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.
ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL-MEDIA DATA
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).
DOCUMENT ANALYSIS ACTIVITY
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).
- Given the association’s name and the product being discussed, what potential bias might exist on
the part of the authors of this document?
- 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
- 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?
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: MYTHS VS. FACTS
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
OBSERVATIONS AND DEMONSTRATIONS
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