One of the Best Assignments I Ever Got in College

In a development psychology course, the professor told us to find two things:

1) A newspaper article about a research study in child development.
2) The actual study itself (written up in an academic research journal).

We then had to do the following:
– Read both the newspaper article and the research paper.
– Evaluate the strengths and flaws of the study. (Some examples: How did the researchers select the sample, and was the sample size too small? How did the researchers define the concepts, phenomena, or behavior they were studying? What were the weaknesses in the statistical analyses?)
– Note discrepancies between the claims made in the study and the way the newspaper article reported these claims.

This was an eye-opening assignment. It helped show me the profound effects of study design and statistics on research findings. And how newspaper articles can misrepresent these findings, usually in the headline and opening paragraph of the article – the parts needed for grabbing attention through bold claims. Also, the parts people usually don’t read past.

I recommend this as an exercise in critical thinking. Research papers are often behind paywalls, but not always (sometimes, a professor will have a copy on their site). And if you’re already a college or graduate student, you may be able to access journal papers for free using school library privileges.

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