How not to do ‘research’

I get lots of emails like this one, which just popped into my inbox.

Dear Mr. Naughton,

I am an intern in [name of publication] and am writing an article about
Google Glass.

Could you please be so kind and answer my following questions, so that I can
metion it in my article?

I suppose you have already watched this video

with first fight and arrest captured on Google Glass. Do you think it is a
start of new citizen journalism?

Can Google Glass affect our everyday life? In what way?

Thanking you in advance.

What always takes me aback about queries like this is the nature of the request. I’m not sure what exactly it signifies — some combination of naivete, innocence, laziness or ignorance, perhaps.

My reply is always a variant on the same theme.

Dear xxx

Thank you for your inquiry.

I’m afraid I’m not going to respond to it for two reasons: (1) your question is too broad and unfocussed, which (2) suggests to me that you haven’t done much research on the subject yourself.

What do you mean by “citizen journalism”, for example? Do you mean “citizen media” or “user-generated content”? This topic has been a major one for nearly ten years. There are lots of interesting books and publications — online and offline — about it.

(Journalism isn’t just about posting something to the Internet — it’s about fact-checking, corroborating, evaluating, doing quality-control on information before publishing etc.)

I suggest that you first do some research into Google Glass yourself (after all, that’s what the Internet is for) rather than expecting experts to do it for for you. Then, if you have identified some focussed questions for which you really do need expert answers, by all means come back to me.



Another interesting thing about today’s inquiry is that I don’t think the inquirer had seen this blog. If s/he had, then s/he would have noticed the post immediately below this!

The least one should expect is that people who ask questions of someone should Google them first.

I’m not being deliberately snooty, by the way. When students (or interns) write to me with carefully thought-out questions, or if they provide some convincing evidence that they have tried and failed to find something, then I try to be really helpful. But I am not doing donkey-work for some rich kid whose daddy has arranged a nice cushy internship for him or her.