Those term papers weren’t for nothin’! Why research matters to PR pros

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Remember those long, grueling hours sitting in your college’s library, surfing JSTOR for sources, revising and cursing at your annotated bibliography and the APA/MLA format you had to write it in? If you were anything like me, you probably wondered a time or two what the heck was the point of writing all those papers. Sure, maybe your professors were into torture and got some sick kick out of making you write a minimum 10 page analysis paper on “A Child’s First Story of Jesus”, but probably more likely (we hope) it was that they were ensuring you were comfortable with the fundamentals of conducting valid, useful research on a topic. Research skills, like the ones you learned and practiced over and over again in H.S. and college, are vital to a PR pro’s success. You may not be writing scholarly articles, but you probably are crafting content, serving as a spokesperson for your organization, and communicating with your constituents, which are all dependent on some of the same research skills.

  • Searching: Chances are, you don’t have enough hours in the day for the tasks on your to-do list. You need to find resources, tools, data, and trends that fit your needs, answer your questions, and help you do your job well. Knowing what you are looking for and where to look for it is critical to saving you much needed time, and delivering you the results you want. Do you have a bookmark file for the search engines, websites, and places you hit most frequently for information? Make one now.  Find engines  that pull not just from websites, but from blogs and social media to cut your keyboard time in half. Some of my favorite places to do research on trends in my field are Addictomatic, Alltop, and Twazzup. Also, Google Alerts sends info to me at the frequency I desire on the keywords I provide.
  • Evaluating: You’ve found some stellar content you think your audience will appreciate, will back up a point/position your org has taken, or would be a great soundbite to include in your ED’s speech you’re writing. Woo hoo! Done!? Not so fast. You want to make sure what you’ve found is truthful and came from a reliable source, like any good journalist does. If you use something that comes up as false, or just a rumor, you are not only misleading your public, which creates distrust, but I imagine you’re going to find yourself in a very hot seat in your supervisor’s office. Check where your info came from. Who’s writing/posting this? What relationship do they have to the content being provided? Were they paid to write it? Do they provide a citation (if it’s a statistic or number, this is SO important)? Did somebody official verify it? If you aren’t sure of something, don’t use it.
  • Citing: Plagariasm will get you more than just an F in the real world. You can go to jail or be fined big money for stealing someone’s work and not giving them credit. Not only is it polite and legal to cite someone’s work when you use it, it’s also smart because it shows you can be trusted- you’ve done your homework and are open to sharing your sources with your audience. Check to find out if the info/pictures/music/video you are using is under copyright, or if it’s considered free use. If you aren’t sure you have permission to reuse something, or how to properly cite/give credit to someone, then take two minutes and pick up the phone or shoot an email and ask.

I use these skills daily- do you? What are your best research tips? Share them in the comments!