Understanding data: 4 go-to questions to ask when interviewing researchers or academics

Survey results and research studies are not inherently objective — they are the product of real people. When using data, it is imperative for journalists to understand the people and questions behind the data to put the results into context and eliminate bias.  

Caroline Chen, a health care reporter at ProPublica, shared four questions she likes to ask researchers and academics when reporting on data and numbers.

  • Can you explain the methodology behind this study?
  • Are there caveats? What are the things that this study or survey did not answer?
  • Here’s the conclusion I’m drawing from this — does that seem right to you?
  • If there is someone in the field that you really respected that has criticized this research, what would they say about it?

“I may not explain the whole thing to my readers because they don’t need to know that, but if I don’t understand the methodology inside out myself, then I’m not qualified to pull the biggest highlights,” Chen said.

To learn more strategies for uncovering bias in numbers, watch Chen at a recent program produced by the Journalism Institute and the National Association of Science Writers.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments