The Institute for Public Relations recently addressed the issue of “Fake Research,” or the practice of using bad or invalid research to bolster an organization’s story, position, or messaging. The IPR explains that using survey research results is still a valid and reliable way to generate news, but warns that in an era of “Fake News,” it’s increasingly important to ensure that your facts are indeed facts. So how do you avoid the fake research trap?

Here are five tips to make sure you can defend your research against the wrong kind of attention:

  1. Are you attempting to generalize the results of your research? Generalization is drawing inferences from the researched sample group and then applying them to the broader population. To generalize requires that the original sample has sufficient sample size (power) and is a representative sample of the population of interest.  Setting up a valid methodology is key to any research project and the Edelman Intelligence team can help you make sure your research, and how you report the data, will stand up to media or academic scrutiny.

  1. Mediagenic research by nature is focused on garnering widespread attention, but resist the urge to ask biased or leading questions to create sensational results. Asking questions that push the respondent toward the answer you want will create bad research that will be tough to defend. Just because the research is intended for a media audience does not mean we should compromise best practices in questionnaire development and survey sampling processes.

  1. The research methodology should be clearly stated – make sure that you explain or make the methodology available. The methodology should answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the research you are conducting. Who was surveyed or interviewed? What was the sample size and number of respondents? Where were they located? When, why, and how was the research was conducted?

  1. Ask questions that test not only the data that you hope to get, but also the ideas or viewpoints you might be hoping against. The more you understand the issue or situation, the better armed you will be to create a strong position or message for your clients and challenge competing explanations or viewpoints.

  1. Lastly, the research must be ethical. Respondents should know how the research will be shared or used, and be able to opt of questions or quit the survey.

Research and empirical facts are increasingly important to the practice of public relations and communications marketing. Edelman benefits from having a world-class research and analytics consultancy with the expertise required to deliver research that you can confidently stand behind. Arm yourself with bullet-proof data and you can be sure to avoid the “Fake Research” trap.

Read more about IPR’s research on the subject.

Craig Troskosky is a vice president, Edelman Intelligence, Rochester, New York. 
Terry Sweeney is head of Edelman Intelligence, Rochester, New York.

Priscilla Du Preez