Informal Research

Informal Research is

  • intuitive, unstructured, creative efforts at formulating research questions (e.g., how does X cause or correlate with Y) that might be later pursued with more rigorous, formal methods
  • preliminary research conducted to sample a range of insights on a topic as opposed to exhaustive efforts to understand the evolution and content of scholarly conversations over time
  • the process of reasoning inductively based on a limited anecdotal observations or texts
  • the selection of research methods based on convenience and intuition rather than in accordance with the systematic methods required by methodological communities to publish peer-reviewed literature.

Informal Research may be conducted by researchers to identify topics worth their time in full blown research studies. More typically, however, we conduct informal research for ourselves rather than others: we conduct informal research as a way of thinking about about topics, problems, and applications we find are curious, surprising, interesting. Because we typically conduct informal research for ourselves as opposed to others, we rarely write up the results of informal research.


Informal Research, most generally, is a way we learn, think, and engage with the world.

Informal Research can be like breathing: We all breathe without thinking self consciously about breathing (at least most of the time). Likewise we often engage informally in research without really considering it to be research.

We are engaging in informal research when we ask questions about topics and experiences, such as

  • Why did this happen?
  • Could I have avoided this or ameliorated it?
  • How can I solve that problem?
  • What’s going to happen next?
  • If I do X will Y invariably happen?

Anytime we ask questions, speculate about possible causal or correlational relationships, or generalize from personal experience we are engaged in Informal Research.

We humans are inquisitive. We want to know why things are the way they are. We want to figure out if we can change things for the better. When possible, we want to be able to predict what’s next based on what’s happened in the past.

Yet it’s also true that many of us are busy, so beyond a quick internet search, beyond a quick pass at preliminary research, we may not explore a research question deeply or systematically. We might skim through textual scholarship on a topic without endeavoring to have a deep understanding of the scholarly conversations on a topic.

Informal Research tends to be oral rather than written. But there are instances when informal research is actually written down: e.g., a personal journal, or blog. Online discussions–instagram, Feedbook, SnapChat posts-can be a form of informal thinking.

Informal Research fosters Implicit Knowledge, Personal Knowledge.