Outline Current Ideas
Getting started is often the hardest part of any project. This is why writing out the ideas currently on your mind is a good first step for building momentum and giving direction. You can map out your current ideas, see where they link and note any aims you have for the project. This might be topic specific, such as what you would like to learn about the subject area or these could be personal. For example, what skills do you hope to gain? You might be interested in learning how to write a literature review, or present findings in a concise way. This can highlight areas to focus on when planning your project.
Commit to a Research Space
Research projects are ongoing over a long period of time and require multiple resources that need to be tracked. In preparation, it’s a good idea to decide on a system for storing all this information and keeping track of ideas that might be relevant months after you thought of them. You could use a research notebook where you write reading notes, meeting notes, questions and so on. Alternatively, you can take your reading notes to the next level using tools such as genei, which allows you to create linked notes between various documents. Or note-taking apps such as Craft and Notion that also allow for back-linking and connecting ideas.
Project Planning and Deadlines
Now, tackling a research project across several months or even years can be overwhelming. You can overcome this by project planning, breaking down the project into sub-tasks and setting deadlines. You can use your research guide and any external deadlines, set by your employer or university, as a starting point. If these provide minimal structure, you can start using internal deadlines based on your commits and goals. e.g., commit to finishing your literature review by October or write 5000 words by May. Keep them short and focused so you’re able to build a tangible to-do list. You can use project planning tools such as gantt charts, which can be implemented in Excel or Notion, and set frequent reminders for internal or external deadlines.
Examine Your Skillset
Prior to starting a research project, it’s worth looking at the skills and tools you have to complete the project to a good standard. For example, how much do you know about the research methodology or statistical analysis you intend to use? You’ll also need to consider these things when submitting proposals so it’s good to brush up early. Do you feel confident conducting literature reviews? Writing up results? Even if you’re not ready to learn these things, you can Google and store guides in your chosen research space. Likewise, do you have access to the tools you will need and the knowledge to use them effectively? You might need to refamiliarise yourself with particular software or processes.
Finally, keep an open mind and be ready for change. Research projects are complex and things you never anticipated may come to light - that’s okay! This initial preparation means you’re ready for things that might change. Allow for flexibility in your project planning and research workflow. Don’t be afraid to adjust things as you go along.