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Writing Strong Research Questions | Criteria & Examples

Published on October 26, 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on January 30, 2023.

A research question pinpoints exactly what you want to find out in your work. A good research question is essential to guide your research paper , dissertation , or thesis .

All research questions should be:

Writing Strong Research Questions

Table of contents

How to write a research question, what makes a strong research question, using sub-questions to strengthen your main research question, research questions quiz, frequently asked questions about research questions.

You can follow these steps to develop a strong research question:

The way you frame your question depends on what your research aims to achieve. The table below shows some examples of how you might formulate questions for different purposes.

Using your research problem to develop your research question

Note that while most research questions can be answered with various types of research , the way you frame your question should help determine your choices.

Research questions anchor your whole project, so it’s important to spend some time refining them. The criteria below can help you evaluate the strength of your research question.

Focused and researchable

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Chances are that your main research question likely can’t be answered all at once. That’s why sub-questions are important: they allow you to answer your main question in a step-by-step manner.

Good sub-questions should be:

Here are a few examples of descriptive and framing questions:

Keep in mind that sub-questions are by no means mandatory. They should only be asked if you need the findings to answer your main question. If your main question is simple enough to stand on its own, it’s okay to skip the sub-question part. As a rule of thumb, the more complex your subject, the more sub-questions you’ll need.

Try to limit yourself to 4 or 5 sub-questions, maximum. If you feel you need more than this, it may be indication that your main research question is not sufficiently specific. In this case, it’s is better to revisit your problem statement and try to tighten your main question up.

The way you present your research problem in your introduction varies depending on the nature of your research paper . A research paper that presents a sustained argument will usually encapsulate this argument in a thesis statement .

A research paper designed to present the results of empirical research tends to present a research question that it seeks to answer. It may also include a hypothesis —a prediction that will be confirmed or disproved by your research.

As you cannot possibly read every source related to your topic, it’s important to evaluate sources to assess their relevance. Use preliminary evaluation to determine whether a source is worth examining in more depth.

This involves:

A research hypothesis is your proposed answer to your research question. The research hypothesis usually includes an explanation (“ x affects y because …”).

A statistical hypothesis, on the other hand, is a mathematical statement about a population parameter. Statistical hypotheses always come in pairs: the null and alternative hypotheses . In a well-designed study , the statistical hypotheses correspond logically to the research hypothesis.

Writing Strong Research Questions

Formulating a main research question can be a difficult task. Overall, your question should contribute to solving the problem that you have defined in your problem statement .

However, it should also fulfill criteria in three main areas:

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Information on how to plan and manage your dissertation project.

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What is research?

A dissertation project is an opportunity to pursue your own ideas in an environment of relative intellectual freedom.

It also present a number of new challenges relating to the scale, scope and structure of a piece of work that is likely to be more substantial than any you have undertaken before.

These resources will help you to break the process down and explore ways to plan and structure your research and organise your written work.

A research-led university

Sheffield prides itself on being a  research-led university . Crucially, this means that teaching is informed by cutting-edge research in the academic field.

It also means that you are learning in an environment where you develop and use research skills as you progress. The most successful students tend to develop research skills early and use them consistently.

Research in higher education

Research sometimes just means finding out information about a topic. However, in the HE setting, specific understandings of 'research' carry a lot of weight.

The classic definition is that research leads to an original ' contribution to knowledge ' in a particular field of inquiry by defining an important question or problem and then answering or solving it in a systematic way.

You will build this contribution on the foundation of a robust structure of primary and secondary sources and evidence.

Differences across disciplines

Depending on the discipline you work in, there will be different ways of designing and articulating a research problem and different methods for answering these problems.

Not everything about research is 'original'. Sometimes the majority (or even all) of a research project will involve documenting or summarising information or ideas that are already available.

Not all research leads to answers. Sometimes research produces unusable results, or the inquiry leads to only more questions. Sometimes the originality of a research project is that it straddles more than one field of inquiry.

Some examples of approaches to research and what that contribution to knowledge might look like include:

This all adds up to the fact that research is a complicated topic that seems to mean a lot to academic experts but is very difficult to understand intimately when you are a novice.

