Commissioning market research – writing a research brief

Commissioning market research – writing a research brief

By Liz Hill


Gain tips for developing the structure and content of your research brief in this simple guide by Liz Hill.

Writing a research brief

Having identified the problems that have led to a need for information, the next step is to prepare a research brief that will help the researcher to design a suitable research methodology. The brief should include background material that helps the researcher understand why the project has come about, including the research problem and research decisions to be made. It should include an indication of the type of people whose views should be sought during the research (known as ‘the population’) and details of the information that must be generated.

Many arts organisations will feel sufficiently unclear about all this to want some help preparing a brief. Indeed the process of identifying research problems and information needs can be extremely complex for large projects, and taking advice from consultants who can help with this process (not necessarily the consultants or researchers who will ultimately conduct the research) can save time and money later on. It will also ensure that you fully understand the task that you want your researchers to undertake before you begin the process of selecting and commissioning them.

Structure of a brief

A document containing the sections indicated below would be a useful starting point for a researcher trying to prepare an appropriate research brief.

  • Elements of a research brief
  • Background information about the organisation
  • Purpose of the research
  • Aims - why is information needed and what will the research findings be used for?
  • Objectives - what do you want to know when the research findings are reported?
  • Information needs - what, in particular, do you need to find out about?
  • Population and segments of interest - whose responses are you interested in?
  • Timescale - by when must the research be completed?
  • Budget - what is the maximum sum that will be spent on this research?
  • Reporting - in what form must the findings be reported?
  • Closing date for proposals - until when will research proposals be accepted?
  • Contact name and number - who can provide further information or clarify the brief?


This section should provide the prospective researcher with key information about your organisation - anything that helps someone outside the organisation understand its mission, the customer groups it serves, the products and services it produces or supplies, and the departments, funders and other stakeholders who may be interested in the research findings.

For example, it may be that the research is to be used in support of a bid for funding, or as supporting evidence in discussions with potential sponsors. Researchers need to know both the explicit and the hidden agendas for the research, if any, before they start.

Download the guide to read more:

Commissioning market research - writing a research brief (PDF)

Resource type: Guide/tools | Published: 2012