Crazy monkeys courtesy of iStock.
This article in the Evolutionary copywriting series is all about:
In this series, you’ll find TIPS for producing a good article.
Good research narrows your subject. It keeps you on track.
Good research mimics archeology. You begin with a general idea, and then, as you dig, you begin to draw conclusions. Let the data drive the piece, but don’t get lost in the details or your article will lose focus.
You will need to start with a basic premise to help sort and adapt good ideas.
Keep in mind:
- Track your sources
- Attribute quotes to the originator
- Understand the purpose of your article ahead of time
- Write something appropriate for your audience
- If readers are specialized, make yourself a jargon sheet
Before you begin: the top content marketers agree on this point, find out what’s trending on Google Planner first. Incorporating hot topics will make your article more interesting to the reader.
Step One: google the subject. From there, look for industry forums. Find out:
- Who the experts are talking about
- Who’s everyone quoting
- Who’s controversial
Reach out over the phone or Internet
Step Two: Once you know who’s got something valuable to say, reach out.
Arrange an interview. Tell your source ahead of time how long it’ll take, and what you’d like to know. Most people can spare fifteen minutes to a half hour–especially if it’s going to gain them some SEO cred.
And DO NOT take longer than you promised.
Let the expert do the talking. Have a list of questions to grease the wheel if they fall silent. Turn on a recorder. Need a way to get in touch? Use LinkedIn.
Boots on the ground
Step Three: Go to symposiums, conferences. Meet people. Hand out your card. Take theirs. Ask them if they’d like to be interviewed as a source for an article. Many people do. The PR is excellent. It gives experts the opportunity to broaden their following.
Check actuarial data
Step Four: Get good stats.
Find and quote industry statistics from credible sources. Listen to podcasts.
Time is your friend. I cannot stress this point enough. So many of the top pros will not budge on this. You can’t get in a hurry. Chew on things. Allow them to sink in.
If you’re cranking out lots of content, like a daily blog, make sure your immersing yourself in discussions and news in your niche topic every day.
Write about things that you care about. If it’s dull to you, the reader will agree.
Know your limitations. If you can’t write an article about Einstein’s theory of relativity, write one about how Einstein came up with it.
Be open to new directions. Sometimes the article that’s the most exciting isn’t the one you set out to write.
Search engines are a good starting place. But just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Always double-check your facts.
Kick bias to the curb
Always present opposing views. It strengthens the argument. Do a good job on this.
Check your library database. Often, you can access articles through their archive. You’ll need a card, but the scope and quality of some online collections make this resource a no brainer. The amount of fact checking and editing that goes into a formally published work makes it a much safer bet as a source, than an article on the Internet.
- Primary source – a document or study created during an event
- Secondary source – a document or study created afterwords
To illustrate a point, I’m going to use the discovery of the Heartbleed bug as an example. When sourcing information on the topic, since there isn’t an academic library to refer to, a writer would need to talk to people.
Moving from the nucleus of the event, it’s discovery, sources would move outward experientially:
Neel Mehta is a primary witness to the discovery of the Heartbleed bug. So were the two men who prepared the fix–Adam Langley and Bodo Moeller.
Brian Krebs, of KrebsOnSecurity, has a proven track record as a reporter and a cybersecurity expert. He has researched much of the major hack and attack activity in recent years. He is a great source for Heartbleed observations.
The same with Mark Bowden, the author of Worm. Bowden did an amazing job of researching the conficker worm outbreak. As an expert witness, Mark would provide relevant parallels pertaining to Heartbleed.
This source speaks to what someone else has said. Someone in this category might include Mary Ohlheiser, a reporter from TheWire. She’s reputable. That said, the further away you get from the eyewitness, the more careful you have to be about fact checking.
Ask your readers
When you’re looking for ideas that’ll interest readers use surveys.
Get out from behind the desk. Get out into the community. Find out what people are thinking and doing.
You’re not going to learn everything you need to know in one sitting. I’ve been doing research for a long time, and I’ve learned that research is a funny animal.
At times, you have to pursue a matter without mercy. At times, you have to let it cool down. The more time you allow between research and final draft, the better. Coaxing gold from what you’ve mined in research cannot be rushed.
Of course, if you’re on a deadline or there’s a danger of a news event growing cold, you’ve got to adjust. But otherwise give ideas time to develop.
Stephen King: The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “remember the word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far back in the background and the back story you can get it.”
The next article in the Evolutionary copywriting series is all about:
- Credibility and testimonials
Dancing monkeys courtesy of iStock.Survival of the Fittest: Copywriting Research Evolution by Rita Mailheau