It’s popular to cite statistics and studies online, particularly in business blogs. However, you need to do your own research before you take numbers at face value.
I just got an update on my Facebook page with what looked like some interesting info:
Sounds cool, I thought. Complete with an image of convincing looking data charts. I clicked through and perused the article which made an assertion about people reading blogs that cited another study.
So, I clicked through to see what study was being cited. That article had yet another citation link:
I clicked on the link to another article. Again, no actual study. Just a link citation to yet another page:
Huh. I wondered where the original data for this stat was coming from. I continued down the rabbit hole to the next citation:
There are four business recommending or citing a “stat” from a resource that’s now offline.
66.6% of Marketers Like to Use Stats
I just asked two of my colleagues if they like to use and discover stats in business blog writing. They said yes.
I, on the other hand, said no. I’m feeling a bit put off by the false chase I just went through.
I figure that a lot of internet users do read blogs. But the 77% number these posts claim – and cite – turned out to be nothing. It’s based on an old study from a defunct webpage.
So here’s the problem. Business bloggers love to use statistics. Numbers and graphs look professional. They’re eye-catching. Percentages seem to validate claims.
That 66.6% in the above headline makes my claim look precise. But my “study” was spurious. Or, more accurately, it was ridiculous. I asked two people standing by the coffee machine, then included myself.
Not exactly a rigorous analysis.
In case you haven’t already started to realize this, business blogging isn’t the same as traditional journalism.
Woodward and Bernstein didn’t develop the Watergate story by citing somebody who cited somebody (who cited somebody).
They had an editor who forced them to verify their resources. This is beautifully dramatized in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men:
There is no Ben Bradley at most business blogs. Often, there’s little to no editorial process at all. Writers use statistics and citations spuriously because it helps them make their point and get their piece published.
The moral of the story is don’t just believe in a statistic because it shows up in some blog. Furthermore, be extra wary of blogs with long lists of statistics that are all cited with outbound links.
One of the blogs from my search is an article entitled: Blogging Statistics: 52 Reasons Your Company Blog is Worth the Time and Effort.
This blog actually makes several good points. But the listing of “statistics” is misleading. Most of the stats don’t have hard resources and many just cite pages that cite pages.
The listicle style and data are a tactic to grab attention and make the post’s assertions sound like facts.
When validating citations, make sure the source article is the actual source of the study. There are many valid studies with accurate data on business blogs. However, be suspicious if you start going down the “citation rabbit hole”.
Also, be wary of internet “myths” that tend to circulate.
For example, I recently came across several references to a Harvard MBA study that emphasizes the importance of setting and writing down goals. These were on major publications, including Forbes. The study showed that students who wrote down specific goals were far more successful in later life (Again, note that this article doesn’t cite the actual Harvard study. It cites another article with unvalidated claims about this data).
In this case, the study is an urban myth. It never took place, confirmed in this actual Harvard Business Review article by Peter Bergman about the benefits of not setting goals.
Everyone is becoming more and more aware of how misleading information on the internet can be. Before you believe a stat or cite a resource, do your best to verify its authenticity.