A common problem associated with professional business research is the difficulty of finding reliable sources. This is particularly true when doing online research. The following article explains why and how to avoid using unreliable sources.
Professional business research is more than the mere collection of content from random origins. It is easy to gather information from various sources–such as many online articles–that are short summaries of a much more complicated problem. While these certainly give an overall idea of the research study, they usually fail to give the detail needed for a professional and exhaustive research. In fact, those collections fail the definition of the word research, which is defined as “a detailed study of a subject, especially in order to discover (new) information or reach a (new) understanding” (2012, Cambridge Dictionaries Online).
New media such as the Internet have facilitated the act of doing research. There is literally no subject anymore that cannot be explored and researched through countless online providers conveniently from home or mobile devices. While this option supports us in finding quick information for day-to-day needs, it also contains the risk of lack of reliability. As many professionals and private people can upload online content easily and talk about any subject without having extensive knowledge of the matter, it becomes rather clear that there is also a lot of content that is superficial and/or littered with errors. For such reasons, one has to take precautions when doing professional research. The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University provides invaluable information, also on this subject. It names particularly the following points when evaluating print and online sources:
- Publication Process: Print versus online sources,
- Authorship and Affiliations: Who is the publisher,
- Sources and Quotations: Sources of the content,
- Bias and Special Interests: Objectivity versus subjectivity,
- Author Qualifications: Knowledgeable versus amateur,
- Publication Information: Given date of publication, publisher, author, editor.
Considering these points when searching for online sources make the research much more reliable and valuable to both the author and the reader. Quality research always starts with an evaluation of the sources. If we use these points, it becomes obvious that several online sources do lack reliability. Wikipedia, for instance, does not show the author (usually many unknown authors), has no publication date, may be biased, and can generally be edited by everyone. Even though one may argue that the content has become much more reliable than it used to be, one should take extra caution when dealing with this and other open-entry sources. While many short articles can be reliable, they do not give the necessary depth for good secondary research. There are several online providers that are generally said to be reliable, although one has to observe especially the publication date even on those. While one should always evaluate any contents’ reliability, the following providers have many professional and reliable publications:
- College and university libraries are usually a good starting point for one’s research. They provide many in-depth and professional publications and are often available for the public as well;
- Professional platforms such as Harvard Business Review (HBR) provide many such articles that have been checked and edited before publication. Full articles can be downloaded for a fee, although some articles are also publicly available online for free;
- Good information on particular businesses, industries, and professionals can, for example, be found on specialized websites such as Hoovers.com. They provide many reliable information for free, although in-depth analysis also have a fee.
These are all secondary sources, which means content has been collected for a particular purpose by someone else, such as in books, journals, and magazines. While secondary research may be valid and give important information on one’s own needs, they do not exactly have examined it. In order to do further research on one’s own subject, one should also implement primary research, which means collecting information for your particular subject through, for instance, surveys, interviews, and observations. The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University states that “a good researcher knows how to use both primary and secondary sources in her writing and to integrate them in a cohesive fashion.”
A good researcher knows how to use both primary and secondary sources in her writing and to integrate them in a cohesive fashion.
Quality research always starts with an evaluation of the sources. This is really the Alpha and the Omega for all professional and exhaustive business publications. Keeping that mind, one has taken a big step towards more professional business research and writing.
- Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University (owl.english.purdue.edu/owl)
- How should academic libraries communicate their own value? (guardian.co.uk)