Checking primary sources

solar panelsYou can’t believe everything you read.

Some years ago, I was asked to write a leaflet about solar panels. About 50K copies were to be printed and distributed to households around Britain, so it was a high profile project.

The client gave me an article from the Guardian about some research that supported the benefits he wanted to claim.

Something in that article made me think, hmm, this is just a teeny tiny bit too convenient. Let me just double-check the facts.

The Guardian article revealed that the story had originally been published in the Daily Mail, so I tracked down their article.

It took a slightly different angle on the situation, and revealed the title of the actual study. After some more digging, I uncovered the original research paper that the Mail had quoted.

And…

I found that the journalists had misinterpreted the data. The actual results didn’t support my client’s claim at all.

I had to go back and tell him we couldn’t use inaccurate evidence, and we devised another marketing approach instead.

I’m so glad my journalism training kicked in at such an important time. He risked being ridiculed and losing brand value and reputation.

  • Get your facts right
  • Don’t believe everything you read in the press
  • Find a USP you can actually back up

Remember, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

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