Research Best Practices

The information age is called that for a reason. With the invention of the internet, you have what seems like an infinite amount of information at your fingertips. This comes in handy when you do research for school, work, or in your free time. Whether it’s a school, business development, or family history, it’s important to compile facts. So, how do you know which sources to trust and which to disregard? Here are some research best practices.

 

What’s the Domain?

The first thing you should look at is the URL of the webpage. This can separate a trusted site from one that needs a closer look. Chances are better if the site is either government-run or linked to an educational institution. These sites will have a domain that ends with either .gov or .edu. To get these types of URLs, the institution needs to prove they are associated with an accredited school or government body according to Techwalla and Dotgov.

 

However, there are two things to keep in mind. Sometimes a school will give a student a .edu domain, so be sure to check the author’s credentials. Also, many people assume .org addresses are affiliated with nonprofits or charities, but unlike a .edu or .gov website, any organization can acquire a .org domain.

 

Look at the Author

Who wrote the piece? It says a lot that someone is willing to associate their name with information that anyone can read. While many government websites are published without an author, any news source worth its salt will attach a name to each article. Often, you can click on the name to find out more about the author, which could explain why they are an expert in the field and why they can be trusted.

 

How is the Site Designed?

While a poorly designed site may have good information, a poorly designed site can indicate something else. The first is that the information might be really old (especially if the site looks like this classic example from Angelfire from the days of yore) and therefore not the most accurate. The other is that whatever research is on the page might not be associated with the most professional organization. Most organizations now have the funding to build a professional-looking site. If the site looks outdated, it doesn’t always mean the information you find is bad, but you should investigate it more closely.

 

Check the Writing Style

Usually, if the writing style is a flatter (read boring) academic style, this could indicate a trusted source. However, if the writing features slang, personal pronouns, or anecdotal stories, you may want to stay away. Also, you should be careful of sources that don’t cite other sources or are riddled with grammar and/or spelling mistakes. These are the marks of a writer who may not be associated with a professional organization.

 

Use Your Best Judgment

After researching a specific subject for some time, you’ll start to understand what’s right and wrong. Therefore, any information that doesn’t line up with what you understand about your area of research might need a closer look. This isn’t to say that the information is bad, just that you need to be careful about using it until the source can be verified through a secondary source, such as a scientific journal or encyclopedia.

 

Getting Started

If you are just beginning the research process and don’t know where to start, try searching your topic on Wikipedia. While you should never quote from this site, you can get a solid overview of the topic. Wikipedia pages can be well-cited, so although the page itself is off-limits, there are plenty of good articles linked on the page that can useful.

 

Research on any topic can be a daunting prospect, whether you’re doing it for work, school,

or fun. Make sure to look at each source carefully so you know you are getting reliable information. Remember that using incorrect information from dubious sources could put your professional and academic life on the line, so stay alert.

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Research for Persuasion

Persuasion is a powerful tool. When communicating with others, we have the ability to appeal to emotions and logic to convince someone of a position. Great thinkers like Aristotle dedicated their lives to defining and investigating persuasion. Today, we use the skill in pitching ideas, during job interviews, or even in our personal lives. For persuasion to be effective, we must establish credibility. The best way to accomplish that task is through research. Below are some ways you can bolster your position and enhance persuasion.

 

The Science of Persuasion

Psychologists have dedicated careers to the study of persuasion. Robert Cialdini is one of the most well-known experts, publishing his book “Influence: The Study of Persuasion” back in 1984. In it, he describes six principles of the process. This includes tools like authority, social proof, and consistency, suggesting that people are most persuaded when the speaker seems credible. A study published in the journal Communication Research found that statistical information is more convincing than story-based evidence. All this to say that supporting your arguments through research doesn’t dilute them – it actually makes them stronger.

