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Academic research and studies: How they work and why journalists should care

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This system ensures that the study is of the highest possible quality, and is the basis on which all good research rests. What kinds of studies are there? While there are an infinite number of questions in the world that can be studied, most research falls into a number of basic types.

Below are a few of the categories and loose genres that you should be familiar with:. Social scientists tend to analyze existing datasets, many of them from governmental sources — census data, health information, transportation data and more. This information can be current as well as historical. Long-term datasets can be useful for what are known as longitudinal studies. For example, Social Security data is gathered over long periods, and so can provide insight into the how U.

Select groups can also be tracked for years, and thus allow one to understand the relationship between pre-school education and well-being later in life. But they are also used in fields such as psychology and human cognition: For example, medical researchers might want to understand how having Google at our fingertips might affect our memory. The scholars devise and run an experiment — in this case, a memory test of a group of study subjects — and then analyze the results.

Social scientists are also running more controlled trials in the field: For example, how hearing the Spanish language in America affects perceptions and political attitudes.

These are, in essence, studies of studies. These can be helpful when there is a lot of research on a particular topic — for example, how studying at a diverse college might affect civic engagement later in life. While not technically studies, surveys frequently contain valuable information for journalists. Governmental and nonprofit research organizations often produce reports that synthesize a wide variety of data and look at particular questions — for example, the importance of infrastructure investment , the disparities faced by minorities in California , or trends in college spending.

Examples include a rethinking of economic development in poor countries or the case for banning subprime mortgages. The reading of scholarly studies can be important to get context — to know what smart people have thought about a particular issue. But they can also be cited and summarized in your story or blog.

You might strongly consider sending the author of a study an email inquiry or calling him or her to be sure you correctly understand the findings of the study. No matter what, be sure to give the scholar full credit by mentioning the institutions the study came from and the journal in which it was published.

And link to the study so your audience can go further into the question. It will improve the depth of your journalism and demonstrate transparency and respect for your audience. You might first think about how to localize a study. Here are 10 examples of such study-based ideas.

Furthermore, the following are examples of high-level stories that use research in a variety of different ways. An initial online article such as this one at NPR includes reaction quotes and reporting on the outrage stirred up. But a reporter could also, in theory, quickly search the PubMed database and locate this peer-reviewed study giving the facts behind the issue.

This Pacific Standard blog post — written shortly after the story broke — performed that research. The greatest danger of using studies in journalism is through oversimplifying the findings or misinterpreting them altogether. Researchers are often very helpful to media members, as they have every interest in seeing their work presented accurately to the public. Keep in mind that scholars consider research to be a process that is constantly unfolding.

While some questions can be definitively answered — for example, that certain drugs can slow the spread of HIV — on almost all subjects there is always more research to be done. This is most often a problem with studies based on experiments, because their precise design can greatly influence the results obtained.

So if you see an experiment-based study that has produced unusual results, proceed with caution. Finally, there are always questions about potential bias, particularly as a consequence of who funded the research. This can be difficult for non-experts to assess. Typically, scholars will disclose any conflicts of interest at the bottom of the study. You should be especially wary of research that does not appear in a peer-reviewed journal, or research that is funded by commercial firms that might have a vested interest in the results.

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