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Research skills are a valuable part of your professional toolkit. Employers want job applicants who are not just curious, but who possess the skills to systematically research the answers to questions. Employers in many industries look for professionals to conduct research in all sorts of roles.

An administrative assistant, for example, might be expected to conduct research about client needs to ensure that the company offers suitable services. A paralegal may be required to conduct research on old legal proceedings to aid lawyers in presenting a strong court case. In order to design equipment for safe everyday use, a mechanical engineer would conduct research on how people use machines. 

Here are four tips to help you conduct better general research:

1. Define your research

Jot down a brief paragraph summarizing what you are researching. This will refine your research of a topic. What is the question you are trying to answer? What will the research help you to accomplish? These questions will define the end of your research.

2. Make a plan

Now that you have identified the ends of research you are conducting, you should identify the means. Make a plan for the project. Include a timeline, potential sources and deliverables. 

Create the timeline to have a visual representation of when each item must be done. Make a note of potential sources to gain an idea of what people, places or publications you might consult to find the information you need. Also, incorporate deliverables into your plan: Deliverables are products of your research that you can present to your manager in intervals leading up to the deadline. If you are on track to conduct research for three weeks, you might present one deliverable at the start of each week.

3. Know your sources

The more research you do, the more familiar you will be with the resources available to you.

Internet searches are frequently a good starting place for research. You can try a few different ways of formulating your query to see what gets you the best results. You should also familiarize yourself with authoritative websites and online databases or libraries related you your particular field. For some research you may need to seek out physical resources from museums, libraries or other facilities.

People can also be valuable resources. Consult with colleagues, local researchers and industry specialists. Start by drafting a brief email to introduce yourself, explain the nature of your research, and ask if they would be willing to share their insights with you.

4. Check authority and expertise

A sound source is one that is reputable. This means you can trust the information you find there because it has been properly researched, vetted and verified. This is especially important for information you find on the internet. You should prioritize sites with .gov or .edu domain names. Be sure to consider the the authority and expertise of all your sources.

When you conduct research for a report, project or presentation, you are becoming a source of information yourself. People will look to you as a knowledgeable conveyor of information. In improving your researching skills, you are empowering others to do the same.