As someone new to research, you will need to do some work to find out how research is conceived of and done in your discipline.

301 Recommends: the Illustrated Guide to a PhD

Explore this visualisation of research to identify how you can develop your research ideas.  

Research proposals

A research proposal often needs to encompass many things: it is part description, part analysis, part review, part guesswork, part advert, part CV.

Writing a research proposal that can achieve all these things is an important first step towards realising your project idea. Your research proposal will allow you to receive some early feedback on your ideas and will act as a guide as you plan and develop your project more fully.

But how can you explain what you hope to discover in the project before you’ve done the research?

There are a number of things that you can do to make sure that your research proposal is professional, realistic and relevant:

301 Recommends: Research Project Design Template

Make a copy of this Research project design template (google doc) to capture the key information you need to complete your research proposal.

Research ethics

Whenever you undertake research, no matter what level you are working at, it is always important to consider the immediate and continued impact of your project.

All research should be designed to ensure that individuals involved in the project as subjects or participants are treated with respect and consideration. In practice, this means that:

It is perhaps easy to think that working directly with living participants raises the most pressing ethical questions.

However, you equally need to give very important consideration to the ethics of working in text-based subjects, especially when considering unpublished material (see also copyright).

Your department will have its own guidelines on the area of research ethics and you should certainly consult your tutor or supervisor as s/he will be able to give you detailed topic-specific guidance. More more guidance on ethics in research, visit Research Services Ethics and Integrity pages here . 

Project management

The key to completing a research project successfully is to invest time in planning and organising your project.

A student research project, whether a dissertation or a research placement, will usually involve tight timescales and deadlines. Given the wealth of tasks involved in a typical dissertation project, this can seriously limit the time available for actual data collection or research. 

Setting yourself clear and achievable aims and objectives will help to ensure that the project is manageable within the timeframe available.

As an early stage of the planning process, have a go at breaking your project down into its constituent parts: i.e. all of the tasks that you will need to complete between now and the deadline. How long will each of them take? For example:

Every project will have its own specific tasks, but breaking them down in this way will allow you to start planning ahead, adding milestones to your calendar and chipping away at the project task by task. 

301 Recommends: Trello

Trello is an online planning tool that allows you to create a project workflow. It is a simple and accessible tool that allows you to set yourself deadlines, colour code tasks and share your project plan with collaborators. View our example Dissertation Planning Trello board here and some guidance for students on using Trello (Linked In Learning) .

Working with your supervisor

Your supervisor will be your first point of contact for advice on your project and to help you to resolve issues arising. 

Remember, your supervisor will have a busy schedule and may be supervising several students at once. Although they will do their best to support you, they may not be able to get back to you right away and may be limited in their availability to meet you. 

There are a number of things that you can do to make the most out of the relationship. Some strategies to consider include:

301 recommends: Supervisor and supervisee relationships interactive digital workshop

This interactive resource will help you to develop a positive and productive working relationship with your supervisor. 

Top Tips and resources

Internal resources

External resources

Related information

Scientific writing and lab reports


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The Most Important Research Skills (With Examples)

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Why Are Research Skills Important?

10 of the most important research skills, other helpful research skills, how to include research skills on your resume, resume examples showcasing research skills, highlighting your research skills in a job interview, how to improve your research skills, research skills faqs.

Summary. Research skills are skills that help you target a goal, gather the appropriate information, and relay it to other people. Research skills are important because they allow you to develop new processes and products and it allows for self-improvement. Some important research skills include goal-setting, data collection, and report writing. Virtually every industry and occupation uses research to inform strategies and decisions, so having strong research skills will make you a more desirable candidate for many jobs. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the most important research skills you can have, how to highlight them when applying for jobs, and how to improve the ones you may be lacking in. Key Takeaways Having strong research skills can help you understand your competitors, develop new processes, and build your professional skills in addition to aiding you in finding new customers and saving your company money. Some of the most valuable research skills you can have include goal setting, data collection, and analyzing information from multiple sources. You can and should put your research skills on your resume and highlight them in your job interviews. What Are Research Skills?

Research skills are skills that help you target a goal, compile appropriate information, and relay these findings to other people. We’re taught to develop research abilities from early education, and that’s for good reason.

