The emerging discipline of sustainability science is focused explicitly on the dynamic interactions between nature and society and is committed to research that spans multiple scales and can support transitions toward greater sustainability. Because a growing body of place-based social-ecological sustainability research (PBSESR) has emerged in recent decades, there is a growing need to understand better how to maximize the effectiveness of this work. The Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS) provides a unique opportunity for synthesizing insights gained from this research community on key features that may contribute to the relative success of PBSESR. We surveyed the leaders of PECS-affiliated projects using a combination of open, closed, and semistructured questions to identify which features of a research project are perceived to contribute to successful research design and implementation. We assessed six types of research features: problem orientation, research team, and contextual, conceptual, methodological, and evaluative features. We examined the desirable and undesirable aspects of each feature, the enabling factors and obstacles associated with project implementation, and asked respondents to assess the performance of their own projects in relation to these features. Responses were obtained from 25 projects working in 42 social-ecological study cases within 25 countries.