 

Finding the Right Source for Persuasion

When diving into research for an argument, it’s important to rely on authoritative sources. Nothing is worse than making a passionate argument, only to find that there’s a factual error in your statements. Think of the fact-checking that occurs during political debates, and how quickly someone’s credibility crumbles when it’s revealed they’re spewing nonsense. When seeking out these sources, it’s vital to consider issues like bias, satire, or just general fake news. This is especially true in the age of the web, where it can be difficult to pin down the accuracy of information. In an effort to make this process easier, writer Joe Barker published a list of six criteria for evaluating sources. Though it was written more than a decade ago, the points are still just as relevant. Check to see if your resources have:

 

  • Authority: Who’s responsible for publishing the source? Is the information known to be reliable?
  • Accuracy: Does the writer cite their own sources? Is the work free of typographical errors?
  • Objectivity: Is the content devoid of bias? Are there statements of intent for the source?
  • Currency: Is there an indication of when the source was published or updated last?
  • Coverage: How do you evaluate the work itself? Is the piece well-written with arguments supported by fact?
  • Appearance: Does the site look well-organized? Do links and buttons work?

 

Though there is a lot of leg work that goes into sourcing your research, this list is a great start.

 

Balancing Data and Storytelling

While credible sources and diligent research benefits persuasion, it’s not the only factor. Humans respond to emotional appeals and storytelling. That’s why it’s helpful to think about how and when to use research in your arguments. It’s easy for the audience to simply tune out when all they hear is data. As Homer Simpson once said, “Oh people can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” The important part is to tether your research to a narrative so that individuals not only understand the information, but also why it’s so important.

 

In another study performed by Robert Cialdini, a hotel chain was attempting to cut down on water and energy costs. After research showed that asking guests to reuse their towels would drastically cut spending, the hotel knew this would be a great way to reach its goals. However, research also found that individuals were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels if they were told other guests did the same. With that in mind, the company simply created a campaign advertising this practice. The result? A lower usage of water and energy across the board. By using data and a story to inform its argument, rather than simply listing stats, the company successfully persuaded the audience.

 

Supporting your persuasive arguments with research is always a great idea. Not only does it lend credibility, but it can expose you to other perspectives. Blending the background data with a concrete narrative creates powerful emotional response for listeners. Even in this blog, we’ve used research to persuade you to use research for persuasion! Very meta, indeed.

Where and How Research is Conducted

We hear and read it all the time: “research has concluded,” “research has shown,” “new studies have found.” This might leave you wondering, just where and how is research conducted? How do the pros do research? Here’s some insight into the techniques and processes around research.

 

Scientific Research

Scientific research is the foundation of most approaches to research. This is the process of observation and information gathering. You then use that information to draw a conclusion. Good scientific research tests that new conclusion even further. A hypothesis is the tentative assumption that a researcher is trying to test during an experiment. Testing might be conducted in a lab or in the field while results are published in the news, scientific journals, and/or presented at conferences.

 

Business Research

Business research involves looking at every aspect of a company, from its internal processes to its customers to its industry competitors. This assists business owners or stakeholders make decisions, like when to open a new location or hire more staff. This research might be conducted internally, or by an outside consultant or firm. Findings might be shared through strategic initiatives, announcements, or in reports and presentations.

 

Education Research

Education research examines not only human learning processes, but the unique characteristics of a person and the elements of an environment that impact learning outcomes. There are many organizations involved in the pursuit and oversight of education research, including the National Center for Education Research and the Amercian Education Research Association. These findings often make the news and are applied in classrooms nationwide.

 

Medical Research

A clinical research study wants to answer a certain type of scientific or health question. This research begins in animals and moves to humans during clinical trials. This research might test how to use existing products in new ways or determine if new medicines or devices are effective. The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation is a nonprofit dedicated to public education about this research. Clinical trials in the U.S. are regulated and overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

 

Sociological Research

Sociological research is the process of identifying a topic, reviewing existing literature and findings, forming a hypothesis, and then conducting research. In the social realm, controlling variable and maintaining objectivity in sampling can be more challenging than in the hard sciences. The National Institutes of Health maintains ethical oversight and regulation of this research in the U.S.

