General, Skills for real life

Skills for real life – effective research during your studies and beyond

At NCRQ, we want our students to be able to actually ‘do’ health and safety, rather than just talk about it. To achieve this, strong research skills are essential.

NCRQ assessments are all based on real-life scenarios where students are not initially told what they need to know, but instead must find it out for themselves through their own critical analysis and research.

This gives our students the ability and confidence to undertake their own self-directed research and to develop strategies to deal with novel scenarios where there is little guidance or benchmarks. Holders of an NCRQ qualification can therefore demonstrate a depth of intellectual ability that cannot be tested in a 30-minute exam question.

We adopt this approach for the simple reason that, in the real world, health and safety professionals are not required to recite large volumes of information or make decisions on risk management on the spot. Instead, they are required to undertake thorough research on risk controls, critically analyse existing risk control systems, and develop systems, policies and procedures to ensure that risks to health and safety remain well controlled. The ability to conduct extensive research forms a key part of this.

With this in mind, we’ve put together some advice to help you get the most out of your research.

Where to begin – setting the scope with preliminary research 

Whether you’re making a start on one of your NCRQ assessments, have been given a task at work, or are simply researching something you’re interested in, it’s helpful to first set your research parameters by coming up with some key terms specific to your subject area that will help you direct and focus your research.

It is always a good idea to set aside a few days to research, as doing so will help you become familiar with the subject area, and help consolidate your knowledge. We would always recommend starting by re-reading your NCRQ workbook, before moving on to the internet, as it will help to direct your research.

Once you have decided exactly what you will be researching, you can conduct a preliminary search of information sources to determine whether existing sources are going to meet your needs. If you find yourself overwhelmed by too much information, you may need to narrow your topic; and in the same way, if you find too little, you may need to think more broadly.

Sourcing your sources – quality over quantity 

When looking for high-quality sources, the HSE website is an excellent place to start. It is where you’ll find reviews, regulation, research and statistics covering a huge range of activities. You’ll be spending a lot of time navigating the HSE website during your studies with us, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with this resource: 

When you locate a useful and relevant report, be sure to consult the bibliography as well, as this will often lead to further relevant readings that will support your findings. You can also ask any of our tutors for suggestions – as they are best placed to point you in the direction of up to date and relevant information.

While locating your sources, it’s important to always keep in mind their quality. Consider where the source has come from and whether the information is accurate, up-to-date and unbiased. Be careful here – just because you have found a source on the internet that seems to support what you want to say, it doesn’t mean it would pass an NCRQ assessment. Any sources you find, you will need to apply to the assessment criteria. This means carefully considering how they support what you are saying, as opposed to just saying it for you. 

Remember: It’s often better to have a few high-quality sources rather than an endless stream of poor-quality ones. 

Effective note-taking

Having gathered your research, you will then need to transfer this into clear and organised notes. This will not only help to structure your argument and collect your thoughts, but also prevent instances of unintentional plagiarism. You can use colour coding or even separate columns and tables to distinguish quoted material from your own original thought. This will help you differentiate your own thoughts from the work of others, and thus prevent plagiarism and academic malpractice. 


The final piece of the research puzzle, and something that is often overlooked, is proofreading. It’s not just other people’s work you must read in order to research effectively, you must also read (and re-read) your own. Extensive proofreading will ensure that you are able to properly communicate your message to a given audience and avoid any grammatical errors that might reduce the credibility of your argument. 

While reading through your work you should ask yourself: Does my argument make sense? Do the paragraphs flow logically? Have I used appropriate sources to justify my recommendations? Have I cited these?

Often, we find students who are unsure about the assessment will overload their submissions with lots and lots of information, hoping that some of it is correct. Try to examine your work objectively. Take a day or a few hours away from the assessment, and read it with fresh eyes. Is everything in the assessment relevant to the criteria NCRQ have set? Am I answering the question? Does this submission demonstrate that I am competent? 

Finally – have another check over your content to make sure you haven’t just copied and pasted block passages from your sources. Our assessors are looking to mark your words, not those of online sources, so provide them with enough of your own wording to do so!

The ability to conduct strong research is a highly sought-after skill. Following these steps will ensure that your research is high-level, focused, and effective. 

We hope you find these steps useful and can implement them in your own work, and if you have any more useful suggestions please send them to so we can share them with our student community!

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