If you’re tackling a project that requires someone to track down lots of information from many different sources, you might be in the market for a research assistant. Research assistants are commonly found throughout academia and research institutes, but they’re also often used by other professionals who need someone to go deep on a certain topic. Journalists, novelists, and other independent researchers may all call on a research assistant from time to time.

In this post, we’ll look at what a good research assistant can do for you, and walk you through the process of creating a solid job post that will attract high quality talent.

What Are a Research Assistant’s Responsibilities?

A research assistant’s work can vary widely depending on the project. They’re just as likely to be in the library basement reviewing microfilm as they are to be in a lab assisting with experiments. Generally speaking, though, a research assistant’s expertise comes down to finding the right information. This research may be conducted on the Internet, in libraries, in the field, or in a laboratory setting. Depending on the project, they may be working largely independently, or in close collaboration with the principal researcher.

Besides their research, research assistants often take on some related clerical or administrative duties: keeping sources and notes organized, tracking down references, as well as fact-checking and proofreading.

A successful research assistant will have strong research and analytical skills. They’ll also be able to clearly communicate their findings. Of course, depending on your line of work they may also require more specific skills as well, such as familiarity with certain kinds of archives or the ability to analyze polling data or run some basic quantitative analysis.

What Are You Looking for in a Research Assistant?

If you’re looking for a research assistant, your first goal should be to find someone familiar with both your area of research and the tools they’ll be using. Every field has standards and methods, so it may be worth taking a little extra time to make sure you find someone who’s got the right experience for your project.

Beyond that, the next step is defining your requirements. That means thinking seriously about what kind and level of research assistance you’re looking for. Do you need someone who works completely independently and return a full analysis? Or are you looking for someone who can track down references and keep your sources and references organized? Try listing three or four things you need most from a hypothetical research assistant and go from there.

Writing a Project Description

Once you have a solid idea of what you’re looking for in a research assistant, you’re ready to write a job post. The quality of your post can have a significant impact on time-to-hire and the quality of interested talent, so it’s worth investing some time and thought into crafting a compelling, detailed post. Be sure to include information about your project and what sorts of tools and methods your research assistant will need to be familiar with before they start working (if you know – often the research assistant will be able to advise you on the best sources!).

You should also include information about how you expect to work together. If you need someone who can be trusted to go off on their own and come back with the relevant data, say so. If you’re looking for someone to collaborate closely with, say that too. Be clear about how you prefer to communicate, since establishing a clear and open mode of communication will be important once you get down to work.

Sample Project Overview

Below we’ve put together a sample of how a project description might look. Keep in mind that many people use the term “job description,” but a full job description is only needed if you’re looking for an employee. If you think you might want an employee, check out Upwork Payroll. When engaging a freelancer as an independent contractor, you typically just need a statement of work, job post, or any other document that describes the work.

Title: Archival Research Assistance Needed for Documentary Project
Description: We need help gathering materials for an upcoming documentary film project. This project will involve locating materials and also identifying and analyzing new materials that may be relevant to the project. The project will involve working with digital and microfiche sources.
Scope and Timeline: We estimate this project to take around 6 months. We anticipate the work will take 20-25 hours per week.
About Us: We are an independent documentary film studio that has produced numerous shorts and feature-length works.

Looking for more resources? Check out our examples of good (and bad) job posts here.