Investigative research is a name given to a collection of research techniques and methods used by researchers (including journalists, social scientists and others). It is intended to unearth secret, hidden or obscure information that can build a more comprehensive picture of the issue under investigation.
- 1 Orientation
- 2 Access
- 3 Covert methods
- 4 Resources
- 4.1 Guidance on specific investigative techniques
- 4.2 Guidance on sources of information and tools
- 5 Further Reading
- 6 See Also
- 7 Notes
Jack Douglas advocated ‘investigative’ social research in his 1976 book. He sums up the approach as follows: ‘conflict is the reality of life, suspicion is the guiding principle’. Lee criticises this by noting the potential for the scepticism necessary to ‘harden into cynicism and a contempt for those studied’.
Access to information is a major problem for all researchers, but is felt particularly by investigative researchers who are more likely to come up against refusals and to challenge them. Powerful organisations often attempt to limit access by a variety of techniques. These do not always involve threats of violence as in this example:
- If you try and inspect them, I will personally break your legs (Chairman of the company publishing Burke’s Peerage to journalists investigating lack of company documentation submitted to Companies House)
- We welcome requests... to conduct research which may prove to be of benefit to the force.
However, powerful organisations may allow social researchers access for a variety of reasons. Kevin Williams writes:
- In spite of the difficulties - and these are many and real - the powerful can be more open and co-operative than many social scientists believe. They are often prepared to discuss matters and in many cases welcome the chance to place their views on the record. their motives are mixed. they can emanate from a desire to correct what they see as misconceptions of their role and work. ... Talking to a researcher appears to be one of the few channels of communication they have with the public. The powerful also talk to the researcher to counter challenges from other interests within their institution. Powerful institutions are not monolithic. a large number of interests exist inside institutions... which are in a state of flux and change. Such a situation can work in the researcher’s favour. 
Gunter Walraff is a German investigative journalist who specialises in going undercover to reveal abuses of power. His work is excoriated by corporate lobby groups such as the West German Employers association:
- When [Walraff] describes an industry on the basis of his ‘research’, his writing is characterised by a consistent scale of social values which could by fashioned only by a conscious ideologist of class struggle. Each of Walraff’s publications reaches us as a hatefilled social-political campaign aimed at strengthening the machinations of class struggle. His purpose is to arouse among workers by hand and brain a class-consciousness which they will ultimately use to destroy the social system. his methods of investigation and documentation must be categorically condemned; the logical consequence of his point of view is that the end justifies any means and that all sense of responsibility is lost.
- Introduction to Investigative Research
- How to Expose Spin
- How to Find People Online
- How to Check VAT Registrations
- How to Read Company Accounts
- How to Read Public Accounts
- How to Research Local Government Finance
- How to Use Companies House
- How to Use the Freedom of Information Act
- How to be a Web Detective
- How to Write up Research
Guidance on specific investigative techniques
- Australian Center for Investigative Journalism Investigative Research, University of Technology Sydney.
- BBC Investigative Research on the Net, BBC Training course.
- Investigative Research Specialists LLC The Opposition Research Training Blog: Tips and Resources for Opposition Researchers
- Investigative Research Specialists LLC Research Books For Professionals
- Colin Meek How to: use search engines for precision surfing Journalism.co.uk, Posted: 19/03/07
- Colin Meek How to: find contacts and information about people online Journalism.co.uk, Posted: 15/12/06
- Colin Meek Web 3.0: what it means for journalists (part 1) Posted: 23/10/08
- Colin Meek Web 3.0: what it means for journalists (part 2) Posted: 24/10/08
- Colin Meek Google’s advanced operators for journalists June 19, 2009.
- Colin Meek How to: search for information within social networking sites Posted: 30/05/08
- Niall Ó Dochartaigh Internet Research Skills How To Do Your Literature Search and Find Research Information Online Second Edition 2007 SAGE Publications Ltd Free downloads: Chapter 1; Chapter 2
- Dave Winer How investigative research happens in the blogosphere, Scripting News,Sunday, January 11, 2009.
- Zilliox, Jr., Larry (2006) The Opposition Research Handbook: A Guide to Political Investigations, 3rd Edition, ISBN: 0-9718740-1-8
- Department of Geography and Sociology, Investigative Research Strathclyde University, circa 2010.
- Net for Lawyers, Using Social Networking Sites for Investigative Research
- UK OSINT Using The Internet As An Investigative Tool
Guidance on sources of information and tools
Press and Media databases
- Lexis Nexis http://www.lib.strath.ac.uk/lnnews.htm (requires login)
- BugMeNot. Lets you skip the registration process for many online news sites – although not those requesting paid subscriptions.
