Research Find the Answers
Link & Learn
- Primary and Secondary Research
- Secondary Sources: Where Should I Look?
- Search Strategies: How Should I Look?
- Evaluating Sources
- Documenting Sources
Do Your Research
On August 3, 2016, Samsung announced with great fanfare the Galaxy Note 7. This was Samsung’s most advanced handheld device ever, designed to compete with the iPhone in the white-hot smartphone market. The Note 7 went on sale in mid-August. Immediately, reports began surfacing of the phones catching on fire. By mid-September, the Note 7 was recalled. Production stopped entirely in mid-October—barely two months after its launch. The failed Note 7 cost Samsung more than $14.3 billion in direct investment, not to mention severe damage to the company’s reputation.
How could a world-class company release a flagship product that overheated and caught fire? Two words: insufficient research. The phone’s designers specified a battery that was too big for the phone’s limited cooling capacity. (In fairness to Samsung, the battery’s third-party manufacturer also had quality control issues.)
Disastrous business decisions often begin with seemingly reasonable assumptions: consumers want smartphones with longer battery life, and larger batteries last longer. Careful managers, however, demand evidence. Before making decisions, you need facts—credible, representative data. Here’s how to get it.
Section OnePrimary and Secondary Research
Evidence can come from primary or secondary research. The strongest arguments are based on both.
Primary Research. When you conduct a survey, compile sales reports, or perform an experiment, you’re creating new information. That’s primary research.
Secondary Research. When you consult an analyst’s report, search through scholarly or news articles, or pull data from a government website, you’re accessing information that already exists. That’s secondary research. Seeing what’s already been discovered can save you time and money.
Creating or gathering new information
Using existing information
|May have copyright or licensing restrictions||X|
|Tailored to fit your specific need||X|
|May require additional expertise||X|
|You own the results||X|
Quantitative Research uses highly structured and standardized methodologies to gather or analyze numerical data.
Example: Asking customers to rate their satisfaction, counting actual return visits, determining if any correlation exists.
Qualitative Research uses data that cannot be easily quantified, often related to opinions, feelings, and experiences.
Example: Inviting a handful of customers to participate in a focus group where they discuss their desired product features.
Reliability indicates whether a tool or method produces consistent results. A reliable test or experiment will produce the same results when repeated.
Validity A test is valid if it actually measures what it is intended to measure. A poorly designed study may not account for all factors, making it difficult to draw valid conclusions.
Transferability A research study is more useful if its results can be generalized or transferred to other contexts.
Literature Review A rigorous review of pertinent research available on a subject. Learn more from this handout from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and from this example: International Small Business Journal.
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Section TwoSecondary Sources
Secondary research can take you many places, but you’ll usually start with an internet search. In addition to the open web, use specialized search engines to dig deeper.
Let's start with this question:
“How many people go skiing in Utah each year?”
Who might gather information like this?
If you want to research the winter sports market, you might start with a trade association, like SnowSports Industries America or the Utah Ski & Snowboard Association. The Utah state government might also have an interest in tracking such data. And local newspapers or industry newsletters might publish articles on the topic.
How can I access it?
Industry associations may publish the information you want. Check their websites and be willing to send emails and make phone calls.
Government sources are usually free but can be difficult to navigate. News sources are often available online. If not, try your library for access.
(Oh, and the answer? 5.3 million . . . good market.)
Get the best of both worlds: Search scholarly articles to lay a solid foundation. Then pull in specific details about the current case from news sources.
“Scholarly” is likely not an adjective you’d use in your social media profile, but when describing sources of information, scholarly is hot 🌶️🌶️🌶️. “Scholarly” is shorthand for “produced by well-trained, careful researchers and reviewed by their field’s experts before being published.” Articles published in top academic journals have survived a rigorous peer review process—time-consuming, yes, but crucial for certifying that the contents are reliable and authoritative.
Trade and Industry Sources
Use trade and industry sources to get both current and authoritative insight. Written by and for practicing professionals about issues important to that industry today, they provide you a model for the industry’s writing style.
Other secondary sources include reports published by industry analysts or think tanks, data published by trade associations or government websites, and official documents like financial statements or court filings. When you’re trying to find information, ask yourself, “Who would be interested in gathering this information, and how can I find out if they make it available?”
News Sources and Magazines
Use news sources to find the most current information on a topic or to see how popular opinion is trending.
Examples: Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, BusinessInsider.com
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Section ThreeSearch Strategies
Your library has access to databases of scholarly, news, and industry sources like EBSCO, ProQuest, and LexisNexis that aren’t freely available on the internet. These advanced search engines and controlled environments allow you to precisely manipulate your results with search operators. The most common are the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT.
Linking your search terms with AND tells the search engine you want to see only results that include both concepts. OR tells the engine you’ll accept results that have any one of your terms. NOT excludes any results with that term.
