January 18, 2017

Writing about polls or survey results is similar to writing about any news story: It requires attention to the same principles of journalism, such as always reporting with precision and without bias, as well as providing context and looking for the deeper story.

Dig Deep — Look at Sub-Groups and Follow-Up Questions

Often, the best story can be found by looking deeper into the poll findings. Don’t forget to look at the sub-groups and follow-up questions. For example, do men and women have different attitudes or levels of support for a policy? Are the differences masked in the results for the entire sample? When reporting on results for sub-groups, remember that the margin of sampling error will be larger.

Look at What Other Polls Are Saying

It’s important to check the poll you are reporting on against other polls. Note differences or similarities; looking at more than one poll can also provide further context to the poll you are reporting on.

It is particularly important to report results from legitimate and comparable surveys that differ significantly from your findings and, if possible, offer some explanation for the differences.

Taken from Understanding and Interpreting Polls, a self-directed course at Poynter NewsU, developed in partnership with the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR).

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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