A Good Methodology Page Sways (Some) Readers
What do you do when faced with a skeptical audience of business executives who are predisposed to disagree with your research findings?
It is tempting to leave out the boring methodological details of how your research was conducted, who you interviewed, your assessment of the data’s validity and reliability, and so on (“Toss all that into an appendix!” your manager says). But new research on public opinion polling shows that those boring methodological details may bolster the credibility of your findings for the audience members most likely to champion the usefulness of your research.
Academic researchers at the University of Michigan explored the impact of a number of different variables on the credibility of survey research, in this case, public polls about controversial issues. These variables included (1) whether the results aligned with a person’s own prior opinions; and (2) whether detailed methodological information was presented along with the results.
Not surprisingly, they found that people tended to discount the credibility of polls if the results run counter to their prior opinions. And it is hard to disrupt that tendency. Even if results came from an ideologically- friendly source, and even if people were shown the rigor behind the polling, they were still less believing.
But they did find one important way in which presenting methodological details can affect credibility. It boosts credibility among people who are methods-savvy and whose opinions align with the research findings.
What does this mean for you, when faced with executives hostile to your research findings? Find the person most sympathetic to the results and who also knows a bit about how research is done. Highlight your methods and make all the details easily available for review. This will likely sway them even more strongly towards your findings, to become a stronger champion of your research.