Common Database Operators
|*||Truncation: returns any word with that beginning||ski* (returns ski, skis, skiing, skier, etc.)|
|?||Wildcard||wom?n (returns women or woman)|
|" "||Phrasing: only that full, exact phrase will be accepted||“Park City”|
|( )||Nesting: similar to order of operations, nesting compartmentalizes the effect of operators||(”Park City” OR Solitude OR Sundance) AND ski*|
|nearX||Proximity: search terms must be located within X number of words of each other||ski* near5 Utah|
|atleastX||Frequency: the term must appear at least X number of times||atleast3 ski* AND Utah|
What about Google?
Concerning the information needs of daily life, search engines like Google keep getting better at reading our minds. Tired of searching for the needle in a haystack? Target your searches by using advanced search. Also, Google Scholar is a powerful tool for scholarly research.
Improve your search skills by practicing these tips: Use These 33 Google Search Tricks to Find Exactly What You're Looking For. Tips 1 – 17 are general life hacks; specific search skills start with tip 18.
Use Google to find sources about the use of social media for crisis management. Try a simple search and then some advanced techniques. Now try it out in a library database using the operators in the table.
Narrow, Broaden, and Separate
If you’re getting plenty of results, narrow your search by adding more specific concepts. You can also filter your results by date, peer-review status, or subject tags. If you aren’t seeing many results, broaden your search by adding synonyms.
If your concepts haven’t been connected by previously published research, you might be breaking new ground. Great! Try conducting separate searches for each concept, and then you can contribute to the global conversation by bridging those concepts in your own writing.
As you conduct searches, skim the results for different wording to use in your next search.
When you find a relevant source, look at its bibliography to follow the sources it cites.
Librarians live to serve.
Save yourself an hour’s frustration by taking five minutes to ask for help.
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Section FourEvaluating Sources
Whenever you encounter a new information source, whether it’s a scholarly journal, a website, or your roommate’s cousin’s girlfriend’s Twitter feed, you need to consider whether citing that source as evidence will strengthen or undermine your position.
To judge the credibility of a source, put it through a CRAP test. Assess these factors:
- Purpose or Point of View
Does Your Source Pass the CRAP test?
- How recently was it published or updated?
- How current are its sources and content?
- Check the last time the page was updated
- Dead links usually mean the page is outdated
- Charts should include a date reflecting when the information was gathered. Do not use undated statistical information.
- Look for a notice indicating how often the website is being updated
- Is the information organized, written, and presented well?
- Are sources cited and easily verifiable?
- Do the conclusions follow from the evidence?
- Does the site have a .com, .edu, .gov, or .org domain, and what does this suggest about its reliability?
- Look for sites that don't have an economic bias (not trying to sell you anything)
- Look for sites that care about their reputation (keeping a good image is incredibly important to gain consumers’ trust)
- Look for sites whose main goal is to disseminate important information to the public.
- Government sites (.gov, .mil, .us,... or a country code)
- Educational sites (.edu)
- Nonprofit organizations (.org)
- To limit your internet search to reliable sources, include [site:] in your query. The results are restricted to those websites in the given domain.
- For example: (crowdfunding AND entrepreneurs site:.gov)
- Look for sites that include links to other sites for more information.
- Look for contact information (email address, phone number and mailing address)
- Who are the authors?
- What are their credentials?
- Have they been cited by other sources on the topic?
- Can they be contacted?
- Read the "About Us" section. Look for information about the author or organization or someone who is responsible for the content. Search for more information about the author or organization. Find their credentials, qualifications, biography, history, or information on other work. If it is a personal page, be careful; thoroughly investigate the author. Find out if the document is part of an official academic or scholarly website. Pay attention to the headers, footers, or distinctive watermarks.
Purpose/Point of ViewAsk:
- Is the article written at a popular, professional, or professorial level?
- Is the information coming from a values- or mission-driven author or sponsoring organization? How might this introduce political, cultural, religious, or ideological bias?
- Is the author or organization profit driven? How does this purpose or point of view affect the source’s usefulness?
- Avoid picking only sources that support your argument. Carefully evaluate your sources so you can speak intelligently about them when someone in your audience has questions.
- Read about the organization's mission to look for bias.
- Make sure the website is not serving a personal agenda. Be careful with corporate websites. If you need an annual report, go to EDGAR, a free government database. Whether foreign or domestic, public companies are required to file registration statements and periodic reports electronically through EDGAR.
- Look for advertising; it indicates a potential for biased information or an ulterior motive.
- Look for original research. Some pages contribute valuable information on the topic; while other websites only repeat information already available on other websites.
- If the site is fee based, check with your librarian before paying. The library may have a subscription or have access to similar information.
Fake news, social media bias, and sponsored content - how good are you at judging the credibility of what you read online?
Researchers at Harvard University’s metaLAB surveyed 5,844 students enrolled at 11 U.S. colleges and universities. Only 14% said they were “very confident” in their ability to detect “fake news.”