In academia, teachers requested answers to a series of topic-related questions in an essay. Similarly, your boss could eventually ask you to look further into a work-related subject or figure out how to solve a problem .

Hiring managers know that strong research is an invaluable tool for advancement, and are often very responsive to resumes that display these qualities well.

Research skills are valuable for several reasons, regardless of your profession:

Competitor research. Knowing what your biggest competitors are up to is an essential part of any business. Researching what works for your competitors, what they’re doing better than you, and where you can improve your standing with the lowest resource expenditure are all essential if a company wants to remain functional.

Develop new processes and products. You don’t have to be involved in research and development to make improvements in how your team gets things done. Researching new processes that make your job (and those of your team) more efficient will be valued by any sensible employer.

Self-improvement. Folks who have a knack and passion for research are never content with doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Organizations need independent thinkers who will seek out their own answers and improve their skills as a matter of course. These employees will also pick up new technologies more easily.

Customer relationship management. Being able to conduct research on your customer base is positively vital in virtually every industry. It’s hard to move products or sell services if you don’t know what people are interested in. Researching your customer base’s interests, needs, and pain points is a valuable responsibility.

Saves money. Whether your company is launching a new product or just looking for ways to scale back their current spending, research is crucial for finding wasted resources and redirecting them to more deserving ends. Anyone who proactively researches ways that the company can save money will be highly appreciated by their employer.

Experienced researchers know that worthwhile investigation involves a variety of skills. Consider which research skills come naturally to you, and which you could work on more.

Goal-setting. Before you can carry out any type of effective research, you must know what it is you’re looking for. Goal-setting isa skill like any other. If you’re able to visualize the outcome you’re trying to achieve by putting effort into research, it’ll make it that much easier to form a path there.

Goal-setting skills Involve: Specificity Time-Management Vision Realistic Planning ahead Organization

Data collection . When thinking about the research process, data collection is often the first thing that comes to mind. It is the nuts and bolts of research. How data is collected can be flexible.

For some purposes, simply gathering facts and information on the internet can fulfill your need. Others may require more direct and crowd-sourced research. Having experience in various methods of data collection can make your resume more impressive to recruiters.

Data collection methods include: Observation Interviews Questionnaires Experimentation Conducting focus groups

Analysis of information from different sources. Putting all your eggs in one source basket usually results in error and disappointment. One of the skills that good researchers always incorporate into their process is an abundance of sources. It’s also best practice to consider the reliability of these sources.

Are you reading about U.S. history on a conspiracy theorist’s blog post? Taking facts for a presentation from an anonymous Twitter account?

If you can’t determine the validity of the sources you’re using, it can compromise all of your research. That doesn’t mean just disregard anything on the internet but double-check your findings. In fact, quadruple-check. You can make your research even stronger by turning to references outside of the internet.

Examples of reliable information sources include: Published books Encyclopedias Magazines Databases Scholarly journals Newspapers Library catalogs

Finding information on the internet. While it can be beneficial to consulate alternative sources, strong internet research skills drive modern-day research.

One of the great things about the internet is how much information it contains, however, this comes with drugging through a lot of garbage to get to the facts you need. The ability to efficiently use the vast database of knowledge that is the internet without getting lost in the junk is very valuable to employers.

Internet research skills include: Source checking Searching relevant questions Exploring deeper than the first options Avoiding distraction Giving credit Organizing findings

Interviewing. Some research endeavors may require a more hands-on approach than just consulting internet sources. Being prepared with strong interviewing skills can be very helpful in the research process.

Interviews can be a useful research tactic to gain first-hand information and being able to manage a successful interview can greatly improve your research skills.

Interviewing skills involves: A plan of action Specific, pointed questions Respectfulness Considering the interview setting Actively Listening Taking notes Gratitude for participation

Report writing. Possessing skills in report writing can assist you in job and scholarly research. The overall purpose of a report in any context is to convey particular information to its audience.

Effective report writing is largely dependent on communication. Your boss, professor , or general reader should walk away completely understanding your findings and conclusions.

