Very often, significant performance benefits can be obtained by using some very basic knowledge of the application, its data and business rules. Sometimes even less than that: even if you are not familiar with the application logic at all, you can still use common sense to make some reasonable guesses that would get you a long way in improving query’s performance. Here is an example (based on an actual query that I had to tune today).
Database query tuning is mostly about getting better plans. Mostly, but not always. Sometimes, the problem has nothing to do with the plan, and you might need to get a bit creative to find a solution. In this recent case a query was showing a decent performance when running from SQL Developer, but it took about 5 times longer to complete when running from R. The plan was the same, so I knew that it was irrelevant. The R session wasn’t showing as active most of the time, so it was fairly clear that the problem was fetching data — i.e. it was fetching too few rows at a time which lead to a large number of roundtrips, and consequently, high waits on “idle” event “SQL*Net message from client”.