Finding a purpose for your research

When you are starting out on your research journey, you will find there are several questions that keep cropping up:

What is your research about? (topic)

What are you doing? (methods/methodologies)

What are you hoping to find? (goals/aims)
But the most important question of all, the one that keeps you focussed and makes it all worthwhile
What is all this research for??? (Purpose)
The purpose of your research can be personal (I want to gain a qualification/ get a job) or educational (I want to master a skill/ overcome a weakness/ extend my understanding). It can also look at the outcomes of the research itself. Is your research a quest (I want to know how to best treat refugee patients with depression) or an adventure (I want to see if a weird weight loss app can improve outcomes in weight loss) or a wandering, exploration (I want to know how people really think about climate change)
In my thesis, I had all three. I wanted to get a qualification (and the potential academic career option), be able to understand and defend qualitative research methods and to make a difference to the teaching around medically unexplained symptoms for GPs. Note that a purpose is different to an aim. An aim is a concrete outcome. A purpose describes why that outcome matters.
Whatever your purpose(s) it helps to have it/them in large, bold letters above your desk. And read it constantly. It will help shape your conference abstracts, the way you talk about your work, and what you pursue and don’t pursue as your project develops.
So grab a pen or the digital equivalent and make a large sign. Believe me, it will save you time and effort in the long run. And after all, it’s the purpose that matters. We are here to make a difference. It helps to know what difference we want to make.

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