Scientific desktop research: tentative conclusions

Category: [Corporate rat race]

Tag: [Books]


3min read

Useful tip I got from “Extreme Productivity” by Robert Pozen, still reading.

Desktop research, or simply known as googling in today’s context, is the act of collecting information about a particular topic or domain, with a broad/generic question in mind, or even without any question at all.

One way to do this is simply keep googling related search terms and noting down facts and statistics, and constantly drilling down on a specific term until it’s milked - sort of like a depth-first search of collecting information. After we are satisfied with all the information we collect, we then try to piece together a story. But is this a good approach?

Pozen argues that “although extensive research might seem a logical first step, it’s actually very inefficient.” This is because “there are literally thousands of facts that could be relevant to any project; do you really want to collect them all?”

Instead, Pozen suggests that we first form “tentative conclusions”, by first thinking hard about our problem. “After a day or so of gathering relevant information, write down your tentative conclusions for the project. These will allow you to more quickly engage in analysis - rather than description - by providing a focus for your subsequent research.”

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense and sounds more productive. And it’s a pretty scientific way of doing things - scientists don’t endeavour to do all the experiments that they can possibly imagine and then collecting all the data. Instead, they formulate hypotheses and design experiments to refute their claims. If their claims are not refuted, or are even proven, then they become published and reliable facts, for now.

And this applies to more than just desktop research: