When was the last time you thought about the term “research methods?” Does it bring back memories of properly formatting citations or filling out notecards? As much as we hate to admit it, our high school history teachers were right, the ability to conduct research is a vital skill, regardless of what industry you’re in.
At MAPR, you’ll often hear us say “we do the hard stuff” in reference to the nature of our highly technical clients. Since many of us come from backgrounds in communications and journalism and not computer engineering, the ability to research complex topics is a crucial part of our jobs.
Thanks to the internet, the research process has become much more efficient, though with great power comes great responsibility. It’s on us now to make sure we’re getting accurate information from good sources and that we’re presenting it within its full context. This is why we’ve identified the following elements as the most important aspects of research in public relations: efficiency, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Identify reliable resources for efficiency
A key aspect of conducting good and efficient research is to have a few go-to resources on hand. As public relations professionals we have to be able to translate highly technical information into a broader context that the average person can easily understand. Nothing helps us more with this than national trends and statistics. A great resource for this information is the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that conducts research in a broad range of topics, including U.S. politics, news and media, science and technology and social trends, to name a few. Not only is this information thoroughly vetted, its expansive and up to date. They even include infographics to make trends easily digestible.
Another dependable resource is a Google News search on the topic. A news aggregator service developed by the tech giant, Google News is a simple way to see what reputable sources (Reuters, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, etc.) have written about a certain topic. Because these publications have high fact-checking standards, they always include links to their information, which have also been thoroughly vetted. However, if the research topic requires a primary source, JSTOR is another free online resource that has a massive collection of academic research and peer-reviewed journals.
Present the information accurately
While all of the resources and methods mentioned above provide factual information, facts can be taken out of context, which can ultimately render them inaccurate. In the same way we don’t want journalists to take a client’s quote out of context, we want to make sure we’re not doing the same thing regarding information.
A recent example of this comes from a CDC report related to COVID-19 that gained a lot of attention online when it was was taken out of context. The CDC report read “For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned.” Many right-wing media personalities took this to mean that COVID-19 was significantly less dangerous and deadly than the mainstream media had reported. However, what was missing from this conclusion was that 94% of people who died with COVID-19 had other underlying health issues or chronic conditions that suddenly made COVID-19 deadly. With six in 10 adults in the U.S. having some sort of chronic disease and four in 10 having two or more, this context is vital to accurately understanding the severity of the disease.
Ensure your research is comprehensive
How do you know when you’ve gathered enough research? Are you presenting the full story? The best way to unearth the most important information is to experiment with different keywords. It’s easy to get tied down in one subject, but no matter how simple a topic may seem, you can almost always find more by switching up the keywords. For example, if you’re researching the broadband cable industry, the first term you’ll likely use is “broadband cable technology,” but from there, you might see an article that mentions fiber cable or DSL and the list goes on and on. It’s helpful to write down different keywords as you go along. Once you feel you’ve gathered enough research, go down the list of keywords and make sure you understand which are most relevant. This also helps if you feel stuck. If one keyword has become stale or isn’t giving you enough information, you can consult your list of keywords and perhaps discover a new set of articles or statistics.
Whether it’s a quick search on a competing company or a deep dive into the history of interstate compacts in the Northeast, MAPRagency can help ensure you’re getting the right information to help influence your business decisions.