Overexploitation is a key driver of biodiversity loss but the relationship between the use and trade of species and conservation outcomes is not always straightforward. Accurately characterising wildlife trade and understanding the impact it has on wildlife populations are therefore critical to evaluating the potential threat trade poses to species and informing local to international policy responses. However, a review of recent research that uses wildlife and trade-related databases to investigate these topics highlights three relatively widespread issues: (1) mischaracterisation of the threat that trade poses to certain species or groups, (2) misinterpretation of wildlife trade data (and illegal trade data in particular), resulting in the mischaracterisation of trade, and (3) misrepresentation of international policy processes and instruments. This is concerning because these studies may unwittingly misinform policymaking to the detriment of conservation, for example by undermining positive outcomes for species and people along wildlife supply chains. Moreover, these issues demonstrate flaws in the peer-review process. As wildlife trade articles published in peer-reviewed journals can be highly influential, we propose ways for authors, journal editors, database managers, and policymakers to identify, understand and avoid these issues as we all work towards more sustainable futures.