- NewsMap Useful little site that tracks graphically what is making the headlines at any given time. http://marumushi.com/projects/newsmap
Mailinator. Allows you to generate a free one-time only, incoming-only email address http://www.mailinator.com/
Glasgow University http://www.archives.gla.ac.uk/about/default.html HBoS http://www.hbosplc.com/abouthbos/history/group_archives.asp RBS http://www.rbs.com/about02.asp?id=ABOUT_US/OUR_HERITAGE/OUR_ARCHIVES National Archives of Scotland http://www.nas.gov.uk/about/default.asp Scottish Executive Consultations http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Consultations/Current Scottish Executive Publications http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/Recent Glasgow City Council Archives http://www.glasgow.gov.uk/en/Residents/Libraries/Collections/Localhistory/CityCouncilArchives/
Resources on lobbying/corporate power
- Powerbase http://www.powerbase.info
- Sourcewatch http://www.sourcewatch.org
- Corporate Watch UK http://www.corporatewatch.org
- Corporate Watch US http://www.corpwatch.org
- OpenCorporates, Open Database of the Corporate World http://opencorporates.com
- Open Secrets, guide to money in (US) politics: http://www.opensecrets.org/
- LobbyingInfo.org (part of Public Citizen) http://www.lobbyinginfo.org/
- Clean Up Washington (part of Public Citizen) http://www.cleanupwashington.org/
- White House for Sale (data on campaign finance in past US Presidential election) http://www.whitehouseforsale.org/
Freedom of Information
- WhatDoTheyKnow: Make or explore Freedom of Information requests
- Statewatch – FOI in Europe
- Campaign for Freedom of Information
- Open Secrets - A blog about freedom of information by Martin Rosenbaum
- Information Commissioner’s Office (England, Wales and NI for FOI)
- Office of the Scottish Information Commissioner
- Office of Public Sector Information
- FOI around the world - brief overview
For more see the page on Freedom of Information
Government Offices, Official Sources
- Scottish Executive FOI page
- House of Commons Publications
- House of Commons Archives
- Scottish Parliament Official Report
- National Assembly for Wales Record of Proceedings
- National Statistics (formerly ONS)
- Official Journal of the European Union
- European Commission Representations - Office in Scotland
- Europe in the UK: Information Network
- European Union Documents
- Web archive/Way back machine
- The New York Times Newsroom Navigator. This is the home page of all journalists on the NY Times
- STD Code Reverse List. Discover which area a dialling code is in: http://www.ukphoneinfo.com/section/tci/locator.shtml
- Reverse List of US telephone area codes: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/bsy/www/area.html
- Royal Mail postcode/address finder
- How to find owners of domain names
- Cassell, J. (1988). The relationship of observer to observed when studying up. Studies in qualitative methodology, 1(89), 108.
- Cohen, S. (1988) ‘The last seminar’ in Against Criminology, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction books.
- Gordon-Nesbitt, Rebecca (2011) How to Conduct Investigative Research, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow: Published by RG-N.
- Klatch, R. (1988). 'Studying a Politically Resistant Community' Studies in Qualitative Methodology, volume 1: 73-88
- Lee, R. (1993) Doing Research on sensitive topics, London: Sage.
- Peter Phillips, August 14, 2003 'Inside Bohemian Grove US Elites Celebrate Patriarchy, Racism and Class Privilege', CounterPunch http://www.counterpunch.org/phillips08142003.html
- Phillips, P, A Relative Advantage: Sociology of the San Francisco Bohemian Club A Doctoral Dissertation (1994) http://libweb.sonoma.edu/regional/faculty/phillips/bohemianindex.html
- Savage, A., & Hyde, R. (2014). Using freedom of information requests to facilitate research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 17(3), 303-317.
- Scott, J. (1990) A matter of record, Cambridge: Polity.
- Simpson, C ‘Scholars Perfect Psychological Warfare Techniques’ Excerpt from Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 by Christopher Simpson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 48-51: http://www.cia-on-campus.org/social/simpson.html
- John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson 'Digging the dirt and staying clean: Retrieving the Investigative Tradition' for a Critical Sociology of Sport', International Review for the Sociology of Sport December 1999 vol. 34 no. 4 385-397.
- Walby, K. & Larsen, M., 2011. Access to Information and Freedom of Information Requests: Neglected Means of Data Production in the Social Sciences. Qualitative Inquiry, 18(1), pp.31–42.
- Kevin Walby, Alex Luscombe (2016) Criteria for quality in qualitative research and use of freedom of information requests in the social sciences, Qualitative Research, First Published December 9, 2016.
- Walraff, G. (1978) Walraff: the Undesirable Journalist, London: Pluto.
- Williams, C. (2012). Researching power, elites and leadership. Sage. Introductory chapter.
- Williams, K. (1989). Researching the powerful: problems and possibilities of social research. Contemporary Crises, 13(3), 252-274.
- Freedom of Information | Power Structure Research | Social Network Analysis | Invisible Web | Finding Permanent Links to News Sources
- cited in Lee, 1993: 147.
- 1993: 148.
- cited in Scott, 1990:164
- Superintendent B. D. Wilson, Force Research Branch, RUC, 1997, cited n Miller, D. (1998) 'Colonialism and Academic Representations of the Trouble', in Miller, D. (Ed.) Rethinking Northern Ireland, London: Longman
- Williams, K. (1989). Researching the powerful: problems and possibilities of social research. Contemporary Crises, 13(3): 255.
- W. German employers association statement on work of Gunter Walraff, cited in Walraff, G. (1978) Walraff: the Undesirable Journalist, London: Pluto.: p. 1