Research Find the Answers


  1. Primary and Secondary Research
  2. Secondary Sources: Where Should I Look?
  3. Search Strategies: How Should I Look?
  4. Evaluating Sources
  5. Documenting Sources
  6. Plagiarism

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Do Your Research

picture of cans of Coca-Cola and Pepsi

In the early 1980s, Coke was losing the Cola Wars. Panicking, Coca-Cola executives assumed Coke needed to be sweeter to compete with Pepsi. On 23 April 1985 they threw out Coca-Cola’s century-old recipe and introduced New Coke. Outrage was immediate. Customers organized boycotts and filed lawsuits. Sales plummeted. Less than three months later, Coca-Cola announced a return to Coca-Cola Classic.

Disastrous business decisions often begin with seemingly reasonable assumptions. Effective management is evidence-based. Before making decisions, you need facts, not gut feelings; and if you want to be convincing, you need 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.

Primary Research:
Creating or gathering new information
Secondary Research:
Using existing information
Faster X
Less expensive X
May have copyright or licensing restrictions X
Tailored to fit your specific need X
May require additional expertise X
You own the results X

Research Vocabulary

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.



Don’t ignore research that conflicts with your position. Your audience is likely to come across it anyway.

Address it upfront, and show why your recommendation should still be followed. A balanced approach helps decision making.

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.

picture of books

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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 be gathering 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? 5.1 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 Journals

Use scholarly sources to establish a strong foundation. Articles published in journals often go through a peer review process where other experts determine whether they meet the standards for that discipline. This process takes time but improves reliability and establishes authority.

Examples: Academy of Management Review, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Econometrica

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,

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.

Examples: Advertising Age, The Progressive Grocer,

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?”

The web is like an iceberg. The Surface Web includes sites like Wikipedia, Google, and Bing. Beneath the surface is the Deep WEb, which includes things like medical records, legal documents, and academic information. Then there's the Dark Web, which includes illegal information, TOR-encrypted websites, drug trafficking sites, and private communications

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Section ThreeSearch Strategies

Search Operators

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.

venn diagrams of boolean operators, explained in the text

Common Database Operators

Operator Effect Example
* 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?

When it comes to the information needs of daily life, search engines like Google keep getting better at reading our minds. (Hungry? Bored? Curious?)

Google can also be a powerful tool for serious research (Google Scholar), but you can make your searching more effective by using advanced search.

Google logo
Required Reading

Improve your search skills by reviewing the tips in this infographic: 30 Advanced Google Search Tricks


Activity 6.1

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.

Having Trouble?
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.

Stuck? Librarians live to serve.
Save yourself an hour’s frustration by taking five minutes to ask for help.

picture of a librarian

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Section FourEvaluating Sources

A scale with currency, authority, reliability, and purpose or point of view on one side

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:

Does Your Source Pass the CRAP test?


  • How recently was it published or updated?
  • How current are its sources and content?


  • 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?


  • Who are the authors?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Have they been cited by other sources on the topic?
  • Can they be contacted?

Purpose/Point of View

  • What is the author's purpose?
  • Is the article written at a popular, professional, or professorial level?
  • Is the author or sponsoring organization values- or mission-driven, and might that position introduce political, cultural, or ideological bias?
  • Is the author or organization profit-driven?
  • How does this purpose or point of view affect the source’s usefulness?

Online Credibility

Fake news, social media bias, and sponsored content: how good are you at judging the credibility of what you read online?

Researchers at Stanford have found that we’re not as good as we think we are, with 80% of middle school students mistaking ads for a real news story, and . . .

less than 1/3 of college students recognized the influence of political bias in tweets.

Don’t just cherry-pick sources that seem to support your argument. Evaluate your sources carefully so that you can speak intelligently about them when someone in your audience has questions.


Activity 6.3

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?

