I just finished taking the Communication Research Methods 398 course required by my Communication major. I can tell you that it was fairly boring (except for the professor who was absolutely phenomenal), though I did manage to walk away from this class with increased knowledge – don’t believe everything that journalists claim. To be more specific, when reading research presented by journalists, in articles, I found that most of the time they did not provide enough details of the cited research. If an article does not provide enough supporting information regarding the study mentioned, how will I, as a consumer, know that the research or claim is credible? I won’t. And therein lies the problem. Remember, writers are journalists – not scientists, psychologists, researchers, doctors or anything close. Yes, they may have extensive knowledge in a particular subject and the ability to think critically, but it does not give them the authority to present flawed or unethical research as valid facts.
There are a few factors to consider with research. It is important to understand the basic details of a research project to determine whether or not it can be generalized to other populations, if it is ethical, or if it is reliable (whether or not it can be replicated by other researchers).
Anytime research is mentioned in articles, there are a few pieces of information I look for first to determine if I can trust the research claims or not. Here is what I look for when reading articles:
1) Research affiliation: Is the name of the primary researcher mentioned? How about the affiliated institution? Is the official name of the article even mentioned? Often times, popular articles do not mention any of the specific details, which could identify the original research. This makes it extremely challenging for the reader to fact check and do further investigation to the article’s claims. In my research, I have found it extremely rare to find an article which provides a link to the original study – this is shocking and counter-intuitive. I should be able to look up the previous research, right?
2) Research Methods: Check to see if the article mentions the methods used during the research. The article may mention the sample methods, which are simply the way participants are selected to be apart of a study. For instance, say the article is stating that 50% of participants between the ages of 18-40 report sleeping 5-6 hours a night. It makes a difference if the sample was of 13 people conveniently in the newsroom or if it was a random sample of 1000 adults in three random US counties. See the difference?
Sample Size: the amount of participants used in study, sometimes referred to as n=##
Sampling Methods: how participants are selected to participate in a study –
Nonrandom Sampling: sampling method, which is not random; example: convenience sample – standing outside a grocery store and asking customers to answer survey questions
Random Sampling: sampling method which allows population an equal chance in participation in the study; example: simple sample – sample a university’s student population by assigning each student a number, and selecting each 100th student to participate in study
Research Methods: the way a study is carried out; the steps to the research process
The moral of the story: Be weary of what you read and fact-check before you make life decisions based on information in articles!
Got anymore tips? Comment below!