How to conduct desk research

The less painful way to do your initial research to understand your service users and their current experiences and options.

Depending on your service, product or idea there are a number of sources you can look to to deepen your understanding of the challenge you are solving. This process will help you get to grips with your users' experience of dealing with (or not dealing with) the problem currently.

Official research

Take a look at official research within the area you are working, for instance, when working with young people and education you can see what papers the following institutions have written on your topic area:

  • Department for Education

  • RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)

  • Universities

Even if they are not addressing the topic exactly you may be able to gain some deeper insights into the challenge you are tackling.

Online networks

When a challenge affects a number of people negatively, they may speak about it online, in networks or on blogs. Some places to consider observing include:

  • Facebook groups

  • Reddit subreddits

  • Blogs

  • Twitter

  • Forums such as Quora or other specialist forums

Effective Google searches

Using Google effectively means using keywords that will help you uncover articles discussing your subject area. Some quick tips:

  • Use quotes to search terms exactly i.e. "female homelessness"

  • Use the minus sign to exclude search terms i.e. oxford -university would search the term oxford but exclude searches that relate to "Oxford University"

  • Keep it simple, there's no need to worry about capitalisation or writing full sentences. Instead of searching what's female homelessness like in oxford? you can search female homelessness oxford

  • Use the asterix (*) wildcard to let Google fill in words for you, especially useful if you can only remember a few words in a sentance such as lyrics for a song i.e. jingle * jingle * jingle all around

  • Search a specific site using site: i.e. female homelessness This will show you all the results from only

  • Use the OR syntax to search multiple terms in one go i.e. female homelessness oxford OR female homelessness cambridge

If you'd like to know how to search better, Google's Power Search course may help.

Other – A story about female homelessness

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