Written by IFF Research

How to write an effective research brief

Article Featured Image

Whether you’re launching a simple survey or planning a large-scale project the quality of your brief will hugely impact on the value you get from the research. While it can take a little time and effort creating a research brief, it will undoubtedly be time well spent – getting you better results and return on your investment and saving you valuable resources on further clarification. At best, a poor brief will be a time drain on you and your team. At worst, the findings will fail to meet your objectives, costing you time and money.

We’ve seen a lot of research briefs over the years. Some of which have been well thought through and clear, helping us prepare a detailed proposal and deliver an effective project and subsequent results. And others which have been not so good, lacking clarity or detail.

Using this experience, we’ve put together a ‘how to’ guide on writing an effective research brief, to help you ensure success on your next project.

1. Preparation is key

As with any project, before you start it’s crucial you think through what you want and need to deliver. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Why are you conducting the research? What exactly are you looking to understand?
  • Who are you looking to understand better? Who do you need to speak to answer your research questions?
  • Who are your internal stakeholders? Have you discussed the project needs with the people in your organisation who will use the findings or who are invested in the research?
  • How will the findings be used?
  • When do you need the findings?
  • Have you agreed a budget with either your procurement team, or the relevant person in your organisation?

2. Be clear on your objectives

This is one of the most important parts of your brief to convey to the reader what you want out of the project and ensure you get results which deliver.

Projects should have around three or four overarching aims which set out what the project ultimately wants to achieve.

These might be things like:

  • Assess the impact of……
  • Examine views of…..
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of….

In addition to project objectives, you should also include the key questions you want the research to answer. These should support you in meeting the aims of the research.

For example, if the project aim is to assess the impact of an intervention, your research questions might include:

  • Who did the intervention target?
  • What did the project deliver?
  • What elements were successful, and why?
  • What were the main enablers and barriers?

3. Remember your audience

Research agencies or organisations who will be responding to your brief might not know anything about your business. So, make sure you include enough background information in your brief to enable them to understand your needs and deliver effectively. And avoid use of jargon or acronyms which could lead to errors or confusion.

4. Structure your research brief

Before you start to populate your brief it’s worth considering all the information and sections you need to include, to structure your thinking and ensure you don’t miss anything important.

This might include some, or all, of the following:

  • Background info
  • Introduction
  • Aims and objectives
  • Research Question(s)
  • Issues / Risks
  • Methodology
  • Timing and Outputs
  • Staffing
  • Project Management
  • Costing

5. Make it thorough, yet succinct

While it’s crucial to include all the relevant information to enable bidders to respond effectively, no one wants to read reams and reams of information. To avoid the key information getting lost in the details use annexes to add supplementary information which could be useful.

6. Consider how prescriptive you want to be on the methodology

The extent to which you want to specify the methodology will depend on the project you aim to deliver. There are benefits and risks to being overly prescriptive or offering free reign. If you outline in precise detail how you want the research to be conducted, you will hamper any original ideas from those invited to tender and might limit the impact on the research. Whereas, if you’re less prescriptive, allowing room for creativity, you risk not getting the project or results you want, or receiving proposals on a scale which you can’t resource.

Generally, it is useful to allow those invited to tender some scope to develop the methodology they propose to use. Exceptions might be where previous work has to be very precisely replicated or some other very precise commitment about the nature of findings has been given to stakeholders.

7. Define your timelines

As a minimum, you need to include when you want the project to start and end. But you should also include the timetable for procurement. When planning this, don’t underestimate the time and resource needed to run a procurement exercise. Make sure your evaluators are available when you need them and have enough time blocked out in their diary.

You’ll likely also want to include milestones for when you expect outputs to be delivered, such as deadlines for a draft report (providing opportunity for review and feedback) and the final report; allowing sufficient time between the two to enable your stakeholders to consult, for you to feedback and for the contractor to revise the report.

8. Set expectations on cost

You will most likely have budgetary constraints, with a figure for what you are prepared to spend. To save you and your bidders time, and to set realistic expectations, you should include an indication within your brief. This will prevent you receiving proposals which are way out of the ballpark; enable bidders to plan a project which delivers on (or at least close to) budget; and will prevent any nasty surprises, further down the line.

By following these tips you’ll be well on your way to creating an effective research brief which delivers on time and on budget.

If you’d like more guidance download our “step-by-step” guide, which includes a template and information for what to include in each section to ensure success.

Download the guide now.