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Tips for using research (cheaply) in the era of fake news

A quick check list for spotting fake news in secondary data sources.

As a novel start-up in a poorly-researched space, we needed to validate the problems Whirli is solving. Sapio Research were fantastic partners from start to finish – creative in brainstorming angles, careful in designing the questions, and rigorous in analysing the results. The research brought a wealth of insights, backed by hard figures, for our business decision making and for us to talk about publicly in the press.

Nigel Phan
Founder
Whirli

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There are often financial barriers to charities and not-for-profits using research to inform campaign development, as our research with Campaign Collective found.

But, by using primary research in a more targeted way, backed up by freely available data to understand your audience, campaign planning can be made more effective.

When using secondary data, however, you come across all sorts of sites, some more useful and reliable than others. When running through the examples in the previous blog post we reviewed the sources against a quick check list so we were comfortable that we weren’t dealing with fake news. 

You might want to use this tick list too.

  1. Who is the website run by? Websites run by scientific, governmental, or intergovernmental institutions are likely to be the most reliable, although often a little dry.
  2. What is the expertise of contributing authors? Expert authors are usually affiliated with an academic institution, extensively published, and frequently cited by others.
  3. Rankings such as the Journal Quality List will help you determine what these journals are.
  4. Are the introduction and conclusions relevant enough to warrant a read of the full article?
  5. For tests or research results are the methods, sample size and audience characteristics (e.g. company size, geography etc.) clearly described in sufficient detail to determine relevance?
  6. Are assumptions stated for any conclusions or recommendations stated?
  7. Are supporting data sources referenced?
  8. When was the data collected or statement made, has the situation changed a lot since then?
  9. Check the bibliography as they can often point you to other useful sources.

You may well come to a stage where you can’t answer your questions through a quick Google, particularly when it comes to the wider public or people you don’t already have contact with. That’s when bespoke original research can also come in handy.

We will be discussing the findings of our research and providing more tips at the PRCA event on research in NFPs on 11 October.