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Three tips for reliable research

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© University of Southern Queensland

Below are three tips for reliable research.

Three tips for reliable research. Verification. Accountability. Independence

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1. Verification

If someone makes a claim, we need to know that truth and accuracy are at the heart of that claim. Quality content should explain how an outcome was reached so readers can determine whether the evidence has been accurately interpreted. When examining whether information has been sufficiently verified, you should analyse the sources used by the writer (1).

Are the sources

  • Named or unnamed? (Named sources are better.)
  • Authoritative or uninformed? (Authoritative sources are better.)
  • Independent or self-interested? (Independent sources are better.)
  • Offering a variety of opinions? (Multiple sources are better.)

When presenting your own research

  • Obtain and evaluate relevant evidence.
  • Provide context so readers understand the bigger picture of an event or situation.
  • Include transparency, which means explaining what is currently known or unknown about the topic or issue (2).

2. Independence

Independence refers to information being free from control, undue influence, and/or hidden agendas (3). When examining content, you need to consider if the writer was influenced in any way by either internal or external pressures. This can be a problem as occasionally less reliable communicators will go to great lengths to conceal any undue influences, particularly if they have a personal or vested interest in information being presented in a certain light (4).

Examples

  • Finance journalists should state if they hold shares in a company they are writing about.
  • A travel writer should clearly explain if any free flights, accommodation, or meals were provided to them.

3. Accountability

Accountability is when the researcher or writer can be held responsible for their work and this covers all elements of the process from information gathering, interviewing and writing. Communicators should be answerable for their contributions to any material that is available publicly, so that readers can form their own opinions about the quality of the content (4).

Questions to consider

  • Can I trust the writer’s background training and knowledge?
  • Is the writer accountable to anyone besides themselves?
  • Have the facts been given proper context for maximum understanding?
  • Did the writer gather the facts from all sides, justly and equitably?
  • Can I reach the writer or broadcaster if I need more details about the piece? (2)

One aspect of accountability is whether all parts of the content are accurately connected together. For example, a headline should be a genuine reflection of the content to follow, and this is often not the case when reading headlines that are devised to be ‘click bait’ (2).

You also need to know if the most basic questions have been addressed, including who, what, when, where, why, and how. If not, the writer hasn’t put sufficient effort into their fact-finding mission.

1. Klurfeld J, Schneider H. Teaching the internet generation to make reliable informed choices. Brookings Center for Effective Public Management; 2014. 25 p. Available from: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Klurfeld-SchneiderNews-Literacyupdated-7814.pdf
2. Centre for News Literacy. News literacy lesson 2: Verification, independence, accountability [web streaming video]. Washington, DC: Voice of America Learning English, 2022. Available from: https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/news-literacy-lesson-2-verification-independence-accountability/4388049.html
3. Kovach B, Rosenstiel T. The elements of journalism: What news people should know, and the public should expect. 4th edition. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press; 2021. 432 p.
3. Beder S. Moulding and manipulating the news. In: White R, editor. Controversies in environmental sociology [Internet]. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2012. p. 204-220. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511804434
© University of Southern Queensland
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