Report writing skills involve: Proper format Including a summary Focusing on your initial goal Creating an outline Proofreading Directness

Critical thinking. Critical thinking skills can aid you greatly throughout the research process, and as an employee in general. Critical thinking refers to your data analysis skills. When you’re in the throes of research, you need to be able to analyze your results and make logical decisions about your findings.

Critical thinking skills involve: Observation Analysis Assessing issues Problem-solving Creativity Communication

Planning and scheduling. Research is a work project like any other, and that means it requires a little forethought before starting. Creating a detailed outline map for the points you want to touch on in your research produces more organized results.

It also makes it much easier to manage your time. Planning and scheduling skills are important to employers because they indicate a prepared employee.

Planning and scheduling skills include: Setting objectives Identifying tasks Prioritizing Delegating if needed Vision Communication Clarity Time-management

Note-taking. Research involves sifting through and taking in lots of information. Taking exhaustive notes ensures that you will not neglect any findings later and allows you to communicate these results to your co-workers. Being able to take good notes helps summarize research.

Examples of note-taking skills include: Focus Organization Using short-hand Keeping your objective in mind Neatness Highlighting important points Reviewing notes afterward

Time management. We’re, unfortunately, only given 24 measly hours in a day. The ability to effectively manage this time is extremely powerful in a professional context. Hiring managers seek candidates who can accomplish goals in a given timeframe.

Strong time management skills mean that you can organize a plan for how to break down larger tasks in a project and complete them by a deadline. Developing your time management skills can greatly improve the productivity of your research.

Time management skills include: Scheduling Creating task outlines Strategic thinking Stress-management Delegation Communication Utilizing resources Setting realistic expectations Meeting deadlines

The definition of research skills is broad, and there are many traits that could help you in the research process. Consider some of the additional research skills below.

Attention to detail. You have to notice the little things when you’re researching, whether that’s a discrepency between two sources you need to resolve or hints about a source’s trustworthineess.

Reading and writing skills. Your research skills won’t matter if you can’t absorb and communicate what you’ve found in an effective way.

Patience. Researching can be tedious and even downright frustrating at times. Having the patience to keep searching and studying will pay off throughout your career.

Considering keywords. Since so much of modern research is performed with online search engines and databases, it’s vital that you know how to use keywords to your advantage when you’re trying to find information.

Networking. As with any career, building professional connections can help you greatly in your research. These connections can help you find new techniques and sources, and vice versa.

Competitor comparison. Knowing how to identify an organization’s competitors and analyze their strategies is a skill that will make you hireable for many positions.

Multitasking. It’s rare that you’ll ever be able to devote 100% of your time and energy to one research project, so you need to know how to handle having multiple irons in the fire and be able to switch from one to another and back quickly.

Summarization. Your boss doesn’t want to know all of the ins and outs of your research. They want the cliff notes, so you need to be able to give them the most important information from your research as concisely as possible.

Presentation. More than likely, you’re going to need to present your research at some point in your career. Honing these skills will help you make sure you’re prepared to present whenever needed with minimal stress.

Research projects require dedication. Being committed is a valuable skill for hiring managers. Whether you’ve had research experience throughout education or a former job, including it properly can boost the success of your resume .

Consider how extensive your research background is. If you’ve worked on multiple, in-depth research projects, it might be best to include it as its own section. If you have less research experience, include it in the skills section .

Focus on your specific role in the research, as opposed to just the research itself. Try to quantify accomplishments to the best of your abilities.

For example, let’s pretend you work at a t-shirt company. Your team is doing research into your competition, and your responsibility is tracking the sales of women’s clothing. You can later include this project on your resume as:

Directed analysis into women’s clothing sale statistics for a market research project

Remember, your resume is about you. Every skill and experience you include should be about showing an employer what makes you an ideal hire.

