Planning is essential for research success. Understanding and using the research structure and process helps assure success in information gathering.

The overall process involves three steps:
• Collect and Store
• Analyze
• Produce

The role of “time” in the process is important. Those three steps must be accomplished in a reasonable – and usually set – time period. It is best to plan and set that time in advance. Thinking through the process and the individual steps prior to starting any collection is important. While “getting right down to business” seems initially attractive, in the final analysis that is a time-waster. It is far better to spend a little of that precious commodity of time to plan out the approach to each research project. Projects differ and each project presents varied issues and problems that are best thought through in advance.

In most cases the process follows this overall pattern:

1. Initial Planning Phase

2. Security Plan Phase

3. Search Tools Selection Phase

4. Assignment of Research Tasks Phase

5. “Conduct Research” Phase
• Documentation Plan Phase
• Revision of Research Plan Phase
• Continued Research Portion Phase

6 . Vetting and Validation of Sources Phase

7. Product Development Phase
• Draft Product
• Final Product

In this section of Bits ‘n’ Pieces we will take you through the details of the first phase. Detailed information on following phases will be posted here in the future.

First Phase

In the Initial Planning Phase most research practitioners find it best to:
• Have, and use, a Standard Operating Procedure
• Understand the written request for information and the needs of the requestor
• Make certain the objective is carefully defined
• Review all their capabilities and assets as they relate to the objective
• Identify what the requestor already knows and doesn’t know
• Formulate the research question, making certain it will answer the request
• Determine the type of materials to seek and use
• Determine the search techniques
• Determine what kind of research method to use
• Determine what time is available for each element, such as research and product production, and set a schedule accordingly

Clear objectives limit confusion and direct collectors to the proper resource. Often it will be necessary to directly engage the customer. This step is crucial. Customers often do not initially know what they really want. They don’t necessarily define their needs correctly and a researcher’s re-engagement can help to clarify the real question. When clarifying the real request, determine the context of the request and tailor production to the intended audience. Learn and understand:
• What the customer wants (the request)
• What the customer needs (the real request)
• When the customer needs it (the timeline)
• Why the customer needs it (the context)

Understanding the context of the customer’s request before you get too far into the planning process is important – saving time and money for the client, and time and frustration for the researcher or collector.

Examine your own capabilities, the positive and the negative:
• What assets do I have? (knowledge/capabilities)
• What assets do I need? (refinement/tools/help)
• What information can I get in time? (deadline)
• Where can I get it? (search capabilities and collaborative network)

Write out key information in a plan so you can refer to it later – that helps keep the collection process on track.
• Context: The user’s need
• Wording of the question to be answered
• Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How elements
• Priority – Is time more important than detail level?
• LTIOV – Last time information is of value
• WENTK – Who else needs to know?
• Product – Desired format may drive collection

Then flesh out the collection plan.
• Identify what is known and who knows it:
• How much do I know about the subject?
• Has this question been addressed previously?
• If so, by whom?
• If so, where is that information?
• If so, can I get it there?

Select appropriate data sources:
• What available sources are most appropriate?
• Are they non-Internet, government domains, commercial, or free web?

Frame timeline and level of detail constraints:
• How much time to I have to answer the question?
• What level of detail is required?

Framing the timeline is important because the minutes slip away to hours and the hours can become days for the researcher who really wants to do a thorough job. There’s always one more place to search, and another location after that. Time is limited and the plan for timing has to take into account the time it will take to:
• Research
• Analyze
• Write/compile
• Review
• Ask/answer additional questions, if needed
• Publish final product

The timing is often related to the type of requirement: ad hoc or standing. Ad hoc requirements address a specific problem or issue and are generally relatively narrow, requiring less time. Standing requirements fulfill more generalized needs and often take longer – sometimes months or even years.

Generally there are at least two search strategies available, and the choice is situation-dependent. The strategies are variously referred to as the “Hunter” or “Focused” Strategy or the “Gatherer” or “Broad” Strategy. Researchers need to be familiar with both, and be aware that sometimes they will want to combine the strategies. Sometimes, when using a Gatherer or Broad research strategy it will become necessary to focus on particular aspect for a short period of time. In that case the “Hunter” or “Focused” strategy will be paired with the broader collection strategy.

Focused methods gather only the information needed to meet a relatively narrow, specific requirement, while a broad method would gather a large amount of related data and narrow down the focus at a later time. These are both valid collection/research techniques and have individual advantages. Different requirements may call for different approaches depending on the situation e.g.: tactical vs. strategic, and/or time sensitivity.

Hunters seek specific information and adopt a focused strategy to go after the information (Often answers an ad hoc requirement). Gatherers search widely and pull information which is either usable or eventually must be discarded (Often answers a standing requirement).

The researcher will also need to choose access techniques in the initial phase. Choices in the digital age are either (1) information sources that can push the information to a requestor, like an advertising circular mailed to a person or (2) requestors can pull the information that is already available, much like going to the library and picking a specific book off the shelf.

In the open source world, collection may be more accurately defined as acquisition, since analysts typically search for information that already exists somewhere – the challenge is to find it. Through dashboards and RSS feeds, researchers can have many products “pushed” to them.

Push (by producers)
• Deliver via message traffic, e-mail, hard-copy, or briefing
• Post to web page or social networking forum

Pull (by collectors)
• Browse websites for finished products, knowledge bases, or data archives
• Troll wikis, blogs, and forums
• Set up automated RSS feeds or Alerts

The Internet material types are as varied as Internet itself. Some types are more appropriate to search than others, depending on the search requirement. Information can be found in many places; decide which are most likely to yield the information needed.
• Non-Internet
• News media
• Social media
• Citizen journalism
• Government sites
• Corporate sites
• Think Tanks
• Other types of sites

Select the Research Tools Most Likely to Achieve Results

There are many different categories of material to search through, and use. Determine which are the most likely to produce the results, including:
• Search engines
• Meta-Search engines
• Databases
• Non-Internet Resources
• Gray materials
• Subject Matter Experts
• Libraries
• Corporate Material
• Audio-Visuals
• Other resources

All of these factors should be considered in the first step of the research process.

In this Bits ‘n’ Pieces we  took you through details of the first phase. Detailed information covering the following phases will be posted here in the future.