Developing Research Ideas and Your Writing

people developing idea

Develop an Idea
Thinking about research? First, you need a good idea. Sometimes it may seem hard to come up with a good idea, or it may seem like all the good questions have been answered. Trust us, they haven’t! Sometimes you just need to go back to your childhood curiosity, asking questions about who, what, when, where, why and under what circumstances this thing you have observed happens. Here are a few resources you may find helpful in terms of developing your research question. The key is to make it narrow enough as to be manageable, but not so narrow as to be uninteresting.

Part of developing a good idea, as you may have noticed in the above links, is knowing what research has already been done in that area. Scientists know a lot about some topics, but not very much about others. Research questions will differ according to things we already know and that’s okay! Check out the CBU Library Resources available to improve your literature searches. You may also find this tutorial on evaluating sources and this on identifying scholarly journals especially helpful. 

Manage Your Resources
There are lots of great methods for organizing your resources. Having an organization system at the outset of your project can save you lots of headache, storage space, and printed manuscripts lining your dining room. As discussed in this text, Zotero is one of the most commonly used resource management systems. In Zotero, you can store pdfs, website snapshots, blogs and other references directly from your database search. When you install the Zotero plug-in on Word, you can insert these references directly into your paper in the formatting style of choice. It might seem intimidating to start a new system, but the initial effort is well worth the time (and paper) saved in the long run.

Develop a Team
Good ideas and methods to test them usually happen in teams. If you are thinking about research, you should also be thinking about who might want to journey with you. There is an entire field of research on research collaboration, in part because collaborations are important for scientific progress. Depending on where you are in your research career—an aspiring researcher or a seasoned scholar—collaboration entails different considerations. This article provides some thoughts for a new, undergraduate researcher, a young scholar; for faculty, this article may be useful, especially for thinking about issues of authorship order.

Learn APA Style
Writing in the style of the American Psychological Association (APA style) involves a certain manner of formatting and citation as well as a specific style of writing. The citation tutorials here can help with the first part. Writing in a way that is consistent with APA style requires a bit more explanation.

Develop High-Quality Writing
Scientific writing should be clear, concise and jargon-free. Scientific writing is a skill that is developed, often through criticism, revision, criticism and more revision. It is important to keep in mind that when you receive criticism, it is because the reviewer, professor or collaborator thinks the work is worthwhile enough to invest in! And thankfully, there are some practical tools available to you to improve your writing, hopefully without too many rounds of criticism.

  • For those just starting out, work on your writing while you read! As you read a lot of high-quality articles, notice what the authors do well and how they do it. If the writing is difficult, think about why and how it could be improved. This kind of metacognitive reflection can improve your skills. Keep in mind that the criticism you may receive on drafts of your paper are an important way to enhance your metacognition.
  • Compare your writing with the tips and tools provided here, by the University of North Carolina.
  • Consider Dan Simons, a well-known and well-published cognitive psychologist, Musings of Writing.
  • Review this article here for principles that guide the construction of an entire scientific manuscript.
  • For those interested in a deeper dive into high quality writing, check out Pinker’s (2014) The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

Need additional help?
A variety of additional resources are also available to CBU students and faculty. If you’d like to schedule an appointment to talk about your research with someone in the Center, please contact us!