How to write an effective research brief

Too much information? A good brief can eliminate data overload.

For Laria Research Fortnight, Rebecca Gulc offers some tips on creating an effective research brief that will deliver invaluable insights

Research invariably makes for better decisions. So it stands to reason that better research will lead to even better decisions.

Whether they’re called research briefs, RFQs, ITTs, tenders or anything else most research starts with a request for a proposal, and we’re often asked what works best.

There’s no magic formula – if there was, the Qa scientists working in our secret laboratory would have found it by now. But there are simple ways to improve the experience.

So, to mark Laria Research Fortnight, we thought we’d share four tips on how to get the most from your research.

These guidelines will help deliver

1. Know what you need

It sounds like an obvious one, but clarity of purpose from the outset makes all the difference.

Ask your team a few questions before you begin:

What do we need to achieve – and will research help us achieve it?
What outcomes are we looking for?
Who do we need to talk to: staff, customers, the wider community?
Are there some aspects of the work we can, or should, handle in-house?

Any doubts, bring your questions to a research agency. They can evaluate your needs and make suggestions and pointers before a brief is prepared.

2. Review previous successes and failures

More likely than not, you’ll have seen research in a similar field and thought – ‘That was enlightening’.

Or alternatively, you might have thought a piece of work was exactly the opposite.

Both can be extremely helpful. Looking out examples of previous research successes and failures can help to provide a framework for what you need – and don’t need – from the research you are about to commission.

And a research agency can use these illustrations to better understand your needs, and shape the programme of work required to suit.

3. Clear out the clutter

By undertaking points 1) and 2) you should have a much sharper idea of your requirements from the research.

At this point it is worth double checking that everything in your brief is relevant to those requirements, and discarding any elements which are not. That will save time and money.

4. Share as much information as you can

The best brief is the one that ultimately delivers research that is useful and relevant.

But by its nature, research is all about unknowables – so writing a brief that will result in pertinent outcomes can seem about as easy as knitting fog.

The answer? Be as open and specific as you are able. For example

➤ budget: if a budget is stated, does it include VAT?

➤ databases: do you have a contact database, and how much information does it contain?

methodologies: do you have a preference? Are there must-haves, or are you happy to consider a variety of methods?

➤ timings: are there unmoveable deadlines? Or is there some flexibility?

➤ reporting: in what form or forms do you require the results?


The more guidance you can give in a brief, the better.

Hopefully some of these tips will prove helpful, at least until we stumble across that magic formula. If you have any thoughts or questions, please get in touch.


Photograph: Eilidhmcauley on Wikipedia