7 common research mistakes,
and how to avoid them

‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe’ – Abraham Lincoln.

By Angela Bradbury   on 26th January 2017


Research is an essential process in every walk of life. ‘Academic’, ‘financial’, ‘market’ and ‘small business’ are just a few terms that one could prepend to the word. Whilst each flavour has its own unique subtleties and nuances, there are a set of common pitfalls that beset many a researcher across every field. Here we take a look at seven of the worst and how you can avoid them.

1. A failure to get clarity on the ‘problem statement’

The problem statement should be a clear, concise description of the problem or task that you are faced with. If it is not completely understood then you are facing an uphill battle. Do not be afraid to ask the simple questions at this early phase of the research process; you will be far more respected than if you leave them until it’s too late. Moreover, asking the right type of questions is also very important.

2. Using the wrong tools for the job

Your research should be gleaned from a number of sources wherever possible, but note that quality is preferable to quantity in almost every situation. This means not only selecting appropriate sources for the research you are carrying out, but also cross referencing them to check the facts that they report.

Will you be conducting your own research in the field? Will your research involve crunching numbers from a database? Will you need to speak with an expert in that field? The question you are asking should determine how you go about answering it; be sure to pick an appropriate set of tools to do so.

3. A failure to prepare for each resource

Before you conduct any piece of research, spend some time planning how you are going to get the most out of the subject.

Choose an appropriate sampling technique to ensure you get a set of results that is representative of your dataset; there’s a great refresher course from Penn State University if you are a little rusty. If you are conducting interviews, draw up a guide to ensure you ask intelligent, targeted questions.

4. Poorly documented research results

Arguably the most damaging pitfall of all research mistakes, a failure to properly document your results could quite easily spell disaster for your project. These are the facts, figures and diagrams that add weight to your conclusions and form the entire backbone of your research.

It can be difficult to construct clear, easy to read notes whilst you conduct your research, but it’s imperative that you write clearly enough to be able to understand your own work in the short term.

After every piece of research it is important to go over and write up your notes in a structured manner for your own benefit and the benefit of anyone likely to be examining your work at a later date. Find a method that makes sense for you but also seek feedback from your peers, manager or mentors.

5. Ineffectively structured conclusions

‘Conclusions’ doesn’t necessarily mean the final paragraph at the end of your report. Rather, it is the narrative that supports your research, engages your readers and ultimately influences their decision making – whether that decision is where to invest their capital or the outcome of your performance review.

Your writing should be concise, backed up with your results wherever possible but also interesting enough to keep the reader’s attention. If the report is lengthy, a clearly defined structure is essential, as is one that allows your audience to read only the bits of most interest to them.

6. No follow up on results

It is likely that upon completing your research you find there are gaps in your data, weak links or inconsistencies in your results. If not, ask a colleague or external advisor in the subject area to see if they can find any; someone else will often conjure up questions and angles you wouldn’t have necessarily thought of. Talking to an expert can challenge or validate your hypothesis, and fill in remaining gaps in your knowledge to further your research.

Following up on these parts of your research will add weight to your work and show your audience that you have thought in depth about your subject area.

7. A poorly planned research timeline

Finally, draw up a timeline for your project with all of the aforementioned milestones to ensure you don’t run out of time or miss essential pieces of research. Plan to use numerous research resources and give yourself 10-15% leeway to account for unforeseen circumstances throughout the duration of your work.


Are there any that you think we’ve missed? Let us know by tweeting us on @ChimeAdvisors