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Research Methods

How to develop a successful research paper by Rostislav Miretskiy.

Research Methods

During your study at HSE or any university in general, the time comes when every student has to try on the role of the researcher and write a research piece. This may be bachelor thesis as well as basically any other research you may probably do at the university. Many students seem to postpone this kind of work until the very last moment and that is the first mistake they make. Moreover, when they do, they seem to rush into work without second thought. There is your second mistake. To be successful in that endeavour, you must have a plan for your research and HSE Illuminated got you covered! Here are eight points on what you must think about in preparation for your research in university.


A research topic is the specific subject matter of your research, located within the research problem. Basically, it’s the very think you are focussing your research on. Research problem includes background and rationale as well as your topic.

Research Problem

As a researcher you wish to engage with a particular part of a social reality - research problem. A research problem is an intellectual puzzle that the researcher wants to investigate. It can be theoretical, social, results of other findings and etc. Research problem constitutes the context of your specific research topic and goals.

Research Questions

Research questions are what make a research problem researchable and actually the real starting point of an overall research design in the broad sense, because the activities of the research are all geared towards answering them. You draw upon your research area from which you have developed a research problem statement, brainstorm on research questions and limit your research questions to around 3-4 main questions.

There is a distinction between three categories of research questions: what, why, and how. What questions seek to describe a phenomenon, both its properties and patterns. Why questions seek to understand or explain the causes or reasons for the properties or patterns of a specific phenomenon, and are often geared toward uncovering relations between these characteristics and the contexts in which they emerge. How questions ponder how one can change a situation. After brainstorming try to categorize your questions in one or more of these categories

Distinguish between main and minor research questions, where the latter specify aspects of the major ones for the research. Avoid ‘and’ since that entails you have 2 questions. Order them in the right sequence and check whether they all are indeed necessary to solve your research problem. Research questions determine the rest of your research design, starting with what format or design you plan to use.

Research Purposes

You should understand and be able to state your basic end goal. There are several purposes that fall under basic and applied research.

Basic research:

Explore: initial description or understanding

Describe: detailed description of properties and patterns

Explain: determine mechanisms

Understand: reasons, meanings and justifications

Predict: postulating outcomes according to the context and conditions (extensive explanation and/or understanding)

Applied research:

Change: intervene

Evaluate: monitoring

Assessing impacts: consequences

Theory and Concepts

No matter how great your topic is and how awesome are your problem, questions and overall purpose, you should come up with a lot of sources to backup and supply your research. Therefore, before going further with your work, you should gain as much theoretical information about your field of work as possible and map out conceptual framework: basically, you need to find out what was done before you and how it can aid you in your research.

Research Design and Research Methods

Research design is the set-up of your methods. The structure and timeframe of your research and the overall research plan. The two former are part of the latter. Research design is essentially about planning your research and anticipate various elements, so pre-planning is thus necessary.

Research seeks to answer research questions in a systematic way. Research design maps out how you will answer these research questions: what, why and how it will be studied. Research design is an integrated statement of, and justification for, the technical decisions involved in planning a research project. Research design is a plan of all (anticipated) decisions for conducting the research focussing on what you will do and how, and not to be mistaken for research proposal that is made to obtain approvals or funding, and lays greater emphasis on why the research is justified and should be supported, including expected outcomes.

Only, after you know what, where, who and how you will research, you can start devising the right tools, i.e. methods to answer your research questions.


Ethics are the moral principles that a person must follow, irrespective of the place or time. Behaving ethically involves doing the right thing at the right time. Research ethics focus on the moral principles that researchers must follow in their respective fields of research. Following ethical principles is indeed crucial for maintaining research integrity. Difference ethical guidelines are used around the world, but overall the following lists represents generalized set of principles you should abide by during your research:

With regard to research participants:

  • Participation should be voluntary
  • There must be an informed documented consent
  • Participants should have freedom to withdraw at any moment
  • Participants have right to privacy
  • Participant should be protected from any harm and risk
  • You should avoid any deception or covert research in work with participant

With regard to research itself:

  • Good quality
  • Competence and integrity of researcher
  • High methodological standards
  • Avoidance of conflicts of interest
  • Ethics of publication
  • Adhere to the requirements of the academic community

Time Planning and Anticipated Problems

Do plan your research in time. Allocate sufficient time to do literature review, establish contacts and network, developing methodological instruments, collect data, do analysis and write up. Try to anticipate any future problems (for example, if your topic is something that interferes with your personal interests, there might be bias in research) and what you can do to avoid them.

Good luck with your research!

Text by
Rostislav Miretskiy