What to do when you’re stuck in your research

stuck in research

If you ever find yourself stuck in your research project, there’s no need to panic⎯we can make use of many different techniques to become unstuck. As they say, where there’s a problem, there’s always a solution; all you need to do is recognize what is holding you back and move forward as best you can.

Are you struggling to gather accurate data? Have you found any holes in your literature review that you can’t seem to fill? Sometimes, all that’s required is to look at the problem from a different angle. In this article, we will explore a few different tips and tricks that you can use to keep up the momentum and create a more fluid way of working. Let’s get started…

When it comes to solving a research problem, there is, and never was, a set manual of instructions available to us. So, we often ask ourselves, ‘What do I do now?’ Well, there is a wealth of resources available online, about anything! If someone has faced a similar problem to you, the chances are that someone already wrote an article, a how-to guide, or a post in an online forum.

However, with or without the internet, one thing we can do is construct a plan of action to break down the problem. For instance, ask yourself: What am I studying? What are the elements involved? Have I acquired any data, and if so, what techniques did I use to get it? Are there any variables involved? Is there anything interfering with your data or preventing you from training accurate results? Put all that down to paper, and then think about how you solved previous research problems. What methods did you take to solve them? Could they be used to obtain more accurate or meaningful results? Once you’ve thought about any other potential methods of gathering data, carry them out. Here, being systematic is paramount, and recording your progress step-by-step will help you to lay down the foundations of the Methodology/Data Collection sections of your paper.

There are also several other non-academic techniques we can utilize to generate new ways of thinking. One of those is meeting like-minded peers and reaching out to those studying in other search fields. Speaking to people outside our close circle can help us learn about other ways of gathering data that we might not be aware of.

Of course, other than talking to our colleagues, sometimes we just need to take a step back from our research and do something else. For instance, exercise not only helps us to relax, but it also boosts our cognitive abilities. In fact, my uncle, who holds two Master’s degrees, used to walk on a treadmill while typing up his research!

Don’t forget that reading also opens up new pathways and ways of thinking, especially when you trade the blue light of a computer screen for real paper pages. It can’t be stressed enough that reading books not only helps researchers increase their knowledge and open their minds, but anyone who’s feeling stuck in their ways can benefit from taking a step back and getting stuck into a book for a while. Whether or not you’re stuck in your research study, remember that both of these techniques will help us keep a positive mindset and remain in high spirits, which goes hand in hand with keeping our brains sharp and open to new ideas.

Alternatively, and placing the focus back onto research techniques, if you’re stuck with your research, remember that you’re not alone⎯there are tons of online experts out there to help you. Whether in forums, published articles in journals, or even on YouTube, there’s a near-limitless array of videos and articles specific to your topic of research written by like-minded students and professionals. You can also ask your peers, tutors, mentors, and colleagues to give you their insights and research techniques. Whatever your study environment, whether in the library or the lab, the key to unlocking your creativity could be right next to you!

If you’re feeling distracted, whether you’re compiling your research or writing down or interpreting results, don’t forget that feeling burned out is very normal, and often to be expected. There’s lots of things we can do to avoid burnout; for example, instead of sitting at the screen and potentially being distracted by social media or other websites, grab a pen and a pad and start writing down your ideas in that format. You could also use a speech-to-text app on your phone, which is another, often more direct way of expressing ideas and jotting them down on a piece of paper.

Other ways to boost productivity during the writing process include starting the day early, as it has been proven that our brains are most active and productive during the first couple of hours upon waking up. Listening to music can also help calm the nerves and get writers into a “flow state” to write with greater efficiency.

As most researchers, academicians, and students alike suggest, always write down your ideas as freely as you can, leaving the editing process until the very end! Don’t worry about making grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes as you develop research; rather, focus solely on getting your ideas on the page. Once we’ve got the intellectual content down, the editing can be done later. Also remember that writing a research paper, dissertation, or thesis from start to finish is not always the most logical way to go about it. Many researchers find that writing the introduction last is much easier, since our ideas, methods, and sources can all change midway through the research process.

Whichever the research project may be, as the old tale of the hare and the tortoise, “Slow and steady wins the race.” So, take your time, explore all the options available, and avoid procrastination. Like any adventure, a successful research project is not about the final destination, it’s about the journey; that is, how you got there, what meaningful experiences you had along the way, and what inspired you to do it!

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