This title might sound like an oxymoron. After all, research is intrinsically tied to writing, especially if you’re unfamiliar with a topic.
It’s precisely this close association with research and writing that may be putting people off writing altogether. Research takes a lot of time, and the proliferation of hashtags and fake news means that the search for credible sources has become that much more taxing — and important.
That said, research can open up a whole new world of information; it can even take your work to exciting places that you never would have thought possible.
The good news is that if you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already got a good grip when it comes to writing. So, here are some tips to hone your research skills, and to hopefully make you enjoy the process while you’re at it:
Research from Emory University shows that reading helps create new neural links, boosting brain function and allowing you to tackle even the most difficult writing assignment. As a freelance writer, sometimes you get assigned to write about something you don’t know much about. One of the best ways to get a feel for the topic is to read similar articles to get a grasp of tone, vocabulary, and the like. Reading up on your chosen topic also gives you an idea of how to structure your argument, which can help if you’re someone who prefers to make outlines before writing.
Keep track of your citations
Depending on the length of your article, you might require anywhere from two or three to a whole handful of sources. Whenever you’re writing an article, it’s best practice to keep track of these links for when it comes time to cite them. Zotero is a great place to store your citations, as it stores everything from the link address to the publication date and author. You should also develop the habit of double checking your sources every once in a while to ensure that the information you use is up to date, which is especially important if you’re writing a longer piece.
Associate research with credibility
Research is just a way to fortify your writing and make it more persuasive with credible information. The fact of the matter is that there are tons of freelance writers out there, with many trying to write articles similar to yours. In fact, Small Biz Trends reports that freelance writing salaries remain low for beginner freelancers, a testament to how saturated the market is. Credibility is what gets your writing ahead, as it shows that you’re a source of information that people can trust. Rather than viewing research as yet another task you have to do, think of it as a way to show that you’ve thought deeply about what you’ve written.
Diversify your sources
Sources like news outlets, publications, and the like are good sources for a reason, as they’ve garnered a reputation for posting trustworthy news. Relying on the same few sources, however, doesn’t add much to the conversation. Google is always a great place to start your research, but looking at specialized websites can help you get the information you actually need. Try as much as possible to switch up your citations every once in a while. For example, online journal databases like JSTOR and Project Muse host a wide range of studies across all disciplines. As mentioned, this adds some welcome variety too.
Dedicate time to research
A lot of writers hate doing extensive research because it makes them feel like they’re back in college. To that end, an article by Special Counsel notes that breaking up your study into smaller chunks and creating a timeline helps you manage your time better. That way, you won’t get overwhelmed, as you will be adequately prepared. The same can be said for research and writing, because the tricky thing about research is that you can quickly get lost in a rabbit hole of endless clicks. Use the timeline trick and work backwards from your deadline, making sure to give yourself an ample amount of research time before you start writing. The important thing is to not go beyond the allotted time frame.
Always keep in mind what the reader wants
Your ideal audience is someone who’s never heard of your topic before. You want to write an article that engages them, so you should look to conduct research accordingly. Author Andy Weir says that it’s easy for an author to write about everything interesting they find — it’s your topic, after all! However, it is important that you to look for the facts that your readership will actually find interesting. When in doubt, always consult someone unfamiliar with your piece. And always make sure the content you are writing about has factual basis.
Researching is a muscle that you can build up through practice, just like writing. Backing up your work makes it more credible, allowing more readers to relate to your story. At the end of the day, we write to share our experiences and stories with people from all over the world. So don’t forget to leave a comment below sharing your research tips, and good luck!
Casey Santos has been writing ever since she can remember. Her current interests include nonfiction essays, jazz music, and green tea.