The CRAP test should help you avoid misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Refresh your understanding of the differences between these three sources of bad data by studying the table below, courtesy of the University of Washington-Bothell Campus Library:
|misinformation||False information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead.||dictionary.com|
|disinformation||Deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.||dictionary.com|
|fake news||Purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news||Fake News: Understanding Media and Misinformation in the Digital Age MIT Press, 2020|
Why are we vulnerable to fake news? Years of cognitive science have shown that we are all subject to confirmation bias: the tendency to believe information that supports our preconceived notions and to discredit information that challenges our positions. Watch this PBS video to better understand confirmation bias so you can guard against it.
Why do our brains love fake news?
Evaluate these websites for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose or point of view. What does a CRAP test teach you about their usefulness as sources?
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Section FiveDocumenting Sources
Thoroughly documenting your sources not only gives credit to the original author but also gives your work credibility that can’t be achieved any other way.
Cite sources at their point of impact. In formal documents, cite at the end of the sentence in the form of a parenthetical author-date reference or a superscript number referring to footnotes or endnotes. Less formal documents, especially on the internet, often provide a clearly labeled link to a source—like this textbook does.
When citing sources, follow an established style like APA, Chicago, or MLA. This textbook follows the Chicago endnote style, but if your organization has a preference or its own “house style,” follow that instead.
. . . end of sentence (Richardson, 2017).
. . . end of sentence.3
3 Marianna, Richardson. “How to Be Fabulous.” Marriott Student Review, September 2017.
Integrate Your Sources
Weave evidence into your writing by quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. These examples demonstrate integrating a source text about price elasticity in the skiing industry. Avoid accidental plagiarism by learning this skill.
As Economists Mark Holmgren and Vicki McCracken explain, "The positive sign of all cross-price elasticities of demand indicates that other resorts are considered to be substitutes for the analyzed resort, emphasizing the importance of not making pricing decisions independent of the other players in the market.”1
OK, that’s good information but it suffers from the curse of knowledge. (See Chapter 1.) As an audience-focused communicator, you can “translate” the econ jargon by paraphrasing the quote.
Utah skiers are price sensitive because they can choose between many local resorts. For this reason, economists Mark Holmgren and Vicki McCracken advise resort managers to consider competitors’ prices before setting their own.1
Much clearer, don’t you think? Note that a paraphrase doesn’t free you from the obligation to cite your source.
Sometimes you need an even shorter version of the original—a summary—and you still cite the source.
When setting prices, ski resorts must consider their competitors’ prices since, as economists Holmgren and McCracken show, Utah’s local skiers can easily choose one resort over another.1
Regardless of which version of the quote you use, your endnote is the same.
1. Mark A. Holmgren and Vicki A. McCracken, “What Affects Demand for ‘The Greatest Snow On Earth?” Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management 23, no. 1 (2014): 18. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/19368623.2012.746212
If you use links, provide meaningful information. Note how in the following example, the writer identifies the link’s author and summarizes the key information. Also, beware of using a link to a non-public source like an article you accessed through your university’s library. You can avoid this problem by using the article’s digital object identifier (DOI), which we courteously included in the article cited above.
In his book Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth, Jim Steenburgh outlines three difficulties in forecasting Utah’s powder conditions: (1) intervening mountain ranges, (2) steep, narrow topography, and (3) the effect of the Great Salt Lake.
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Failure to properly document your sources, whether intentional or accidental, is plagiarism. It’s unethical and possibly illegal, so don’t mess with it. Your reputation and peace of mind are at stake, and the more successful you become, the more closely your every word will be watched, as this Duke University commencement speaker found out recently.
Even if you cite your sources, failing to clearly distinguish between your own words and your source’s words is plagiarism, no matter if you rearrange or change some of the words. For a complete overview, consult the Purdue Owl’s site on plagiarism.
In addition to plagiarism, be aware of copyright and licensing restrictions. Don’t violate copyright by distributing documents or using images without proper permission.
Fair use is the legal doctrine that allows you to quote copyrighted material in your research. Section 107 of the Copyright Act gives guidelines for determining what qualifies as fair use. Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the purpose of the use? Non-commercial, educational use is more likely to qualify as fair use. “Transformative” use, which adds something rather than just reproducing the original, is also more likely to qualify. Examples of transformative use include criticism, parody, news reporting, teaching, and scholarship.
- What is the nature of the original work? The use of creative works, like art or unpublished works, is less likely to qualify.
- How much of the work is being used? Using significant portions of a work is less likely to qualify.
- What effect does the use have on the market for the original? The use is unlikely to qualify if it hurts the market for the original.
During college, you may get into the habit of using images and other products copied from the web, feeling that your use qualifies as fair since it is being employed for educational purposes. Whether it does or not, that excuse ends abruptly when you are employed, so develop good habits now and save yourself and your company a costly mistake.
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Always base your conclusions and recommendations on credible evidence.
Don’t expect your audience to accept your claims just because you state them as if they were facts, saying “studies show,” “experts agree,” or “it’s widely accepted that.” Those stock phrases are like blinking red lights to sophisticated readers, signaling a logical fallacy called “appeal to anonymous authority.” Do the work to find the facts, and then give credit to the source of those facts.
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