Example #1: Academic Research

Simon Marks 767 Brighton Blvd. | Brooklyn, NY, 27368 | (683)-262-8883 | [email protected] Diligent and hardworking recent graduate seeking a position to develop professional experience and utilize research skills. B.A. in Biological Sciences from New York University. PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE Lixus Publishing , Brooklyn, NY Office Assistant- September 2018-present Scheduling and updating meetings Managing emails and phone calls Reading entries Worked on a science fiction campaign by researching target demographic Organizing calendars Promoted to office assistant after one year internship Mitch’s Burgers and Fries , Brooklyn, NY Restaurant Manager , June 2014-June 2018 Managed a team of five employees Responsible for coordinating the weekly schedule Hired and trained two employees Kept track of inventory Dealt with vendors Provided customer service Promoted to restaurant manager after two years as a waiter Awarded a $2.00/hr wage increase SKILLS Writing Scientific Research Data analysis Critical thinking Planning Communication RESEARCH Worked on an ecosystem biology project with responsibilities for algae collection and research (2019) Lead a group of freshman in a research project looking into cell biology (2018) EDUCATION New York University Bachelors in Biological Sciences, September 2016-May 2020

Example #2: Professional Research

Angela Nichols 1111 Keller Dr. | San Francisco, CA | (663)-124-8827 |[email protected] Experienced and enthusiastic marketer with 7 years of professional experience. Seeking a position to apply my marketing and research knowledge. Skills in working on a team and flexibility. EXPERIENCE Apples amp; Oranges Marketing, San Francisco, CA Associate Marketer – April 2017-May 2020 Discuss marketing goals with clients Provide customer service Lead campaigns associated with women’s health Coordinating with a marketing team Quickly solving issues in service and managing conflict Awarded with two raises totaling $10,000 over three years Prestigious Marketing Company, San Francisco, CA Marketer – May 2014-April 2017 Working directly with clients Conducting market research into television streaming preferences Developing marketing campaigns related to television streaming services Report writing Analyzing campaign success statistics Promoted to Marketer from Junior Marketer after the first year Timberlake Public Relations, San Francisco, CA Public Relations Intern – September 2013–May 2014 Working cohesively with a large group of co-workers and supervisors Note-taking during meetings Running errands Managing email accounts Assisting in brainstorming Meeting work deadlines EDUCATION Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA Bachelor of Arts in Marketing with a minor in Communications – September 2009 – May 2013 SKILLS Marketing Market research Record-keeping Teamwork Presentation Flexibility

A job interview is itself a test of your research skills. You can expect questions on what you know about the company, the role, and your field or industry more generally. In order to give expert answers on all these topics, research is crucial.

Start by researching the company . Look into how they communicate with the public through social media, what their mission statement is, and how they describe their culture.

Pay close attention to the tone of their website. Is it hyper professional or more casual and fun-loving? All of these elements will help decide how best to sell yourself at the interview.

Next, research the role. Go beyond the job description and reach out to current employees working at your desired company and in your potential department. If you can find out what specific problems that your future team is or will be facing, you’re sure to impress hiring managers and recruiters with your ability to research all the facts.

Finally, take time to research the job responsibilities you’re not as comfortable with. If you’re applying for a job that represents increased difficulty or entirely new tasks, it helps to come into the interview with at least a basic knowledge of what you’ll need to learn.

All in all, coming into a job interview with thorough research under your belt will help paint yourself as the ideal candidate.

The great thing about research skills is that many of us are practicing them each and every day. Any time you use a search engine to discover information on a topic, you’re researching. That being said, there are more proactive ways to start enhancing your research skills today:

Differentiate between source quality. A researcher is only as good as their worst source. Start paying attention to the quality of the sources you use, and be suspicious of everything your read until you check out the attributions and works cited.

Be critical and ask yourself about the author’s bias, where the author’s research aligns with the larger body of verified research in the field, and what publication sponsored or published the research.

Use multiple resources. When you can verify information from a multitude of sources, it becomes more and more credible. To bolster your faith in one source, see if you can find another source that agrees with it.

Don’t fall victim to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias happens when a researcher expects a certain outcome and then goes to find data that supports this hypothesis, while disregarding any sources that challenge or refute the researcher’s initial hunch.

Stay organized. Being able to cite sources accurately and present all your findings is just as important as conducting the research itself. Start practicing good organizational skills , both on your devices and for any physical products you’re using.

Get specific as you go. There’s nothing wrong with starting your research in a general way. After all, it’s important to become familiar with the terminology and basic gist of the researcher’s findings before you dig down into all the minutia.

What research skills are important?

Goal-setting and data collection are important research skills. Additional important research skills include:

Using different sources to analyze information.

