Handbook for Research Projects

– for internal use by Demotech and the Student Workforce only –


Organizational points to be taken into consideration when going abroad:

  • insurance
  • health
  • for accidents and sudden illnesses


  • depending on the country (ask doctor or tropical institutes)
  • vaccinations
  • check where in the country you are visiting you find hospitals and German–/English–speaking doctors
  • get the contact details of your embassy in case of any emergencies
  • take a list of common infections and diseases including their symptoms with you

Visa & documents

  • it might take quite a couple of weeks to apply for a visa
  • consider the costs
  • make sure your travel passport is valid for at least another 6 months
  • what documents are necessary to take with you? (e.g. proof of yellow fever vaccination)

Partner organization

  • foreign language? how to communicate
  • important contact details
  • email
  • telephone
  • address
  • studying the local culture and knowing about appropriate behavior can facilitate the communication considerably

Orientation & getting around

  • get a good map of the country you are visiting
  • buy a good travel guide (recommended: Lonely Planet)
  • check how the infrastructure works, what are reliable means of transport?


  • if you fly with a local airline, first check how safe it is (e.g. HYPERLINK "http://www.planecrashinfo.com/rates.htm" http://www.planecrashinfo.com/rates.htm)
  • what means of transport are safe? (are there safe taxis? how safe are trains? is it safe to take 2nd class busses?)
  • are there any special risks for women travelers?
  • it is a good idea to scan all important documents (passport, traveler's cheques, credit card, flight ticket) and keep them online (e.g. in your mail account) where you can access them in case they get lost or are stolen
  • for you own safety, you should let people know where you are going to stay and how they can reach you; suggestions:
    • draft a program and write down addresses and telephone numbers of people you are going to be/stay with
    • write down all important telephone numbers and also safe them online (e.g. as Skype contacts)
    • keep contact with people at home, e.g. via email, blog or telephone
    • if internet is easily accessible, VOIP is a good and cheap alternative to fixed telephone lines (you might want to take a headset with you)
  • talking to other travelers who have already been to the country as well as talking to locals and fellow travelers helps increase your awareness of potential dangers and annoyances


  • check how much money you are allowed to take with you when you enter the country
  • check if cash dispensers are available in the country of destination and what cards they take
  • check with credit cards are widely accepted
  • if you take traveler's cheques, consider that you have to check bank opening times first and that banks also take money to cash them
  • be sure you know the current exchange rates

Local specifics

  • time difference
  • measures
  • business
  • legal matters
  • public holidays & special events
  • accommodation
  • food & drinks (nice to have a list with translations for local specialties)
  • electricity
  • water safety
  • communication (internet cafes available? post?)
  • dangers and annoyances
  • theft
  • festival assaults & harassments
  • insurgencies & strikes
  • racism
  • check if anything is to be taken into consideration for women, senior, disabled, gay & lesbian travelers


  • check if anything is to be taken into consideration for women, senior, disabled, gay & lesbian travelers
  • when to go (which season is best? consider temperature & prices)

What to pack

  • clothing (consider that the temperature is not the only criterion for the selection of appropriate clothing, but also the local culture and *practical considerations)
  • things that might come in handy:
  • padlock for your luggage
  • knife
  • flashlight
  • student card for discounts
  • alarm clock
  • what to bring
  • bedding (sleeping bag necessary? sheets? hygienic considerations)
  • toiletries (what’s available? what not?)
  • some medicines that might not be locally available (e.g. Malaria pills)
  • sometimes voltage stabilizers or compatible plugs for power sockets are necessary

Useful background information about the country (e.g. to better understand certain problems or customs):

  • history
  • geography
  • climate
  • ecology & environment
  • flora & fauna
  • government & politics
  • economy
  • population & people
  • education
  • arts
  • religion
  • society & conduct
  • language

Suggestions for your travel first-aid kit: (BBC recommendations)

