Citing Statistics: Are You Contributing to the Problem?

Content marketers rely on statistics to support our arguments and add credibility to our stories. But with the increasing number of unverified and outdated stats on the Internet, it’s important to consider whether we may be contributing to the problem.

Lack of proper attribution is one of the major issues with citing statistics. All too often, we see statistics being shared without any indication of where they came from. You know the routine:

  • Blog post links to a stat from a roundup post
  • Roundup post links to an infographic 
  • Infographic cites a broken link

This practice spreads misinformation and undermines the credibility of your content. We don’t have to continue this cycle. Here’s what we can do together…

Cite to the Original Source

Citing to the original source is a critical best practice when it comes to using statistics in content marketing. By providing a link to the original source, you ensure that your readers can easily verify the accuracy and reliability of the data. 

In today’s age of fake news, unverified or misleading information can spread quickly. You don’t want readers to mistrust your content.

“Cite (and link to) reliable sources and examples in your content not only gives the article credibility, but also helps build a relationship with your customers. It is based on trust. This is the most important thing in content marketing,” says Matthew Royse, senior director of growth marketing at SoftwareOne.

Properly citing to the original source also ensures that you’re giving credit to the source. You recognize the work of others and acknowledge the sources that have contributed to the topic. You’ll respect writers who credit your work as well.

By citing the original source, you show your readers that you’ve done your homework and that you’re using reliable, trustworthy information.

Consider the Publication Date

The age of the statistic is another issue to investigate. As time passes, the accuracy and relevance of certain statistics can change. It’s important that the data you use is still valid and applicable to the topic. 

Check the publication date of the statistic and compare it to the current date. If the data is outdated, consider whether it’s still appropriate to use or if newer data is available. This due diligence is key for topics that are rapidly evolving as the data may no longer be applicable today.

But don’t get caught up in the myth that a stat is old after one year. It truly depends on the availability of the research. You also can use old data as a reference point of the time period. Or contrast the data from current data.

For example, let’s say that 67% of content marketers traveled to conferences in 2018. New data may show that only 34% travel today. You can highlight the older stat to show your audience pre-pandemic travel preferences. 

Think About the Context

Next up is the context of the data. Statistics are only effective when used correctly. By providing context, you can ensure that your stats are used in a meaningful and accurate way.

Consider how the data fits into the larger narrative. Is the data relevant to the topic you’re discussing? Does it support your argument or illustrate a point you’re trying to make? By answering these questions, you ensure that the data you’re using is meaningful and useful to your readers.

You can also provide context by discussing the limitations of the data. No data is perfect. So, acknowledge any limitations or biases that may affect the accuracy or relevance of the data. You ensure that your readers have a more complete understanding of the topic.

For instance, tell your readers that the study only covered a specific demographic or represented a small sample size. These tidbits give your audience awareness about the research. It also gives them the complete research background, so they can draw better conclusions from your content.

Check the Source 

It’s easy to link to any top result on Google. However, you want statistics that come from reputable sources. So, how do you know if a source is trustworthy? Here are a few things to think about:

  • Authority: Is the source an authority on the topic? Does it have credentials or expertise in the field?
  • Objectivity: Is the source objective and unbiased, or does it have a particular perspective or agenda?
  • Accuracy: Is the source known for producing accurate, reliable information? Have its findings been confirmed by other reputable sources?
  • Timeliness: Is the source current, or is the information outdated?

Using reputable sources is more than just a good writing practice. It’s also a good strategy for brand marketing. Companies want to associate themselves with other high-quality brands; in return, it boosts their perception in the consumer marketplace. Sara Donnelly, a writer, reporter, and editor at Eucalypt, agrees:

“Content lives and dies on the quality of its sources. Great sources—respected, astute, and reliable—can enhance your brand’s authority and boost its stature by association.”

Advocate for Stat Hygiene

You can’t change misinformation overnight. Nor can you do it alone. Whether you work in-house or freelance, you can advocate for citing the sources for statistics. Check out a few of these tips.

  1. Explain the importance of credibility: Citing sources establishes the trustworthiness of the content to build a strong reputation and gain the trust of readers.
  2. Emphasize the legal considerations: Failing to cite sources can lead to plagiarism and copyright infringement.
  3. Provide guidance and resources: Show how to properly cite sources, including examples and templates.
  4. Lead by example: Set a good example by consistently citing sources in your work and actively incorporating citations into your team’s writing processes.
  5. Recognize your team: Reward team members who consistently cite sources in their work to encourage others to follow suit.
  6. Make it a requirement: Require content to include the original sources for publication.

Let’s Be the Solution

Content marketers must consider the role we play in the citation of statistics. Let’s avoid contributing to the problem and create content that is credible and valuable to our readers. If you’re looking for original sources, try searching for stats on PrimoStats.