Research and Valuable Sources in Public Relations

Many of us rely on some type of research to do our jobs well. We might not consider ourselves researchers, but most of us are digging into the depths of the internet or conducting interviews to carry out this work. How do we know if we are locating credible sources? Why does it matter? I would like to offer a closer look at what we might consider valuable research and why that’s important, especially for those of us in public relations. At the same time, I hope this post gives readers an inside look at some of our values at Clear Strategy Partners and highlights the care we take in crafting materials for our clients.

The Purpose of Research in Public Relations

For those readers unfamiliar with the day-to-day processes of a public relations firm, it might come as a surprise that our work requires a significant amount of research. At first glance, it might appear that our clients provide us with all the information we need to know, and we then shape that into a public-facing message for print or online publication.

Many of the details that inform our creative processes and help us accurately represent their voices, services and products come from the clients themselves; that much is true. There is often, however, an important research component that allows us to produce more comprehensive, current and thoughtful deliverables.

PR firms with the knowledge and agility to conduct thorough research can better support their clients in a variety of ways. In addition to improving their image in the marketplace, these firms also facilitate the best connections with other businesses or consumers through written materials, digital content and beyond. Generally speaking, good research helps us identify issues, problem solve, manage crises and assist clients in building long-lasting relationships with their target audiences. Additionally, educating ourselves with credible sources helps us learn more about our clients and their industry, ultimately improving the services we provide.

Valuable Sources

What makes the research useful, credible and thoughtful? Whether we work in public relations or another industry that requires independent research, it is important to know the quality and origins of the sources we consult. There are three essential categories from which we can gather valuable information, provided we choose them with care: interviews, primary sources and secondary sources. While this is not an all-inclusive list, these three types of sources can help us build well-supported messaging and communications. What makes each of these categories useful and how can we locate them?

Conducting Interviews

As a writer with formal training in Cultural Anthropology, my first thought when tasked with a research assignment is always, “Whom can I talk to about this?” Conducting interviews to learn more about a subject might seem rudimentary or obvious, but it’s easy to forget the value of interviews or even miss opportunities to take full advantage of them.

By choosing your interviewee carefully and asking thoughtful questions, you improve your odds of receiving well-informed answers to help you form solid arguments or support what you’re trying to accomplish. Ideally, your interviewee is an expert on the topic and has the qualifications and track record to have an authoritative voice on the subject, also known as a subject matter expert (SME).

An overlooked advantage of conducting SME interviews is that they give you the opportunity to ask the questions demystifying any grey areas for you. This might include questions you have about information stated in other sources and common misconceptions about specific topics that you have carried with you over the years. Chances are that you are not the only one out there with those misconceptions, so you will be adding value to your work by addressing it head-on somewhere in your content development process.

I have found interviews particularly helpful when it comes to educating myself about topics in STEM fields in which I have no experience. While talking with SMEs in these areas, I try to ask some of those “pedestrian” questions, when possible, as I know that others are probably pondering similar ideas based on things they have read, hear-say, folklore and social media. Additionally, I relish the opportunity to ask SMEs some version of the questions, “What else do you think we should know?” and “What do you wish other people knew about this topic?” In many interviews, these questions yield some of the most valuable information that, in my experience, are worth their weight in gold.

Primary Sources and Secondary Sources

Sometimes we can’t locate an SME, and that’s okay. There are other sources from which we can gather trustworthy information. Additionally, even when we have an opportunity to interview SMEs, we may still need to seek out primary sources to supplement that work. Primary sources are first-hand accounts of a particular topic or event, including written texts, audio recordings and photographs. It might be easier to think of primary sources as those documents that captured an event while it was happening or directly with people who experienced the event. Memoirs, oral histories, newspaper articles, polls, statistical data and academic journal articles can all be primary sources, although they were created after an event occurred.

Secondary sources are typically those that analyze, comment on, or interpret primary sources. This category includes books, articles, blogs, encyclopedias, textbooks, reviews, essays and documentaries that synthesize or summarize information. For a quick reference, check out the guide on

Sometimes it is difficult to determine if a source is credible. Generally, it is best to err on the side of caution. Those top-level domains such as .gov, .org sites tend to have the most trustworthy information, but you still need to do your homework. offers a compact list to help us decide, which they call the CRAAP test. The A’s are particularly important:

  • Currency: Is the source up to date?
  • Relevance: Is the source relevant to your research?
  • Authority: Where is the source published? Who is the author? Are they considered reputable and trustworthy in their field?
  • Accuracy: Is the source supported by evidence? Are the claims cited correctly?
  • Purpose: What was the motive behind publishing this source?

Where to Locate Sources

When it comes to interviews, since Clear Strategy Partners has long-standing relationships with many clients, I often have easy access to SMEs who are ready to meet at a moment’s notice. For freelancers and other professionals, it is not always easy to find a knowledgeable interviewee to speak with, let alone a highly qualified expert. After working as a freelance writer for several years, I know this challenge intimately. Resources like Help a Reporter Out can be helpful when you are in a jam. Bear in mind that you will need some time to post an inquiry to the site and vet the submissions you receive before you can proceed with a worthwhile interview. You can also contact colleges and universities when interviewing an academic researcher or a professor might prove useful.


For primary and secondary sources, your searches can follow any number of paths depending on your needs. Aside from locating original primary source documents in archives and special library collections, which can be quite time-consuming, you can find high-quality scans of primary sources in online digital collections. The American Library Association and the National Archives can help you get started, especially if you are consulting sources in the arts, history, or humanities. Google Scholar can also provide free access to many primary and secondary sources, just be sure to click on the PDF links to the right of the article titles after you conduct a search. That is the best way to read articles online without having a login credential from an academic institution, which most of us don’t have. Academic articles are typically peer-reviewed, meaning that they must pass a rigorous review process before publication. They are typically a valuable resource if you can find what you’re looking for.


Alternatively, you can look for interview materials with experts in specific industries, seek out materials posted by professional organizations that are an authoritative voice in their field, consult reports from market research firms, and dive into journalists’ writing and reporting if it aligns with your research questions.


While the goal of a public relations firm is to help each client meet their communications goals and find creative ways to engage audiences, there’s much more to those efforts than meets the eye. Locating and utilizing valuable and credible resources is only one piece of that puzzle. To me, there is a myriad of other processes and efforts within a progressive firm that rely on that research. If we draw on weak research, many aspects of our work will suffer in the wake.



Written by Timon Kaple
Digital Writer/Strategist
Clear Strategy Partners