Policy, campaigns & research

Get the most out of your research

Here are some tips for developing your research skills.

Whether it’s a funding application you need to write or an extensive report to back up the campaign you’re running, having a clear structure for your research project will make all the difference to your work. 

The thing about research is it’s not just about gathering the facts; it’s a skill that requires critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to navigate through a vast sea of knowledge. It’s definitely not always easy and can take up a significant amount of your time, but don’t worry, we’ve got some tips to help you get the most out of the process. Here’s how you can get the most out of your research: 

Set realistic and manageable goals  

Research projects consume a lot of time and energy. Therefore, it is essential that you set bitesize goals and give yourself enough time. It may be impossible to cover everything that you would like to. It might help to set the scope and boundaries of your research project. For example, you might not be able to interview every single one of your beneficiaries; instead, focusing on a representative sample that can be generalised may be a good alternative. Likewise, we recommend using a project management platform to break your project down into smaller tasks. 

Make use of social media

If you want to collect opinions (such as donor satisfaction), social media is a great tool that may maximise how many respondents you get. The more people you get to fill in the survey the better. There are plenty of platforms out there for you to create surveys, the most well-known one being Survey Monkey, which does allow you to create surveys for free, however you’re only allowed up to 10 questions. Other platforms include Google Forms and Microsoft Forms. Another thing to consider is incentivising your target audience to complete the survey by offering a free copy of the report or an opportunity to win a prize. 

Take notes effectively

As you know, it is helpful to have notes that are useful and effective, especially when writing a report to influence your donors. It makes it easier to look back and retrieve key pieces of evidence and saves you the effort of leafing through a whole text again. 

There’s no perfect way to make notes, and I’m sure by now you’ve figured out what works for you, but there are note-taking methods out there that might help you be more effective when drawing out information. For example, a popular way of taking notes is the Cornell method. This method will help you summarise information. Here’s what you have to do: 

  • Add a header for the title, this should be the name of the text you’re reading  
  • Divide the page in to two sections – a small column on the left and a larger one on the right 
  • The left column will be where you write questions or keywords and the right column will be where you write concise sentences and key phrases 
  • Add a footer at the bottom, this is where you should summarise your notes and highlight key ideas 

Use external resources

Free external resources can help inform your arguments, give you useful context, and back up your claims. Make use of statutory organisations like the Charity Commission, and publications from other charitable organisations or platforms that have similar missions to your own organisation. 

Rape Crisis England and Wales used official reports from the Ministry of Justice and HM Government to advocate for those who have had to wait for justice due to delays in the Crown Courts. And, Galop sourced the OECD and Government Equalities Office to raise awareness about the effects of the cost-of-living crisis on LGBT+ victims and survivors of abuse and/or violence in their 2022 report. 

Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative data

Both examples of charity research in the previous tip also used internal data that they collected themselves from surveys and interviews, making their reports personal and intimate. Excerpts from quotes can be particularly powerful and can add human meaning to statistics and numerical evidence. Giving your intended audience a lens into the human aspect of your organisation may encourage them to listen and take notice. Quantitative data is not superior to qualitative data! 


If you’re struggling with a research project, remember, DSC’s friendly research team is here to help. DSC has over 40 years of research experience and helps charities through evaluation, as well as mapping sub-sectors within the charity sector (in particular, armed forces charities). We bring an independent perspective to help charities think about their strategies, identify new opportunities, and secure funding! Contact our friendly team at [email protected] with any enquiries.