Creating almost any type of content follows the same process, from brainstorming ideas to final editing and publishing. Once you choose a topic and angle, you must collect the content, organize it so that it flows, make sure it’s error-free and finally share the piece with your audience. Writers wear many hats during this process, and one of the most important is researcher.
From blog posts to white papers, good research is the basis of good content. (Even fiction authors conduct research!) So if you’re wondering how to do research, we’re sharing some of our best tips to improve your research skills.
Note: There are other sites dedicated to academic research as well, these are just two that we’ve personally used and can recommend.
According to Wikipedia, “Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines.”
And, “Microsoft Academic is a free public web search engine for academic publications and literature, developed by Microsoft Research. Re-launched in 2016, the tool features an entirely new data structure and search engine using semantic search technologies.”
Enter the topic you’re researching and browse the results. Keep modifying your search terms as you explore to narrow down your findings.
Use Google Alerts to have new information sent straight to your inbox. Choose what you want to be altered about, decide how often you want emails, and you’ve created your own free research assistant.
Tip: If you already get too many emails or want to keep your alerts a priority, create a new Gmail address just to receive alerts.
Sources and More Sources
When you’re reading through content, check out the sources they reference. There may be links in the text or endnotes, but take some time to explore where the original facts came from. Basically, you’re taking advantage of the research that’s already been done.
Once you’re in the new file, check out those sources as well. Then, keep searching backward until you’re satisfied you have what you need to write the best content on the subject.
Tip: Right-click to open links in a new tab when the website isn’t set up that way. You may end up with a lot of tabs open, but it helps you keep track of where you started and what you want to save.
Say it Differently
Rephrasing a search term or question, even slightly, may provide very different results. If you’re not finding what you’re looking for, try asking for something different.
Need to research employee engagement? Try terms like: how to engage employees, best team building, how to keep employees from leaving, traits of productive employees, what do the best places to work have in common, and HR’s role in employee engagement
Writing a piece on healthy lunches? Try searching for: best healthy lunches, lunches to lose weight, how to pack a healthy lunch, healthy snacks for the office, top foods for healthy meals, light packed lunches, easy packed lunches, and healthy foods that taste good.
When doing research, explore related topics and mix up your wording until you find what you need.
Have you noticed the tabs at the top of Google? There’s more information to be found than just Google’s results. Explore books, videos, images, news, travel, and finance info on your search terms.
Click on Tools to the right, and you can narrow your results by time, date, and wording. This can be very helpful when you’re trying to track down the latest information or see historical results.
Don’t forget Google’s suggestions in the “People also ask” section. Check out those results for related information and more search results.
Competitors and Alternatives
Researching a particular industry, or maybe types of software tools? Need to interview a subject matter expert or secure influencer quotes? When you find a promising company or app, search for “competitors of…” and “alternatives to…”
And, once again, don’t stop there. You can search for competitors and alternatives to the new results. You’ll have a comprehensive list of appropriate companies or apps in no time.
Tip: This is a great way to find new leads to pitch as well.
There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you had the perfect fact, statistic, or quote… and you can’t find it again.
Keep a document open and add pertinent information and links as you’re working, or add them to the end of the outline you’re building. Keep everything until you’re sure you don’t need it for this piece and consider keeping swipe files for the things you don’t. You’ve worked hard to find this information, don’t lose it!
The most important thing is don’t give up! The information you need is out there, and you can find it as long as you keep searching and improving your research skills.