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How to improve your research skills for university

You will likely have had to do some research in your studies and essay writing to date. Research at university, however, can represent a step-change, with more depth and detail required. For this reason it’s important to evaluate your research skills before beginning your studies at university, as they will be used throughout your time at university and beyond and therefore be critical to the success of your studies.

Whilst you may often hear the term ‘research’, and even ‘research skills’, do you really know what they mean? 

Research is a type of study that focuses on a specific, often singular, problem and aims to solve it using a highly systematic process that involves intensive search, investigation and critical analysis, usually in response to a specific question or hypothesis.

Research skills are what help us do that: the ability to search for, locate, extract, organise, evaluate and use or present information that is relevant to a particular topic. It will be worth investing in your research skills for university, not just for your studies, but because many of these skills will transfer into your chosen workplace or post-university study. 

In this article we will look at why research skills are important, and how you can improve and develop yours. 

Why are research skills important for university?

Learning basic research skills is something that can often be overlooked in many educational systems, with the internet becoming the first place people go to obtain the ‘facts’ they need. 

Though the internet is a valuable tool in research, it is not the only one that a person should have in their research armoury. Utilising basic research methods can help you not only find the information you need, but also more importantly that you can trust.

Whatever you’re researching, using as many research skills as you can is important and can have many advantages.

The benefits of strengthening your research skills include: 

  • More information: When you use research skills for university study, you will acquire more facts, information and sources.

  • More corroboration: When you find  information in one trustworthy source that is supported in another source, you can be assured that the facts you are using are accurate. The quality of your sources are paramount here, and improving your research skills will teach you to corroborate your information more fully. 

  • More points of view: The more resources you use, the more points of view you will collate and consider during your research. This allows you to consider more ideas than the original one you may have had or been set, and broaden your approach to the assignment. 

  • Acquire knowledge quickly: You want to be able to find the facts quickly to be able to focus on writing assignments, and good research skills are instrumental in helping you find the details you need quickly.

Ultimately the goal of good research is a high quality piece of academic work, and that’s what all of these should add up to, and therefore your research skills are all the more important. 

How to develop your research skills for university

One of the most important skills needed for research is independence, meaning that you are capable of managing your own work and time without being micromanaged. Critical thinking, problem solving and initiative are all crucial for effectively conducting research.

Here we will look at some of the other skills required for research and how to improve and develop them:

  1. Define your research according to the assignment

By defining your research in accordance with the tasks you have been assigned, and understanding how it relates to certain fields, you guarantee that your time is well spent, and that the research produced is focused on what is necessary. 

  1. Break down the assignment

Getting started can often be the hardest part of the research process. By breaking it down to realistic and achievable component parts, you can approach it systematically, and ultimately reach your goals.

  1. Evaluate your sources

There are an ever-growing number of sources of information out there, so it’s important to evaluate them and make sure they’re credible. Base this on the publication or website in which they are found, their accuracy (through corroboration), and whether they show signs of bias.

  1. Avoid plagiarism

In research, plagiarism is a big issue, and can be misunderstood by students when researching. Make sure you check and understand what it means, if you’re unclear. Respecting the rights of others’ intellectual property and always properly citing your research sources is important. Most universities will have systems in place to check for plagiarism when assignments are submitted, and the penalties for plagiarising others’ work can be very severe, including expulsion.

  1. Practise effective reading

This can be extremely beneficial, and there are lots of ways of doing it. Try ‘actively reading’ and making notes, summaries, and annotations as you go along, highlighting important passages in your reading.

  1. Ask the right questions

Having the ability to ask the right questions will get you better search results and more specific answers to narrow your research and make it more concise. One way to improve your research skills is to ask yourself questions from varied perspectives, putting yourself in the mind of someone else and trying to see things from their point of view.

  1. Interpretation

Interpretation can play a significant role in research, and once data is collected, relevant information needs to be arranged accordingly. This will normally be into categories that help organise thoughts and break down materials and sources of information.

Research is one of the most important tasks that students are given during their time at university and, in some cases, it can count for a large proportion of your academic grade. 


As we have seen, there are plenty of tools that you’ll need in order to sharpen your research skills, which mainly include knowing how to choose reliable and relevant sources, and knowing how to interpret them and make it your own. It’s important to always ask the right questions and dig deeper to make sure that you’ve understood the full picture.

The point of most academic research is to be able to say something with authority about the subject in question. Most lecturers will also be researchers who specialise in particular fields. Advanced academic research aims to contribute something new to the subject area.

We have developed courses which can also help you to develop your skills in academic research. Learn more and apply now.


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