  • An adequate supply of any medications routinely taken by any member of the party, all correctly labeled. Beware restrictions in some countries about what medicines can be brought in. Check with your travel agent. If you're worried get a letter from your doctor confirming the drugs prescribed.
  • First-aid items. A supply of plasters, wound dressings, antiseptic creams and an elastic bandage for sprains.
  • Water-sterilisation tablets.
  • Sun creams and protection.
  • Condoms, contraceptives.
  • Insect repellents: creams, mosquito-repellent devices (and a mosquito net in malaria areas).
  • Antihistamine bite-relief creams.
  • Travel-sickness pills and devices.
  • For stomach upsets: tablets to stop diarrhoea, and re-hydration solutions (essential if you're traveling with children).
  • Simple painkillers such as Paracetamol or ibuprofen.
  • An emergency travel kit. You can buy these in the chemist. They contain syringes, needles, intravenous cannula, suture and needles, skin closure strips and dressings. They should be handed to the doctor or nurse in a medical emergency, if it isn't possible to guarantee the items in the country are safe. If you're going somewhere very remote you may want to consider adding an intravenous set and a blood substitute solution to the kit.


Searching for a topic – steps:

  • from an interest to a topic
  • narrow down a broad topic to a focussed one
  • formulate questions
  • what problem is addressed by the questions?
  • formulating a research problem (problem statement)
  • what sources are available? how reliable are sources? (primary literature, secondary literature, interviews, data from research)
  • do you work together with partner organizations? => contact:

first contact: don’t flood them with information, explain yourself in not more than half a page – more detailed information can be provided *if the organization is indeed interested in cooperating with you

  • make use of contacts your friends or university professors have

Collecting data

  • what kind of data answers your research question?
  • how representative is your data?

Making a claim and supporting it

  • What do you claim?
  • What reasons support that claim?
  • What evidence supports those reasons?
  • Do you acknowledge this alternative/complication/objection, and how do you respond?
  • What principle (warrant) justifies connecting your reasons to your claim?

Drafting a report

  • categorize data
  • outline your report
  • draft version
  • final version


Selecting locations

  • as randomly as possible
  • to start with, contacting local NGOs and visiting their project sites is a possibility because it makes traveling and contacting local people easier (disadvantage: choice of project sites by the local NGO might be biased)

Meeting the locals

  • an independent translator might be helpful for communication
  • if there is the risk that the translator does not translate everything correctly, taping the conversations might help for later comparisons
  • meetings should be held in groups and with individuals because the information given probably differs
  • meetings should be held with groups of men, women and mixed – again, the information provided to you varies in all these cases
  • in order to get honest answers, locals need to trust you first – a longer stay in the village might be advantageous
  • staying with one particular family might again bias the information you receive from other villagers because they tend to associate you with that family
  • before going to the village, announce your arrival and possibly inform the chief/ village leader
  • the advantage of arriving alone is that people tend to trust you more quickly, but a local contact person helps building trust too

Conducting interviews

  • asking questions and receiving answers are always subject to interpretation so 100% objectivity can not be achieved
  • combining questionnaires and interviews might help to reduce misunderstandings
  • using local translators that understand the villagers and you as a researcher makes work much easier
  • often, villagers are curious too, so giving them the chance to ask you questions creates mutual trust and respect

Collecting data

  • keep track of times, dates, names of places and persons visited
  • safe data several times (in writing, on USB stick, using web space)
  • keep in mind that data can mean different things in different contexts and for different people

To the outline below more considerations will be added (Reinder)

Preparing before traveling

Introduction to the counterpart NGO

Checking the actual field conditions

Trying it out together

Repeating making it

Discussing the results technical

Discussing what expectations rise from the results

Describing the results, materials, measures, performance, ...

Documenting the results, sketches, photo's, video

  • keeping track of your daily activities (meetings, interviews, travels, etc.) helps you in the end when drafting your final report or writing down your conclusions
  • writing a short summary or part of the report regularly throughout your research reduces the amount of work in the end and guarantees that you remember the details
  • the conclusion should only be written at the very end because sometimes new perspectives open up that you have not seen before
  • sharing and discussing the findings and conclusions with the locals and other researchers helps refine the results, correct mistakes and allowing the people to participate in the research
  • let interviewees cross–check your reports to avoid any miscommunications

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Page last modified on November 06, 2006, at 10:50 PM