Guiding Principles for Effective Research: Insights from a Supervisor


As a supervisor, guiding students through the intricacies of research is a key part of my role. Over the years, I’ve distilled a set of principles that help students navigate the complex process of conducting meaningful research. In this blog post, I’ll share these insights, which are anchored in the philosophy of clarity, specificity, and analytical depth.

The Mind Map Approach

1. Central Question: The Heart of Your Research

Start with a clear, central question. This should be the core around which your entire research revolves. It’s not just a topic; it’s a question that seeks specific answers.

2. What Did You Do?

Outline the steps you took in your research. This isn’t just about the methodology, but also the journey – the explorations, the dead-ends, and the breakthroughs.

3. Why Did You Do It?

Here’s where you justify your choices. Why did you choose this method? Why this particular topic? Your reasoning should be clear and well-articulated.

4. How Did You Do It?

Detail your methodology. This is crucial for replicability, a cornerstone of good research. Your methods should be described in a way that allows others to follow in your footsteps.

5. What Did You Find?

Present your findings. This isn’t just raw data; it’s also your interpretation of that data. What story does the data tell?

6. What Does It Mean?

Discuss the implications of your findings. How do they contribute to the field? What new questions do they raise? Take this opportunity to speculate and to bring back home the findings with regards to your central questions.

Avoiding Waffle: Clarity and Relevance

Avoid waffling – every word should serve a purpose. Stay on topic and ensure that each sentence contributes to your central question. Remember, conciseness is powerful.

The Hourglass Structure: Broad, Deep, Broad

Your research should start with a broad overview, then narrow down to a deep, focused investigation, and finally broaden out again to discuss implications and wider context. This hourglass structure helps in creating a comprehensive and cohesive narrative.

Trusting Your Instincts

Follow your gut, especially when it leads you down unexpected paths. Sometimes the best discoveries are made when we stray off the beaten path. However, balance this with a structured approach to ensure your research remains focused and relevant.

Crafting a Self-Contained Story

Your research should tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It should be self-contained, providing all the necessary information and context for the reader to understand your journey and conclusions.

Data and Analysis: The Backbone of Your Research

Ensure you have data as the foundation of your research. The analysis of these data is what builds your argument. Include only relevant references that bolster your findings and analysis.

Specificity and Measurability in Claims

Your claims should be specific, measurable, and, importantly, reproducible. Start with modest, well-defined objectives. It’s better to be precise and small in scope than vague and broad.


In essence, effective research involves a delicate balance between following structure and trusting your instincts. It’s about being specific, focused, and clear, yet open to new ideas and paths. Also expect times of uncertainty, frustration and confusion. Embrace these feelings as a normal part of the journey. By adhering to these principles, students can navigate the complex landscape of research with greater confidence and clarity, ultimately leading to more meaningful and impactful results. Believe me it’s worth it! Although you may think that research is not something for you, the disciplined approach a research approach has provides wide applications in real life: from spotting a badly articulated argument to recognising false claims. This skill will be invaluable for any intelligent endeavour you may encounter in your future professional life.

Leave a Reply