We should seek quality, balance and variety in the think tanks, advocacy groups and consultancies we cite as sources of analysis and opinion. We should quote them judiciously. In our coverage over time, they should be scattered across the political spectrum. We shouldn’t repeatedly quote the same voices.
Generally, we should cite the experience and views of the individual expert rather than those of the think tank itself. That should be the emphasis especially when the think tank’s practice is to employ scholars of diverse views and to refrain from taking institutional positions on policy issues. The Journal has sometimes referred to such think tanks as nonpartisan or centrist, to distinguish them from those that are openly partisan. With the exception of independent polling and survey organizations, we should avoid those neutral-sounding labels. The reader is better served with a few words about the individual expert doing the opining—something an additional question to the expert we’re interviewing could provide.
Other think tanks openly advocate a particular worldview, and we should make note of that orientation—for example: liberal, conservative, libertarian—when relevant. Generally, however, it is more useful simply to cite that entity’s current or past position on the particular issue we are writing about.
Some entities we cite are more accurately referred to as advocacy groups; they exist to advance a precise set of causes, such as those related to the environment or human rights. When citing an advocacy group, we should identify it as such and make clear what the group advocates. We should generally avoid quoting advocacy groups as sources of facts that are obtainable from neutral sources.
Most readers understand that think tanks, advocacy groups and foundations are nonprofit, and consultancies are for-profit. Generally, we can avoid those labels.
If an organization’s funding is overwhelmingly from one source, that should be noted when appropriate.
When quoting an expert, we should check whether that person has ties to other entities, such as corporations or lobbying groups, that could influence his or her position or give such an appearance.
Harvard also has a very useful guide to citing think tanks.
Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about citing think tanks.