When you can’t find the information you seek, it may require tapping into creativity and persistence, traits that all good researchers possess. Yet many people would not use creativity and research for information in the same sentence.
We believe they go hand in glove. Especially with challenges at either end of the research spectrum:
- Information that’s in short supply, like reliable information on private companies.
- Information in voluminous amounts, requiring time and judgment to sift through, assess and present.
Just as you compete for market share and revenue, so too are you competing for information and your ability to glean insights from it. Following are a few examples that illustrate the creative ways our researchers break through obstacles to find and present information to meet their needs and requests.
Limited access to good information resources
If you’re not finding what you need, it’s possible your aren’t asking the right questions or looking in the right places. Sometimes it’s a lack of resources, because good data can be costly and proprietary tools have a limited number of seats. Sometimes it’s a matter of awareness and not knowing what data sources are available. And of course all these hurdles become higher when you add speed to the request.
Example of how a LibSource researcher managed a request with limited time, limited access to information:
“We recently received an urgent, late-evening request to determine how publicly listed companies in a specific industry were discussing a new-to-the-market product in their SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) filings. Because no one with access to proprietary securities research tools was available to do it, we initially thought we would have to use the full-text search function of EDGAR, the SEC’s Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval System, which does not display results in a manner conducive to rapid review. Instead, I used Google’s advanced search feature to construct a series of keyword searches from within the SEC domain. Using this strategy, a team of researchers was able to quickly review the text snippets of the Google search results to produce several on-point filing examples for the client to review that evening.”
If budgets are limiting your information resources, it may be worthwhile to seek the advice of a good reference librarian to identify your best options for getting the most cost-effective access you need.
Knowing how to use open source data
While the most current, relevant information often comes from paid sources, a wide variety of accurate and useful data is freely available to the public, including government and aid organizations.
When asked for the latest data on a current crisis, our researcher knew where to look:
“I frequently use NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) websites and portals, which are great sources of freely available data and statistics, trends and research reports. As long as they are properly vetted, citing these organizations adds credibility and authority to reports, articles and other documents. When asked for information about Syrian refugees, I turned immediately to UNHCR, the refugee agency of the United Nations. UNHCR offers a statistical database free of charge that provides data and trends on populations of concern. This got me started on the right track, though in this particular case, the statistics I needed were drawn from another NGO dealing closely with this crisis, which makes its data and findings available through the UN’s refugee agency.”
Governments at the local, state and federal level are similarly great resources for demographics, economic data, business data and other valuable information.
Information that’s hard to find
Sometimes the information request is for something that requires as much sleuthing ability as classic research skills.
Creative example of meeting a challenging research request for a media client:
“While preparing for the marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton, one producer decided to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to the royal wedding. He wanted a way to cover a “Royal” wedding in the United States. I was tasked with making that connection by finding an American groom-to-be with the last name Royal or a couple planning to be married in a town named Royal. There happens to be a Royal, Arkansas, so using the ReferenceUSA website, I was able to produce a list of businesses in the town like beauty salons, bakeries and churches that might know about an upcoming wedding. To find a couple named Royal, I searched bridal registries, and surprisingly found a few US couples who were going to get married around the same time as the UK’s royal couple!”
Finding information in unexpected places
Sometimes researchers need to look beyond the usual sources. For example, research on individuals can include social media, local newspapers and public records. Private company research might include press release services, media coverage and Secretary of State resources in the states in which the company operates.
This is where skilled researchers can make a difference. Something that could take an hour for unskilled researchers to find could take a few minutes for a research professional or reference librarian. In addition, authenticity and reliability would be verified, or if that’s not possible, it would be communicated and an alternative approach might be suggested.
Putting information in context for clear understanding
Finding a specific piece of information is one thing; finding ways to communicate that information for greater meaning and understanding is another. This is the research challenge we have working with some of our media clients, who strive to add context to news stories and other programming:
“Our client was covering an ongoing story about lava flow from a Hawaiian volcano, which was slowly advancing on a hillside community. A producer wanted a comparison that would vividly describe the intense heat of the lava. Given that lava is about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, I looked up the melting points of different materials to find something that would match that temperature. I discovered the melting point of copper comes close at 1981 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the producer needed a good visual for television and online viewing, I said that the lava is hot enough to melt the skin off the Statue of Liberty, which is copper that has oxidized to a green patina.”
Context matters not only in news but in law, competitive intelligence and other research endeavors. With a little imagination, contrast and comparison can be a great way to add contextual value.
Creative reporting and presenting of research results
Sometimes a researcher’s creativity comes into play after the information is found. Reporting and presenting the results may be a quick email update, an in-depth report, or a slide deck. Helping the requester quickly and visually grasp and use the results is the final step of good researcher.
Here’s an example from one of our researchers who works with law firms:
“For client development, often times our attorneys need a more granular litigation summary than those that are automatically prepared using proprietary databases. Recently I created a table that brought 13 cases together involving the same litigant and the same Nature of Suit (NOS). The table included time frames, the attorneys involved, which cases settled, etc. While this information is available in each docket, laying out certain details that were important to the attorney empowered analysis at-a-glance. It also illuminated areas where more research and/or analysis might be warranted. In addition, the table format adds flexibility, which saves time while lending itself to inclusion in formal presentations and other use. The attorney even complimented me on my ‘fancy’ charts!”
It’s enticing to surf the Web in the hopes that you will find what you need for free. Yet when time and accuracy are of the essence, it’s not where you want to be.
Our clients in media, law and business have come to understand that timely access to the right information truly does give them a competitive and operational advantage. The ability to tap into the power of search technology and apply creative methods to get to the best result is where good researchers make the difference.