David Lyndon is head of operations at Reputation Leaders Ltd. He can be reached at david.lyndon@reputationleaders.ltd.

Here at our firm, our team was recently asked to recommend a research approach by a client without previous research experience. Our conversations revolved around five key questions and eventually turned into the accompanying flowchart. Use these five questions to simplify the research methodology decision-making:

Doubtless, each situation will need more thought than the simple diagram shown in the flowchart but I hope that common sense can fill in the gaps.

If you’re in the same situation as our stick figure in the flowchart – wanting to do some research but uncertain of the best methodology – work through the questions in the flowchart and see if the resulting strategy makes sense. (Perhaps it’s more than one!)

This is a broad-brushstroke look at reasons to use different research methodologies and why you might choose one over the other but the principles should be clear.

The proper methodology is found at the intersection of who you want to talk to and what you want to know. The five questions, asked in the right way, can guide your decision-making. 

We’ve explained more about each methodology below and how the answers to the five questions can cause you to choose them.

Secondary research. Secondary research takes many forms but primarily consists of finding and reading what other researchers have already done. Using the internet, what used to take weeks can be completed in minutes. Academic reviews, social media searches and basic web searches can quickly tell you if someone else has already answered your questions or gathered the data to allow you to do so.

Choose this type of research if you know the work’s already been done. If you’re not sure, take the time to do some secondary research and find out. It may save you weeks of effort and thousands...