Where Can I Get New Research Ideas?

This is one of the most common questions that we are asked in our workshops and training events. It is a very good question and one that’s very hard to answer.

Where do good research ideas come from? Researchers around the world see other colleagues, perhaps in other countries, publishing high profile papers and they want to do the same.

There is no reason why research done in any one place should be any different in quality to research done in another place. Does it come down to:

  • The quality of our ideas?
  • Our research process management skills

Actually, the answer is both of these! We need good ideas, and we need to better manage our research process.

Let’s see how it’s done!

Tip 1: Give yourself time and space to come up with ideas

In my experience, ideas can come from anywhere and at anytime. But, above all, you need to make sure that you give yourself the space and time to think over the course of each working day.

Busy academics or PhD students often rush from task to task, meeting to meeting, with very little time to even breathe.

Do you stop during the day to just sit and think about your research? Or even, just clear your mind to take some time? 

As ideas can come at any time, it’s well worth keeping a pen and paper with you so that you can just jot down things when you think of them; people often say that it’s even a good idea to keep something to write on next to your bed, in case you wake in the night after that eureka moment!  

Personally, I find that ideas come for articles and for my writing when I’m exercising or thinking about something completely different. I can clear my mind with a short run each morning. This tends to be the best time for me to come up with new ideas, plan the day ahead in my mind, and think about the things I need to get done. It’s also a very good way to de-stress! 

Taking time to think is one of the best pieces of advice for being a successful (and less stressed) researcher. 

Tip 2: Imitate the success of leaders in your field

Another very good tactic that you can try in your own day-to-day research life is to follow key people in your own field. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Who are the five or ten leaders in your field of research? These leaders might be professors or doctors working in your country, or another country. 

Read their papers, and refer to their work in your own research. Look at the kinds of questions these experts are working on. Study how their research questions are angled and pitched to journals for publication. 

Successful researchers are able to learn from their own mistakes as well as from the success of others. A ‘good’ research question is one that other colleagues around the world working in your area are going to be interested in learning the answer to. 

Go beyond just the people in your own area. A ‘great’ research question is one that is cross-disciplinary, one that cuts across more than one field and is therefore going to be interesting to a range of readers when published in a high profile journal. 

It’s therefore important to think not just about what you think a good research question is, but also what a journal editor is going to find interesting.

Tip 3: Measure the quality of your work by citations

One approach to deciding which areas of research to focus on is to think about your own citations so far across the spectrum of your own work.

Let’s say that you work across three (perhaps overlapping) topics within your overall research area. Have a look at the papers you’ve been able to put out so far within these topics.

Which are performing best? Which are getting…

  • the most reads?
  • the most downloads?
  • the most shares on social media?
  • the most citations?

This kind of self-evaluation might give you some ideas about which areas to focus on in the future. 

It’s not easy. But don’t give up!

We know, it’s not easy! Coming up with good research ideas is extremely hard.

Above all, don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of spending time and energy working on ideas that lead nowhere, or that repeat the results of other groups.

After all, that’s all part of the adventure of scientific research! 


Our experts can help !

Are you stuck on coming up new research? Need help analyzing gaps in the literature? Want to generate ideas and/or evidence?

Our Edanz experts can help you. Ask us anything!

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