answer the initial question and support the amazing thesis you just created. You may need to write a proposal or abstract for your research.
Try to focus on the main ideas in your work and provide a bit of context that would make the reader or listener more interested to learn additional information.
Be sure to proofread your work, double check it meets all the requirements, and verify your citations are in the correct citation style.
A service I find useful to check my grammar is Grammarly. You can also get your friends to look over it and get their thoughts.
Step 4: *Optional* Peer / Advisor Review
On my research projects, I have had the privilege of having an advisor to give me advice who is an expert in the field of research I am interested in. This advisor offered great advice when I got stuck or needed a push in the right direction.
Some tips on finding an advisor are to:
- See if their past research aligns with what you are interested in
- Investigate how other’s experiences were if they have been an advisor in the past
- Reach out through email or attend their office hours to see if they would be interested in helping you
- Keep your options open because you never know who you could have the potential to connect to
Starting an independent research project can be scary. Whether your research is formal or informal, I encourage you to keep learning and asking questions.
In the words of author, anthropologist, and filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”
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