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Research skills: Examples + how to improve them

Book open Reading time: 8 mins

No matter what career path you choose to take, research skills are one of the key graduate career skills that will help you impress employers in applications and support you throughout your entire working life. 

Research skills are essential in problem-solving; learning how to improve research skills is therefore a great way to prepare for the workplace and improve your overall skill set in your early career. In this article, you’ll find out what research skills are, how to improve your research skills and much more. 

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What are research skills? 

Research skills refer to an individual’s ability to source information about a certain topic, and effectively extract and evaluate the information in order to answer questions or solve problems. 

Research skills are soft skills that are highly sought after by employers as they show a candidate’s ability to understand and analyse a variety of materials and sources. Whether you’re studying or already in the workplace, research skills are important transferable skills to have in any role or sector that you choose.

These skills can be constantly improved, and this is a great way to develop in your early career and prepare for the workplace. For example, your manager might ask you to conduct research or analysis for various projects, where these skills will be essential for your success. 

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Examples of research skills 

During your time at school and university, you will have used a variety of research skills to complete projects and assignments. If you’re not sure what research skills look like in practice, here are some examples: 

Data collection 

Data collection is the process of systematically gathering information in order to solve problems, answer questions and better understand a particular topic. The information or data that you are collecting can be quantitative or qualitative; it can be collected through using surveys, interviews, reviewing existing materials and more to solve a particular problem.

At university, you would need to read broadly on a certain topic or conduct a literature review for a certain project. This is all data collection, and you can develop and use these experiences in your future role too. 

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to interpret and analyse information in order to form a particular judgement or evaluation. Someone who is a great critical thinker will be able to apply their knowledge (informed by evidence from, for example, data collection) to think rationally and come to a conclusion. Critical thinking is key in the workplace as it means you can analyse and evaluate strategically, to come to a judgement that will inform a particular action or idea.

Detail orientation 

Another key example of a research skill is detail orientation, or the ability to focus on small details. Someone who is detail-oriented will be able to notice small mistakes and will be able to deliver high-quality and accurate work. When solving problems, this is essential, as the ability to extract and evaluate information with accuracy is important for the validity of your research and will help drive high-quality results. 

Time management 

Time management is the ability to organise your time when planning different activities and projects. Effective time management means you’re able to balance your workload and ensure all tasks are completed within an allotted time. This is important for your research skills, as it means you are able to effectively delegate your time between data collection, analysis and evaluation.

Jobs that require research skills 

  • External auditors have great attention to detail to investigate organisations. In an external auditor role, you will need to research policies and regulations, analyse data provided by the organisation and draw conclusions for a report.
  • A strategist in the financial sector looks at an organisation’s finances to come up with plans for the future. You need great analytical and evaluative skills in order to understand the best options for your clients and turn a rational judgement into action. 
  • A role in the Civil Service involves researching, developing and maintaining policy in the UK. Being able to inform your decisions with evidence, and manage your time effectively, is key. 
  • In the role of a data scientist, you will need to conduct research to understand why a client or company needs a data scientist, and be able to analyse effectively to see big patterns in large amounts of data. 
  • Clinical scientists must carefully analyse and process large amounts of data, requiring strong research skills and detail orientation.
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How to improve research skills 

  • Practise your time management and organisation skills: Whether you’re at university or in your early career, it’s important to start learning how to balance your time effectively to complete a number of tasks. For your next project, try setting out clear activities that need to be completed, how long you need to spend on each, and a timeline for when each task will be started and completed. 
  • Learn how to write reports: In any research process or project, you will need to summarise and evaluate your findings in a written report in a clear and concise way. Make sure to include the objective of your research, a summary of your findings, and the judgements you have made from the evidence you found. 
  • Read more widely: One of the core aspects of research and analysis is the ability to extract information from a variety of materials. Reading more widely will improve your data collection skills and will give you experience with forming judgements from a range of sources and on a number of topics.

How to use research skills at your workplace

  • Plan. Before you start a project at work, make sure you’ve taken time to plan what tasks you need to do, and how long each will take, to understand the timelines of the project. This allows you to set aside dedicated time for the research phase, for example, before analysing data or putting ideas into action.
  • Read about the topic. Whatever sector you’re in, and whatever project you’re working on, reading about your subject area is key to understanding your field ahead of any decisions being made. This will help you solve problems and answer any questions you need to be answered at the offset.
  • Compare your results. Following any research or data collection, it’s a good idea to compare your findings with colleagues to ensure consistency across the team. This will lead to greater accuracy for the project as a whole.
  • Present. Practising your presentation and communication skills is an essential part of developing your research skills. At the end of any research you’ve conducted, get into the habit of presenting your findings in a written report, and try presenting this to your line manager and wider team.

How to include research skills in a CV

Once you’ve developed your research skills, it’s important that you know how to convey these effectively in applications – starting with your CV.

Read: How to write a CV | Advice & templates

Your CV is usually the first thing an employer sees of you, so you need to impress them from the offset. Highlighting your research skills, and how you’ve used them in your experience so far, is a great way to do this and will show your organisation, attention to detail and critical thinking.

Research skills should be included under the ‘skills and achievements section of your CV. This is where you include your technical and personal skills that relate to the role you’re applying for.

When talking about your research skills, remember to highlight how you’ve developed these in a concise way. For example, you might have developed research skills by writing a number of literature reviews at university. This might be phrased as “developed effective research skills through data collection and analysis when writing literature reviews for university projects.”

How to include research skills in a cover letter

Another way to convey your research skills on your application and impress employers is through the cover letter. If an employer asks for one, it’s important to know how to structure a cover letter so that you can convey your skillset and interest in the role clearly and succinctly.

Your cover letter needs to be no more than one page and should highlight your competency for the role you’re applying for. Approach your application from the basis of ‘what I can do for you’ rather than ‘what you can do for me’. As research skills are transferable, this is a great chance to highlight how you can benefit the organisation and team you’re applying for, as it shows your ability to collect data, think critically, organise your time, analyse and more. Remember to apply these soft and transferable skills to what the job description says will be expected of you.

How to demonstrate your research skills at a job interview 

Interviews are another opportunity to impress employers with your skill set - including how you have developed strong research skills which you can use in the role you’re applying to. 

Ahead of your interview, you should be using your research skills to look into the company you’ve applied for. Get familiar with what they do, their company values and what they’re looking for in a candidate for your chosen role. 

You can also get prepared by practising to answer potential research skills questions like “give me an example of a time when you solved a problem using your research skills.” To answer this, make sure you’re identifying the specific research skills you have used, and explain a real example of when you have solved problems using them. Think about the impact using those research skills had in order to highlight how you have developed these skills effectively in practice. 

To sum up

Research skills are essential for success in many different roles and fields. By learning how to improve your research skills, you are setting yourself up to impress employers at application and become an asset to a team when you enter the workplace. 

Research skills are soft skills that employers value, are essential for developing your problem-solving skills and are one of the key graduate career skills that recruiters look for. By adding ‘research skills’ to your CV, and highlighting your research capabilities at interviews, you are increasing your employability and chances for success.

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