After the search – What’s next?

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As a professional investigator, I specialize in research, so most people assume I spend my days asking questions and running online searches. They picture me completing the search and sending results to my clients. Found it. Now I’m done. Move on to the next search.

But, as you’ve heard me say, there’s more to research than just finding, and search is just a small part of my work. First, there’s lots of preparation involved – understanding what clients want and need, recognizing limitations, knowing sources, and more.

Once you’ve run your online searches, conducted your interviews, or recorded your observations, though, what’s next? The last part is what I call the Action phase. It’s time for reviewing results and adding the meaning.

What does that look like? Whether you’re conducting an investigation or researching any type of strategic information, this final stage of research generally includes three components:

Analysis
During the search, you’ve looked at each piece of information. Now it’s time to step back and look at the results as a whole. Think about your findings in the context of your or your client’s research questions. Try connecting the dots and looking at relationships, patterns, what happened, and what happened next. What’s missing, and is it feasible to find, given your limitations? The nature and depth of the analysis will vary by client. I’ve found that some are curious about my impressions, and others just want some facts.

Report
No one likes a data dump, so distill and summarize your findings. Always take this step, even if the research is just for you. There’s something about the act of summarizing what you’ve found and your thoughts about it that helps put results into focus. If you’re reporting to others, anticipate their questions. Don’t use jargon, and – again – keep the original research questions and needs in mind. What recommendations can you make for further action? Remember that report formats can vary, and some clients prefer a few slides’ worth of summary, while others ask for the details in a spreadsheet.

Follow-up
No matter how much time you spend anticipating client questions, there will be more. These unanticipated questions are the most interesting, though, and I’ll remember those for next time. Conduct any additional research yourself or bring in some experts if needed. Make sure to follow up on outstanding information. For example, we don’t hold up client reports while waiting for a degree or credential verification. When we receive those verifications, we send an update. After the search you may need to set up alerts for monitoring the most current information or update the research on a regular schedule.

After the search, the final step is completing your research by taking action . What action steps do you take to turn your search results into something more meaningful?

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