5 Tips for Being a Productive Researcher

Published: Tues., December 1, 2020

With the two three-week terms in December and January, you may be using this time to catch up on your research goals. Being a productive researcher can involve some specific skills depending on your field like learning statistical techniques, but there are also things all researchers can do to make themselves more productive and efficient.

Use a Citation Management System

Citation Management systems are software that help you organize, store, and create bibliographies for your research papers. Programs such as Mendeley, Zotero, and RefWorks, allow you to keep your references all in one place. They also make it easy to input correctly formatted citations in your papers. By the time you graduate you may have hundreds of citations from thesis or dissertation projects or class assignments and other projects. It would be difficult to keep track of all of those and the key points from each on your own. These programs can help you make notes on those articles and make it simple to find what you are looking for. If you work in a field that may use different citation formats depending on the journal, you can change to another format without having to research a different style. There are many different programs available to UNL students, faculty and staff, and which one you prefer is really up to you and what system works best for you. The Libraries have created this handy guide for you to choose which one you want to work with. Subject librarians are also available to help you figure out how to use the programs.

Set Reasonable and Regular Goals

The key to being productive at anything is good setting and monitoring your progress. Many times, research projects start out with big final projects and those can be intimidating. Break it down into smaller tasks. If you are hoping to make progress on your thesis or dissertation over the break, you will likely not write it all over the break, but you might be able to make some good progress if you set reasonable goals. For example, you might set a goal to complete a specific section of your dissertation. Be honest with yourself, how much work will it really take to complete that portion of your project? Not everyone works at the same pace so it may take you longer than your friends. That’s okay, just make sure you are setting reasonable timelines for you. It may help to write out all the tasks (small and large) to help you set realistic goals. Remember good goals are SMART.

Use Class Assignments or Other Work to Help

When you can, use coursework and other assignments to forward you research progress. Sometimes you may be able to write about a topic of your literature review for a course paper and that way you can do some of the work ahead of time. If you can accomplish two things at one time it’ll save you time in the long run. Take advantage of ways to accomplish multiple tasks at once. Perhaps there are similar projects you've done in the lab and you can utilize existing literature, data or resources.

Set Regular Writing Times

Block off time to write. Schedule regular one- or two-hour chunks of writing time that you will only focus on writing. Treat this like a class time or doctor appointment that is set in stone. Don’t allow anything to interfere with this work time. If you work best in the morning, schedule it then. If you work best in the evening, find time then. You may also want to set up a writing group to meet with (even virtually) to work toward your goals. If you have a writing group make sure to set goals together at the beginning of each meeting. You can also peer review each other’s work or help keep each other on task. Writing groups can help keep you motivated.

Seek Support

Sometimes your mentor may not always be immediately available to help. That’s why sometimes it is useful to have multiple mentors or people to support you. You may have other members of your committee or postdocs in your lab or other grad students who can help you answer questions about techniques or methodology. If you struggle with your writing, the Writing Center does consultations with graduate students as well as undergraduates. Seek out colleagues who can help you with the questions you have.