Battling the clock: How to conduct research with little time


In a busy world, time means everything. We search for faster ways to download information, share news, or understand issues. It’s grown easier to find information, but how can we get the information we want when we’re racing against a deadline?

Research becomes more important when working with a client. Research allows you to get to know your client’s background and influence in the community. It gives you a foundation to build campaigns and form strategies. But, most importantly, understanding a client’s mission and goals helps you serve the client in the best possible way.

If you’re unsure about where to begin, or are just looking for simple tips to help you improve, here are some strategies that have helped me.

Begin with a goal in mind

All good research has an end result. Even before opening a browser, start brainstorming outcomes and think of what you hope to accomplish. Creating a goal establishes basic boundaries, and helps focus your time towards a specific end.

One simple goal could be finding five sources that support your main idea. This type of goal occurs often in college while students research assignments. In a professional position, goals look a little different. For example, research can pose a question such as, “What is the client’s goal for this research?”

Take advantage of this “pre-research” time, even if it’s only a few minutes. Pausing to collect your thoughts helps you approach the research calmly, rather than rush into a frantic search with no end in sight.

Know where to look: Finding reliable sources

Conducting research quickly doesn’t excuse inaccuracy. Knowing where to locate accurate information is key. For example, when I research an organization, I begin with its website to discover how it views itself. Then I turn to news agencies such as the New York Times, CNN, or media outlets in the state such as the Detroit Free Press or MLive to see if the organization has garnered any media coverage.

Make sure to draw research from multiple sources. This allows you to analyze research from multiple perspectives. Just remember to use credible sources. Your research will be trustworthy only if you find information from credible sources.

Stay organized: Find a system that works for you

Perhaps the hardest aspect of research is staying organized. Organizing information looks different for every person, varying from organized chaos, to fully-annotated spreadsheets. The trick is finding what works best for you.

In my own research, I’ve found that saving links to articles in a Word document with key points provides me with a quick reference tool when I finally compile a report.

Staying organized can be challenging. If you work better with paper and pencil, be sure to keep a detailed planner and written “To-Do” list to help you throughout the process. Thanks to digital technology, there are other tools to help you stay organized.

Excel spreadsheets help with numbers and data, but as a writer I often have to organize broad ideas and themes. Two websites I’ve found helpful are Evernote and Google Docs, which allow you to access ideas and research anywhere there’s internet access.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

If you run into roadblocks and can’t find information, ask for help. It can be as simple as asking a coworker if he or she knows of better places to research or even asking a client more about the intent for the research. It’s better to ask questions than waste time looking for information in the wrong places.

There’s no single way to conduct research, but the key to conducting research quickly is to start with a goal in mind and remain focused as you work.

About the Author

Emily Pohl is a student practitioner at Martin Waymire and a senior at Siena Heights University majoring in Professional Communications. In addition to her work in public relations, she works as a communications and development intern for St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing. Emily also volunteers as a social media promoter for local young professional groups. When not at work, Emily indulges her love of reading, writing poetry, and traveling around the world.