Finding information on the internet.

Interviewing sources.

Writing reports.

Critical thinking.

Planning and scheduling.


Managing time.

How do you develop good research skills?

You develop good research skills by learning how to find information from multiple high-quality sources, by being wary of confirmation bias, and by starting broad and getting more specific as you go.

When you learn how to tell a reliable source from an unreliable one and get in the habit of finding multiple sources that back up a claim, you’ll have better quality research.

In addition, when you learn how to keep an open mind about what you’ll find, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of confirmation bias, and by staying organized and narrowing your focus as you go (rather than before you start), you’ll be able to gather quality information more efficiently.

What is the importance of research?

The importance of research is that it informs most decisions and strategies in a business. Whether it’s deciding which products to offer or creating a marketing strategy, research should be used in every part of a company.

Because of this, employers want employees who have strong research skills. They know that you’ll be able to put them to work bettering yourself and the organization as a whole.

University of the People – The Best Research Skills for Success

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Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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Audit Your Dissertation Research Skills

Writing a dissertation for dummies.

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Before you make any decisions about the content of your dissertation, take a good look at your own strengths and weaknesses in the “art” of research. UK research councils have produced guidelines for postgraduate students to help them audit their research skills.

The following checklist adapts some of the research councils’ ideas and adds others to make the guidelines relevant to undergraduate students doing dissertations. The exercise is useful for helping you choose a suitable research method and talking your method through with your supervisor.

Think about each question and rate yourself from 1 (little knowledge and experience) to 5 (plenty of knowledge and experience) for each point. After finishing this exercise you’re likely to have pinpointed the areas in which you feel confident and areas that need improving.

Research skills and techniques:

I can recognise problems in my field

I can demonstrate original, independent and critical thinking

I have the ability to develop theoretical ideas

I understand relevant research methodologies

I’m able to critically analyse and evaluate research findings

I can summarise, document and report my findings

I can reflect constructively on my progress

Background to research field:

I’ve a reasonable grasp of the national and international context in my field

I have some knowledge of recent ideas within my field

I’ve thought about how people may be affected by my work

I’ve considered ethical and health and safety concerns from my research project

Managing research:

I’m good at setting myself short-term and long-term goals

I can prioritise activities effectively

I’m good at planning ahead

I know where to find appropriate bibliographical sources and archives (in hard copy and electronic format)

I’m confident at using IT to manage my work

Personal effectiveness:

I’m keen to learn new techniques

I’m willing to acquire new knowledge

I’m good at finding creative solutions to problems

I’m flexible and open-minded

I have self-awareness

I’m well disciplined

I’m well motivated

I know when to ask for help

I’m an independent worker

Communication skills:

My writing is clear and informative

I can write for a target audience

I can construct coherent arguments

About This Article

This article is from the book:.

About the book author:

Dr Carrie Winstanley is a Principal Lecturer in Education at Roehampton University, London, where she works with both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Carrie was recently named one of the Top 50 university teachers in the UK by the Higher Education Academy, for which she was awarded a national teaching fellowship.

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  1. What makes a thesis EXCELLENT?

  2. How To Choose a DISSERTATION TOPIC in less than 4 minutes

  3. The Dissertation Journey

  4. How to Do Good Academic Writing?


  6. How to start research paper/thesis?


  1. How to Write a Research Paper

    Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate. This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

  2. Writing Strong Research Questions

    All research questions should be: Focused on a single problem or issue. Researchable using primary and/or secondary sources. Feasible to answer within the timeframe and practical constraints. Specific enough to answer thoroughly. Complex enough to develop the answer over the space of a paper or thesis.

  3. The Most Important Research Skills (With Examples)

    10 of the Most Important Research Skills. Goal-setting. Before you can carry out any type of effective research, you must know what it is you’re looking for. Goal-setting isa skill like any ... Specificity. Time-Management. Vision. Realistic. Planning ahead. Organization.

  4. Audit Your Dissertation Research Skills

    Writing a Dissertation For Dummies. Before you make any decisions about the content of your dissertation, take a good look at your own strengths and weaknesses in the “art” of research. UK research councils have produced guidelines for postgraduate students to help them audit their research skills. The following checklist adapts some of the ...