 

Psychological Research

 

Psychological research is the analysis of behaviors or experiences to identify correlations and descriptions or learn more about the mind. Well-controlled conditions are essential to the success and validity of this research. The American Psychological Association is the leading publisher of this research in the U.S.

 

 

All these kinds of research are grounded in the scientific method, but each plays its own unique role in advancing human knowledge. Where and how research is conducted is essential to determine if it is viable information.

What is Good Research?

Curiosity has always been one of humankind’s most defining characteristics. We strive to know the unknown, and will often go to great lengths to satisfy our most burning questions. While great thinkers of the past spent countless hours searching for answers, modern times have made it easier. Thanks to the internet, research is now a daily part of life, whether it’s to answer a medical question, get directions, locate resources for work, or read reviews of local businesses. With so much information out there, it’s also become difficult to know what good research looks like. What qualities and features should you exemplify when you’re fact-finding? Let’s dive into what turns general queries into good research.

 

Good Research at Work

Research is a part of the scientific method. Established in the 17th century, the process is described by the Khan Academy as not only asking a question, but then establishing a hypothesis or stating the expected results, performing calculated tests, and then reflecting on the findings. However, if you’re tasked with researching a topic or subject at your job, it may not be as formal or involved. That said, there is still a great deal we can learn about research practices from the scientific method.

 

Much as you would with a hypothesis, you need to be sure you know exactly what question you’re trying to answer. When it comes to work, one of the best research opportunities appears when job searching. Unless you have a specific trade, chances are you have a combination of skills. Even if you studied marketing in school, there are all kinds of professions that fall under the umbrella of “marketing.” Before you start scrolling through job postings, it’s a good idea to establish what you want. What interests you in the world of business as it pertains to marketing? What abilities do you feel are your strongest? What kind of work-life balance seems best to you? Establishing criteria like this can help you pinpoint specific career paths within a large field.

 

Good Research with Friends

 

While we engage with our pals in real life, social media helps us stay in contact when in-person hangouts are not possible. Research published on Statista found that nearly 80 percent of the U.S. population has a social media account, with that number expanding to 2.34 billion people globally. While this is great for keeping up with friends, the overpopulation of social media has created problems. Unfortunately, with so many voices and shares, the prevalence of “fake news” has become a real problem. In fact, a study performed by MIT found that fake stories not only go viral more quickly, but reach people six times faster than legitimate news sources.

 

Thankfully, there are some telltale signs of inaccurate or downright untrue news stories. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions created a handy guide to consult before posting a news story. You can see the infographic here, but some common characteristics are:

 

  • A heavily biased source, or one paid for by an affiliated political party
  • Misspellings or grammatical errors
  • A lack of supporting sources
  • Misleading headlines
  • Published on a satirical site

Good Research with Families

Spending time with family often means getting out into the world. Whether we’re hitting local hotspots and restaurants in hometowns, or travelling into the great unknown on a vacation, it’s always better with someone you know by your side. Sometimes, though, building the trip itinerary can be complicated with various opinions and reviews online. With so many sources available, how can you be sure that these reviews are true?

Most folks search for restaurants and nightlife by either heading to an app like Yelp, or by simply Googling their query. Though we may want to trust in these reviews, it’s possible the comments are fake. Investigate any app or service you use to find out how they handle fraudulent reports. Not only can these pull you in to a less-than-enjoyable establishment, they may even drive you away from perfectly good options. In regard to travelling, turning to the web is also a good idea. According to ReviewTrackers, 89 percent of travelers say that online reviews are influential when deciding on their destination. The same research also revealed that the average jetsetter will check up to four different sites before booking. There are far more than four sites, though. For that reason, it’s best to consider a site that aggregates search results from many sources. That way, you can sort and compare reviews in one convenient location.

Research is rooted in science. It should be a methodical and thoughtful process, in which the overall goal is to find the truth. Though we might think of such ambitious practices as being reserved for scholars and scientists, research is everywhere. Whether you’re preparing a report for work, seeking fun activities for friends, or vetting social media posts, you can help promote great research. By doing so, the world can become a more well-informed place.