Media Shower writer Ron Franklin is a former engineer and manager for IBM and other high-tech companies who writes on technology as well as a variety of other topics.
As content writers, we often have to produce material on a variety of topics, many of which may be outside our areas of expertise. Yet we owe it to our readers, and to our own reputations, to only publish information that is accurate and authoritative.
But how can your article be authoritative if you are not an authority in that particular field? The philosophy I’ve adopted after several years of writing for the web is that producing authoritative content requires not just research, but comprehensive research.
Here are some keys to doing the kind of research that puts the stamp of authority on your work.
Do Your Homework, and Do It in Depth
When a writer is under the gun to produce content in a short amount of time, the temptation is to research the topic just enough to get by. That’s especially true if the article is a short one. Why spend a lot of time on in-depth research when you’ll only be able to use a small portion of that information in what you write?
I think of the topic I’m writing about as a jigsaw puzzle. I may need only a few specific pieces of the puzzle for my article, but my research goal is to assemble enough of those pieces to allow me to see the picture the puzzle forms. Only when I “see the picture” can I understand how the pieces I’ll use in my writing fit together, and as importantly, how they don’t. That’s what helps me avoid saying something that seems plausible on the surface, but that causes people who have real knowledge about the field to throw up their hands in disgust.
As I begin researching a topic, questions naturally arise in my mind about the significance of the facts I’m uncovering, and how they relate to one another. I continue digging to answer those questions until I think I’m seeing the overall picture the facts reveal. I probably won’t have mastered all the details. But getting to the point where most of my questions have been answered gives me confidence that I have enough understanding to avoid egregious errors. That’s when I’m ready to move from research to writing.
Don’t Trust Other Writers Too Much
Most of us are not going to visit the National Archives to do original research for a 500-word article. Instead, we mostly rely on information we uncover by searching the web. But what I’ve found in researching subjects I already know something about, is that many times the same inaccurate “facts” get passed around from site to site by writers who accept what they read on the internet at face value.
The only way to be sure that information we find on a web site (even Wikipedia) is accurate, is to trace it back to some authoritative source. That could be a primary source document, or a book written by an expert in the field. It probably won’t be uncredited statements posted on somebody’s blog.
So, before I use that quotation by a famous person that seems ideal for my purpose, I want to see it documented in its original context. And that historical event that so perfectly illustrates the point I want to make won’t find its way into my article until I’ve verified from several reliable sources that things actually happened that way.
Recycle Your Research into Additional Content
My comprehensive research can become even more valuable when I reuse that information again and again.
I recently wrote an article about a subject I previously knew nothing about. I did my in-depth research, and spent quite a bit more time on it than a single article could justify. But that first piece was just the beginning. Not only did the client buy the original article, but I’ve so far sold them a total of four, with more to come, all based on the research I did at the beginning. An added bonus is that every time I read back through my notes, I get some great ideas for additional topics to write about.
Doing more research can seem counterproductive to writers whose livelihoods depend on producing lots of content. But if you want to be a writer readers can trust, investing the time required for comprehensive research can pay big dividends.
For more tips on how you can produce compelling and authoritative content, visit the Content Marketing Academy.
Research sign: nyphotographic.com via picserver.org (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Puzzle: Tatters, flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Recycle button: GotCredit, flickr (CC BY 2.0)