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How to begin with the research?

Maham Maham, a Facebook user, the other day, asked a simple question on the group-‘Research Paper Request’, “I want to know- how to begin with a research work.?. I do not have any topic and I really need to do research work. I will be very pleased if someone please guide me”. She is the student of Electronics but wants to pursue her research in computer vision or image processing in biomedics. Having no professional experience in the field, with no background knowledge of the research realm, she has no supervisor at the moment to help in her research pursuits.

To me, this is incisively, more or less, the same question, I asked from my mentor, a couple of years back.

I wanted to write a research paper but was having no idea at the back of my mind what to do and how to start with. The query of Maham refreshed my memories and reminded me of the ordeal I passed through to learn the basics before embarking upon my first research assignment.

In this blog post, based on my personal experiences, feedback from 145 members of the Facebook group-‘Research Paper Request’ and input from three experts in the field,  some useful insight has been provided to the novice researchers who are about to start with their research work so that they must keep theses important points in mind.

My personal experience

To address my query (mentioned above), my mentor, a prolific researcher and a faculty at one of the esteemed universities in the country advised, “First ask yourself why are you doing research, in the first place”…. “Then identify your area of interest, read extensively, a least twenty odd research articles on the topic of your interest that you are keen to pursue the research work and then we will discuss”, he maintained.

At that very moment, I did not realize what did he mean. But with the passage of time, the essence of his advice was divulged upon me. The first thing, first. I was doing research out of my passion and hence, I had no confusion on that account. I went through around twenty odd research articles published in the top-notch research journals in the first go.

Interestingly, the more I read, the more interest I developed in the chosen area of my research. I continued with exploring the area further. Meanwhile, I surfed through scores of internet pages, blogs, students assignments, discussion papers and newspapers articles on the subject area and by the time I finished with the draft of the first of my research paper for a national conference, I was immersed so deeply in the field of study that I started thinking in terms of writing a comprehensive book on the topic.

This is how I started working on my first research assignment.

Input from the group members

During the course of two days discussion on the said Facebook group some useful feedback was provided by the group members. For instance, one of the group members, Daud Ali advised, “to first study some articles, identify one key question and then try to find the answer to it”.  Naqash Ahmad Khan Tareen, another group member suggested, “reading at least ten to twenty research papers (exactly the same answer, I received from my mentor) will help refining the topic of interest”. Tayyab Aliyan Roy proposed, “to download any thesis on a catchy topic and follow the future direction in the same for further investigation”. Saeed Ullah suggested, “to select a field of interest first, then a broader area, then a particular topic that appeals, then do the literature review to find the gaps in the available literature, try to fill the gap and that is it”. Wasi Ullah suggested, “studying research papers first which will help in finding gaps for further inquiry”.

Read More: Challenges in writing a PhD Research Proposal

Muhammad Zahir, another group member, was of the view that topic does not matter much here. He argued that the research question, in a well-defined research area, is the most important thing that will guide toward a good kind of title and topic. Jaganmoy Choudhury suggested, “to read a lot… It will help to find some questions which will be intriguing to dig further deeper into the area”. Hassan Aziz Arain advised, “writing  review papers to begin with”, whereas, Sumair Aziz suggested, “to first study review papers for intance on a particular topic such as biomedical imaging via Google Scholar…. Then select a topic of interest…. Afterward, start reading that specific topic and proceed with the research work accordingly”.

These suggestions, more or less being the same thing in its true sense, were found to so much useful and pragmatic that any one of these will be a source of enormous help for the young researchers.

Input from the experts

Haider Darain, a Ph.D. from Queen Margaret University Edinburgh an eminent researcher and Professor in Khyber Medical University, Peshawar suggested that the most important thing in carrying out any research assignment is one’s own personal interest in the area where research is intended to be carried out. That really pulls the whole research venture. Once you have something in your mind then it would be easy to design any research. Often we are doing research for the sake of research only; not of our shared interest, just for completing degree requirement or for promotion etc. At the end of the day, what happens to such a research work?. You just get your work published and that’s it, you stop taking that research any further. If you are doing research in the area of your personal interest then your first research task will guide you to conduct similar more research assignments in that area and this is how the things move on. Another important thing, before starting a research work, is to ask yourself why are you doing this research? This will help you in raising many queries in your mind about your research area and probably help you in finding answers to the queries, you are addressing in your proposed research work.

Read More: How to write an effective research proposal?

Abdul Ghaffar, a Ph.D. in education, a renowned researcher and Associate  Professor at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan was of the opinion that any piece of quality writing needs extensive reading. For this, one needs to read, analyze and critically evaluate the ideas of good researchers/writers. Brainstorming is very crucial in this regard as you filter down the ideas of others in order to reach to a conclusion with your own area of interest. Novelty, interest, specificity and feasibility are the hallmarks to begin with your research area. Remember, the best source for your research topic is your surroundings. You just look around and ponder about your environment; you will find hundreds and thousands of problems to be researched. Once you find out a problem for your research, study relevant literature on the topic, think over your own contribution to the body of knowledge that what you will do to add to the existing field of knowledge, discuss the problem with the field experts and most importantly analyze the topic of your study whether it is researchable or not?

Read More: What should be included in the Research Proposal?

To begin with, Muhammad Dildar, a Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool, UK, Associate Professor in Khyber Medical University, Peshawar and a prolific researcher advised that for any research work, one must have a deep understanding of the research methodology or underpinning theories and theoretical or conceptual framework/background. It means, having basic knowledge about the problem, purpose, hypothesis, research question, theoretical or conceptual framework, designs, sampling, data collection and analysis techniques. As far as, the research question or research topic is concerned, it is not a big issue in the beginning. However, one must have a particular interest area or research interest. It needs to be potentially broad enough. There will be several potential research questions in the interest area and these questions can be generated in many ways. Some of these include:

  • Literature review for identifying knowledge gap in the area
  • Consultation with experts/supervisor/mentor
  • Peer/colleagues discussion
  • Practice area/job area issues problems through reflection
  • Reading journals/ publications etc

Recommendations

Based on my personal experience, input from the members of the ‘Research Groups” and opinion of the field experts, I made a number of recommendations in my blog post, The 10 important lessons novice researchers must learn before initiating their research work . The students shall find these suggestions very useful while embarking upon their research journey.

In the next blog post, how to select a fascinating research topic? necessary guidance has been provided for the novice research scholars to help them in selecting an interesting research topic.

About Dr Syed Hafeez Ahmad

Having a doctoral degree in human resource management, Dr. Syed Hafeez Ahmad is currently working as Additional Controller of Examinations, Khyber Medical University, Peshawar. He previously served the same university as Additional Registrar. These are mid-career level positions in the university's administration. Besides, he is working in the capacity of a team leader and founder of the Career Development & Research Centre, a startup launched in the Business Incubation Center of Khyber Medical University. He is having more than 18 years of professional experience in academic management with special interest in public sector higher education reforms, sustainability, academic leadership and universities' governance. He is a research blogger, Amazon associate and a YouTuber.

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