When we research a problem, we explore a variety of sources to gather information. These include:
- Academic journals and research literature: great for latest thinking on a problem and state of the art solutions.
- Reports (government, NGOs, think tanks): tend to provide comprehensive problem overviews, with a focus on policy implications.
- News/popular media: useful to understand how the problem is communicated to the wider public and learn about the problem from different angles – politic, economic, social.
- Market analysis reports: great for an overview of the economic impact of the problem and the market incentive for developing solutions.
- Events/conferences: excellent resource of key topics around a problem and leading experts or thinkers.
- Patent register: good way of seeing if anyone is working on particular solutions (see European Patent Register or US Patent and Trademark Office).
This list is by no means exhaustive. Its role is to point out that relevant information can come in many forms and that it’s useful to explore different sources in your research.
Avoiding alternative facts
With so many sources and so much noise online, identifying reliable content is increasingly challenging. While the below pointers are not groundbreaking, it’s always good to keep them in mind when assessing the validity of a source:
- Author(s): who are the authors of the piece, are their credentials provided and are these credentials relevant to the information provided?
- Publishers: who is the publisher of the information, do they have credibility in the field (e.g. are they an academic institution or a professional organisation) and is their purpose for publishing the piece clearly stated?
- Audience: who is the intended audience of the piece and is the language used aimed at a specialist audience or the general public?
- Content: are sources cited, are research claims documented, are conclusions based on the evidence provided, does the piece include references to other credible writings on this topic, are any statistics provided to back claims, is the publication date evident and is the information still up to date?
Other aspects such as number of citations for an academic paper can also be an indication of the visibility of a paper. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the number of citations says nothing about the context in which the paper was referenced (e.g. it could have been criticised in these papers), and may be influenced by additional factors such as the publication date, the journal it was published in, as well as the complexity and novelty of the topic.
Some of the sources we often refer to in our research include:
- Journal Databases/ Journals – Science Direct, SAGE journals, Emerald, JSTOR, Springer, The Lancet.
- Scientific Publications/ Speciality publications – Nature, Cell, Science, New Scientist, MIT Technology Review.
- Global/National/Specialist Institutions – Royal Society, WHO, Alzheimer’s Society, Cancer Research UK.