When a researcher is considering studying a community, there are several strategies they can do to set themselves up for success. Some of these include:

  • Accessing local newspapers and contacting the reporters who write for them
  • Contacting national reporters who have already researched or written stories about the community
  • Contacting other students who have done research in the area
  • Making a local contact and then asking them about other researchers or groups that have been in contact before

It is your responsibility as a researcher to do the legwork to find out as much as possible about a community before you start your research, as well as what existing research has already been done.

Williston ARC

Researchers who are new to an area should remember that their research subjects in these communities are helping them get what they need, and reciprocity is important. It is also key to develop long term relationships with people in the community to gain trust. Spending as much time in the community as possible and attending community functions can help grow these relationships and trust.

Always treat community members and their data with respect and authenticity. Please be particularly aware of and sensitive to vulnerable communities, populations and individuals that have been historically marginalized, underrepresented or exploited in research and science. Engaging American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) communities demands culturally specific essential protocol not address in this course.

We suggest reviewing the Code of Ethics for the American Sociological Association and the Code of Ethics for the Rural Sociological Society. Both provide excellent guidance on the highest ideals of professional conduct. The National Congress for American Indians provides one essential starting guide to preparing to work in Indigenous communities—scholars in other national contexts should pursue similar resources.

How to Learn about a Community Before Visiting


Kris Smith and Julia Haggerty share tips for becoming familiar with a community before arriving there to do research. (video length: 1:34)

Advice for New Researchers Before Going into a Community


Julia Haggerty shares tips for new researchers who are about to conduct research in a community. Kris Smith shares some practical advice based on her own experiences as a graduate student. (video length: 3:12)