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Ethical standards for researchers

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Information professionals and competitive-intelligence researchers are all governed by a code of ethics. 

These codes guide the researcher in conducting legal and ethical research for the good of the profession and with respect for the clients and subjects of research.

The Association of Independent Information Professionals Code of Ethical Business Practices can be found on the AIIP Web site (, and the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals Code of Ethics can be found on the SCIP Web site (http://www.scip.or).

“Those records maintained by government agencies that are open without restriction to public inspection, either by statute or by tradition” are considered public records.

Black’s Law Dictionary further illuminates public records as “those records which a governmental unit is required by law to keep or which it is necessary to keep in discharge of duties imposed by law.” 

Fillings submitted to governmental agencies and records kept by governmental agencies are, for the most part, public. 

Public records include everything from building plans filed at the country land-use office to corporate registrations filed at the secretary of state’s office.

Organizations and agencies are often required to file reports or records of transactions with the appropriate governmental regulating agency. 

Likewise, governmental agencies gather and compile information in accordance with some law or for their own purposes and make it available to the public. 

Examples include the decennial census of the population, labor and economic statistics, agricultural census data, and public health data. 

Government employees within the gathering agency compile reports from the raw data. 

These reports are often published and posted on the Internet, distributed to local libraries for their government documents collections, or sold through the Government Printing Office. 

The tables and charts created as a result of the decennial census, for instance, can be accessed through computer tapes, downloadable files, and printed reports. 

The U.S. Census Bureau ( offers one of the most comprehensive and information-intensive Web sites in existence. 

This is the kind of public records information that proves invaluable to the market and industry researcher.

There are also companies in the business of gathering and selling information.  Some conduct primary research, others compile information from secondary sources and others offer a combination of both. 

They own and protect the information but make it available for a free through online information aggregators, Web sites, CD-ROMs, or print publications. 

PIERS, which as we’ve seen compiles import and export data, exemplifies the companies that compile information from primary sources, adding value through organization and indexing. 

PJB Publications, Information Sources, and Gale Group, also mentioned earlier, are a few of the companies that gather, compile, and index information from secondary sources for distribution.

Primary vs. Secondary
Primary research involves going to “the source” for information – primary sources being just that, the first or primary source, or where the data or information originates. 

Thus primary sources include interviews, surveys, and focus groups held to obtain information directly from affected parties. 

Secondary research involves “secondhand,” previously published information – analyses, descriptions, and opinions given in response to primary source material by people not directly involved. 

Secondary sources can include newspaper and magazine articles, trade journal articles, newsletters, technical analyses, brokerage reports, and all other forms of information that interpret or otherwise “massage” data or events. 

In short, primary source materials are firsthand accounts of something, and secondary source materials reveal people’s perspectives about a fact or event.

Conventional wisdom indicates that a market researcher begins with secondary research and fills in the missing pieces with primary research. 

For comprehensive market research studies, however, it is common to assume that secondary and primary market research will go on simultaneously and in sort of a “dialog” as answers come together.

Primary research is required when you need specific quantitative or qualitative information on a target market.  Examples of questions needing primary quantitative market research include the following:

• What kind of music do the people who visit my coffee shop prefer to listen to?

• How many visitors to the San Diego Zoo arrive there by public transportation?

• How many users of personal digital assistants (Palm Pilots, for example) would prefer a keyboard to the “graffiti” style of data entry?

Examples of questions needing primary qualitative research include these:
• How satisfied might current pantyhose wearers be with the look and feel of a newly developed brand?

• Knowing that customers are having trouble using a technically advanced copy machine, what does the machine/user interaction look like?

• Can consumers taste any difference between regular cheddar cheese and the new, low-fat cheddar cheese?

Do market/industry researchers engaged in searching secondary sources online ever conduct primary research?  Generally, no. 

Although conducting primary research is a huge part of the market/industry research profession, most online researchers rely on published sources. 

If extensive primary research is required, it is common to contract with a primary research firm to conduct the survey or hold a focus group. 

It is not unusual, however, for an online researcher to make a phone call to verify data or seek opinions and further information from experts. 

Industry, media, and market experts are an important source of information and can offer useful, specialized information not available online. 

For an in-depth understanding of interviewing techniques, read Super Searchers Go to the Source by Riva Sacks. 

The tips in this book apply even when the project requires only one interview, especially if the interview subject has a unique perspective on the topic.

Researchers can also take advantage of information from primary sources by searching for copies of speeches, letters to stockholders, results from association surveys, and data from syndicated data sources. 

Company CEOs or presidents make speeches directed at stockholders or analysts that can sometimes be downloaded from the Internet or read in the company’s annual report. 

They also write letters to the stockholders that are included in the annual report.  Associations commonly conduct surveys and compile statistics about members. 

For instance, the American Medical Association publishes a series of books containing detailed demographic information on member specialties, incomes, education, type of practice, age, geographic location, and size of practice. 

The Special Libraries Association publishes an annual salary survey of its members.
No matter what, researchers seeking a comprehensive look at a topic or issue will want to consult a wide variety of sources. 

This strategy offers the opportunity to verify and check facts, to assimilate a variety of viewpoints, and to uncover valuable details. 

Moving from the general to the specific, the researcher can drill down for the data that is needed while building an accurate picture of the market or industry.  For a detailed examination of secondary sources see Chapter Four and Appendix 1.

Fee vs. Free
Another way to understood information is to distinguish between commercial online database services and free, open Web sources.  Each has its place and its function, but how do you know which to use and when?

For market and industry researchers, important sources of information include trade associations, government agencies, magazines and journals, and market research reports. 

Obtaining information from these sources involves at least two steps:  (1) determining the source in which the information resides and (2) obtaining access to that information. 

Given the widely diffuse information environment, there are times when it is possible to search for free and to obtain the information for free. 

Then there are times when searching is free, but obtaining the information requires a fee.  Of course sometimes searching and obtaining the information both incur a cost.  How does this work, and how should the searcher manage it?

First let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of sources.


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