Guide 05
Guide 05
Conducting Desk Research
Collecting and understanding what’s already known to design more focused research studies
Use when intaking research questions; use before survey development; use before field research
Step 1

Choose a topic & define the research question

You want to define the primary research topic that you're looking to expand your understanding on. Think about what your stakeholders need or want to know? Are there any broad or specific topics or things you need to focus on?

Step 2

Select & Assess Relevant Data Sources

When you're looking at data sources, be honest and assess the quality of your sources. Some questions you should ask yourself to assess quality are:

  • Who is the primary audience for this work?
  • Why was this work done?
  • Who did this work and what is their relationship to the data/topic/subject?
  • When was this work done?
  • Can you see credible sources or references listed?
  • Are there any results that are contradictory across sources?

Think about using both external and internal sources. External resources include things like Google Scholar, Medium, podcasts, research communities, Slack groups, YouTube, or market research reports. Internal resources to consider reviewing include user logs, past research reports, past research highlights, raw data from past studies, or past business or financial reports.

Step 3

Filter What you Read & Take Notes

When you skim a resource, think about putting them into one of three buckets: ignore completely, read quickly, and read completely. You can maximize your limited time and attention by reviewing only a handful of resources or documents closely.

Create a spreadsheet or document to keep track of the following:

  • Date completed
  • Source (name, hyperlink, description, etc.)
  • Study or data purpose
  • Study type (qual/quant/mixed)
  • Participants (sample size, demographics, sampling techniques, etc.)
  • Method(s) used
  • Findings (high-level findings and those relevant to your research)
  • Notes (a place to keep your thoughts about each source or finding in one place)

Step 4

Review and Make Sense of What You’ve Read

When reviewing, don't just summarize what you're reading but synthesize it. What does the data suggest? What patterns are ongoing? Where are the knowledge gaps? What do you know now? For more help, check out this great article from User Interviews.

(Optional) Step 5

Share What You’ve Learned

If you do want to share out your work, make it easy for stakeholders by only including 5-7 relevant insights you've learned. Make sure to include insights that come from several credible sources.

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