It can be intimidating to create a research brief because it looks that there is a lot to write and a lot of responsibility resting on it. However, it doesn't have to be long or convoluted; a page, or even half a page, should be sufficient to appropriately translate your company concerns into meaningful research objectives. The important thing to remember is that this document only needs to be as long as it needs to be – there is no need to exceed a word count, and there is no need to make it lengthy for the sake of it, since doing so can cause you to lose critical focus.
The business problem will be translated into research objectives by a competent brief. This isn't as difficult as it may appear. Too often, people either write down their inquiries without explaining the backdrop and context of their business challenge, or they never try to differentiate between a question and an objective. All of these elements should be included in a good study brief. But don't worry, the procedure is quite simple; all you have to do is repeat these five steps each time:
Step 1: Identify the business challenge.
Begin by succinctly summarising the obstacle or issue you're dealing with. What made you realise you needed to do some research? This is a step that I've seen many briefs skip over the years. People frequently assume that this rationale is unnecessary and take it for granted; they've been dealing with the difficulty for so long that they neglect to convey it to others.
Take it from me when I say that a researcher has this knowledge in order to completely anticipate your needs and ‘get inside your problem.' A researcher will be better equipped to analyse the results in the best way if the whole context is presented; there are numerous ways to analyse questions and report them back, so knowing the background to the problem will ensure the proper analysis and reporting style is employed. As an example, I've written a brief text about a common issue that a grocery store or a Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) provider might encounter. This is an adaptation of a real project:
“Over the past year, category sales have decreased, while competitors' sales appear to have climbed during the same time period. A separate pricing comparison with the competition is also being carried out.”
This is a brief and straightforward paragraph. In reality, the issue may be summed up in a single line. The second statement was added to ensure that the project does not become too broad and attempt to analyse price; describing any other studies in progress can assist shape the focus and specify the areas that require inquiry.
Step 2: Who will apply the knowledge to use?
This is a phase that is sometimes overlooked yet offers crucial information for researchers. Knowing who will use the study will help focus the project and inform the most appropriate format of output and report. If the user is only you, a conversation format might be ideal (and quickest), but if it's going to the senior management board, a board ‘paper' might be required. If you require the entire company to grasp the results, a shorter, more visual, and shareable manner may be preferable.
“The category/product manager will be the principal user of the insight, with the supplier and the retail manager as secondary users.”
The researcher will be able to glean vital information about the types of things that need to be understood if they know who will be using the output; in the case of our grocery retailer, the sentence above explains that the primary user of the research will be the product owner, but that the information will also be shared with the supplier and retail managers who can assist the product owner.
Step 3: Describe the action or change they intend to make.
Explaining the actions that will be taken is the third phase, which is probably a little more difficult. We must remember that we do not aim to affect the project's results by projecting what we will change or how we will enhance the status quo; instead, we must clarify the areas of action we wish to influence. We are proving in our example that the actions are those that are under the product owner's remit and not those that are outside of their remit. This stage is crucial in determining the areas of research that will be investigated.
“We plan to take a variety of steps to reverse the sales decrease. We want to concentrate our efforts on the product itself, as well as how it is packaged and promoted. Stocking (product quality), display, point-of-sale promotional materials, labelling, and packaging are all things to think about.”
Step 4: Make a list of the questions you'd like answered.
So here comes the moment where the majority of people begin! Although this is the most evident phase in the process, it is by no means the simplest. It's tough to get back to writing the context, purpose, and actions needed from the research if you start with the questions. Starting with the previous three phases ensures that the questions you list now are focused and "on topic"; by outlining the problem, individuals, and actions required, you focus your mind before listing the important questions:
“Which stores were taken into account while purchasing the product?”
“Did they think about our product?” “If not, why not?” says the narrator.
“How would they describe our product's quality? “How does it stack up?”
“How important are the offers and materials at the time of sale in their decision?”
“Are they pleased with the packaging? “Would it be better if it was different?”
“Are there any labelling or packaging features that are confusing?”
And make sure to keep this focused by limiting yourself to a maximum of 10 questions; if you write more, the emphasis will be gone. There will be questions that need to be answered, but the preceding phases laid up the backdrop that led to those inquiries.
Step 5: Define the research goals.
When preparing a research brief, most people make the error of assuming that listing questions (step four) is the same as listing objectives! Questions and objectives are not the same thing. An objective states the research's goal or purpose: what do you want it to accomplish; a thing aimed at or pursued. In a nutshell, an objective is what you want to achieve. The questions you jotted down in step four are only stepping stones to assist you figure out what you want to research:
“Determine the reasons for the decrease in sales over time.”
“Consider whether adjustments to product quality, packaging, labelling, promotional, and display items would assist in increasing sales.”
“To determine if there are differences, compare them to the competition product.”
Because they must pull in and embrace all of the other information you discovered in the previous four processes, framing your objectives is the final step in this process. The objectives above include the business challenge, the types of actions we want to influence, and the scope of how we want to frame the study in the worked example.
This practical approach may appear simple, but it will need you to seek out the contextual information you require and effectively communicate it to the research team with which you are collaborating. When crafting a brief, there isn't one section that is more important than the others; the short (and the researcher) require all of them. It can be tempting to ‘just' list the questions or a couple of objectives, or to just summarise the problem. However, by just following the 5 steps, you may submit all of the information in a short amount of time - and it's really easier to do them in the order listed above!