Conducting Primary Research

Although the library and the Internet offer a wealth of authoritative information, in the workplace you will
often need to conduct primary research because you need new information. There are eight major categories
of primary research: analysis of social-media data, observations and demonstrations, inspections,
experiments, field research, interviews, inquiries, and questionnaires.


Every hour, tens of millions of posts are made on social media. A torrent of information is continuously
coming online, and many organizations are working hard to sift through it to find useful insights.
Businesses are spending the most time on social-media research, trying to figure out what customers like
and dislike about their products and services, learn what they want, and reinforce brand loyalty. Take the
case of Nielsen, which for fifty years has been monitoring the TV viewing habits of Americans by
distributing questionnaires and attaching devices to their TVs, and then selling the data it collects to TV
networks and producers, who use the information to determine how much to charge advertisers. The problem
at Nielsen is that many people don’t watch TV on TV or they don’t watch shows when they are broadcast.
Now Nielsen also uses social-media analysis: gathering data by monitoring social media to listen in on what
people are saying on Twitter, Facebook, and other services about different TV programs (DeVault, 2013).


Evaluating Information from Internet Sources

This information appears on the website of the Corn Refiners Association. The questions below ask you to
consider the guidelines for evaluating Internet sources (pp. 130–31).

  1. Given the association’s name and the product being discussed, what potential bias might exist on
    the part of the authors of this document?
  2. What main point are the authors making in this passage? How do they use words with negative
    and positive connotations (like “hype” and “natural”) to try to persuade readers of their point of
  3. If you were considering using this source in a document you were writing, what information would
    you want to discover about the site and the organization that publishes it? How would you locate
    the information you needed?
    You’ve probably seen the negative headlines about high fructose corn syrup. Have you
    ever wondered if the media hype is true? Here are some of the most common inaccurate
    statements about this misunderstood sweetener along with the actual reality.
    Myth: High fructose corn syrup is not natural.
    Fact: Wrong again. High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product,
    and is a natural sweetener. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic
    ingredients or color additives. It meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s
    longstanding policy regarding the use of the term “natural.”
    Myth: High fructose corn syrup is to blame for obesity.
    Fact: Obesity is caused by consuming more calories than are expended and Type II
    diabetes is associated with obesity. While high fructose corn syrup contributes to calories
    in the diet, there is no scientific evidence that high fructose corn syrup is a unique
    contributor to obesity or diabetes. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows
    that consumption of high fructose corn syrup has actually been declining while obesity and
    diabetes rates continued to rise. Around the world, obesity levels are also rising even
    though HFCS consumption is limited outside of the U.S. Many other factors contribute to
    rising obesity levels including changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise and are unrelated to
    Myth: High fructose corn syrup is sweeter than sugar.
    Fact: Sorry, no. High fructose corn syrup and sugar (sucrose) have almost the same level
    of sweetness. HFCS was made to provide the same sweetness as sugar (sucrose) so that
    consumers would not notice a difference in sweetness or taste. In fact, one type of HFCS
    commonly used in foods (HFCS-42) is actually less sweet than sugar.
    Source: Corn Refiners Association, 2016.
    But organizations other than businesses are analyzing social-media data, too. For instance, the U.S.
    Geological Survey created the Twitter Earthquake Detector (TED), a program to monitor Twitter for the use
    of the word earthquake. Why? Because they realized that when people experience earthquakes, a lot of them
    tweet about it. The Centers for Disease Control, a U.S. federal agency, analyzes keywords on social media to
    monitor the spread of diseases, such as the Zika virus, in the United States and around the world. According
    to one scientist, “The world is equipped with human sensors — more than 7 billion and counting. It’s by far
    the most extensive sensor network on the planet. What can we learn by paying attention?” (McCaney, 2013).
    How do you perform social-media data analysis? There are many software programs that can help you
    devise searches. Among the most popular is HootSuite, which includes tools for listening in on what people
    are saying about your company on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many other
    services. In addition, HootSuite helps you monitor and manage your company’s social-media presence and
    provides analytics: demographic data about who is following your company, their attitudes, and their
    behaviors. Figure 6.4 shows a HootSuite dashboard, the screen that lets you view and manage all the
    FIGURE 6.4 A HootSuite Dashboard


  5. Observation and demonstration are two common forms of primary research. When you observe, you simply
    watch some activity to understand some aspect of it. For instance, if you were trying to determine whether
    the location of the break room was interfering with work on the factory floor, you could observe the
    situation, preferably at different times of the day and on different days of the week. If you saw workers
    distracted by people moving in and out of the room or by sounds made in the room, you would record your
    observations by taking notes, taking photos, or shooting video of events. An observation might lead to other
    forms of primary research. You might, for example, follow up by interviewing some employees who could