Can I Use Wikipedia in my Research?

picture of computer with the Wikipedia logo on the screen

A Wikipedia search can be a good starting point for gaining a basic understanding of a topic. Well-written entries include references that lead to additional credible sources. But Wikipedia is derivative by nature, and you can’t really evaluate the authority or purpose of Wikipedia contributors. Instead of citing Wikipedia, you should use it to look for original 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 HBS Style (Harvard Business School Citation Guide), but if your organization has a preference or its own “house style,” follow that instead.

Formal Citations

. . . end of sentence (Richardson, 2017).


. . . end of sentence.3

3 Richardson, Marianna. “How to Be Fabulous.” Marriott Student Review, September 2017.


The Purdue OWL has excellent guides and examples for all major citation styles. Reference generators like CiteThisForMe are easy, but results must be double checked.

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.

Original Article:

“The positive sign of all cross-price elasticities of demand indicate 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


Holmgren and McCracken warn against “making pricing decisions independent of the other players in the market.”1


When setting prices, ski resorts must consider the prices of their competitors since, as Holmgren and McCracken show, skiers are willing to substitute one resort for another.1


Holmgren and McCracken demonstrate how the close proximity of Utah ski resorts increases price sensitivity for skiers.1 Because skiers shop for the cheapest lift tickets, a resort must consider its competitors’ prices when setting its own.

Endnote for Direct Quote

Sources Cited:

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.



If you use links, provide meaningful information as well.

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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Section SixPlagiarism

Failure to properly document your sources, whether intentional or accidental, is plagiarism. It’s unethical and possibly illegal. 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 these politicians found: CNN: From Speeches to Ph.D.'s: Politicians Called Out for Copying

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.

picture of two copies of the same paper with an arrow leading from one to the other. The copied paper has a red X over it.

Fair Use

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:

  1. 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.
  2. What is the nature of the original work? The use of creative works, like art or unpublished works, is less likely to qualify.
  3. How much of the work is being used? Using significant portions of a work is less likely to qualify.
  4. 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.

Fair use:

The legal doctrine that allows you to quote copyrighted material in your research.

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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In Conclusion

Make sure that your conclusions and recommendations are based on 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.” Do the work to find the facts.

Conducting effective research and thoroughly documenting your sources will help you to construct your own authority and credibility.

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Bold citations are referenced in the chapter text.


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Donald, Brooke. “Stanford Researchers Find Students Have Trouble Judging the Credibility of Information Online.” Stanford Graduate School of Education: News Center. November 22, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Fawzy, Farida. “From Speeches to Ph.D.’s: Politicians Called Out for Copying.” CNN Politics. July 19, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Google Search Cheat Sheet.” Supple Supply Services. Accessed February 2017.

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Pinola, Melanie. “Search Smarter: 30+ Google Search Tricks You Might Not Already Know.” Zapier. July 7, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey, and Robert Sutton. “Evidence-Based Management.” Harvard Business Review. January 1, 2006. Accessed February 2017.

Search Smarter: 30+ Google Search Tricks You Might Not Already Know” (Infographic). Zapier. July 7, 2016. Accessed February 2017.

Utah Sets Record for Skier Days in 2018–19.” Ski Utah. May 21, 2019. Accessed April 2020.

The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, “Literature Reviews” (PDF File). Downloaded from UNC Website. Accessed February 2017.

Zenger, Jack, and Folkman, Joseph. “The Data’s In: Honesty Really Does Start at the Top.” Harvard Business Review, June 1, 2012. Accessed February 2017.


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Hacker, Diana. Rules for Writers, 7th Edition. St. Martin’s, 2012.

Ferrara, Miranda H., and Michele P. LaMeau. “New Coke: New Formula Meets Resistance,” in Corporate Disasters: What Went Wrong and Why. Gale Research Inc, 2012.

Lipson, Charles. Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles, 2nd Edition. The University of Chicago Press, 2011.


Academy of Management. Academy of Management Review. Accessed February 2017.

Advertising Age. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

APA Style. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

Business Insider. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.

The Chicago Manual of Style Online. “Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide.” Accessed February 2017. “More information on Fair Use.” Accessed February 2017.

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Harvard Guide to Using Sources. “What Constitues Plagiarism.” Accessed February 2017.

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