10 things we wish we’d known earlier about research: Tips from Journalist’s Resource staff | Journalist's Resource
Journalist’s Resource staff says, "We love research. Early in our
careers, however, we as individual journalists didn’t always appreciate
the value of research or interpret it correctly."
We did not always use the best study to make a point or fact-check a claim. Learn from our mistakes. Here are some things we wish we knew years ago.
1. Academic research is one of the best reporting tools around.
- Reading studies early in the reporting process will give you a good general understanding of an issue. It also will help you ask better questions and understand the answers that sources give you.
- Use it to hold public officials accountable. Oftentimes, policymakers try new things because they assume a certain change will prompt a certain result. (For example, mandating uniforms in public schools to improve student achievement.) A review of the research often will help you gauge whether such a change will or could provide the result a policymaker wants. Research also will tell you what has and has not worked in other locations and under similar circumstances.
- Individual studies often offer ideas for other angles journalists might want to pursue.
- A better source is scholar.google.com, which lets you search for research published in peer-reviewed journals. Other good resources are PubMed, Microsoft Academic, PLOS and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- Search academic journals for studies. But don’t limit yourself to journals that focus on your specific topic area. For example, if you are writing about criminal justice, you can find quality research in Criminology as well as in Social Problems, PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
- At the end of each academic study, authors list the research that is cited within the study. These lists are great resources for additional research on a particular topic.
- We have found that researchers respond more quickly to email than phone calls. They also may share free copies of their work or tell you how to access them for free.
- If you are confused by a data analysis and don’t have a strong background in statistics or research methods, reach out to someone who does. Many scholars are eager to help journalists describe their research findings correctly.
- Scholars often refer to their findings as being “significant” or “statistically significant” to indicate that a relationship they have discovered or a difference they have observed is not likely to be the result of chance or a sampling error. Determining whether something is “significant” or “statistically significant” is based on a mathematical analysis, not an opinion.
- Often, studies determine there is a relationship between two or more variables. Just because one variable changes in the presence of a second variable does not mean the second variable caused the change. Never make assumptions about what a study says or does not say. If in doubt, contact the author.
Source: Journalist's Resource