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How To Be A Better Writer: Do Your Research

November 25, 2019

In part two of our How To Be A Better Writer series, we explore how research can add credibility to your writing.

We’ll start by saying that research isn’t necessary for all forms of writing. 

For instance, if you’re texting your mum about coming to dinner, as in the example in part one, you don’t need to do any background research. 

However, if you’re writing an article or blog post, it’s likely that you’ll need some information to support your message. Even an opinion piece for a newspaper column is likely to need evidence to provide credibility. If it doesn’t have support, it is just one person’s opinion. And that might be what you’re aiming for, but don’t expect anyone to agree with you.

We also recommend doing your research immediately after step one. Why? Because it may have a bearing on what you write.

“Your research may throw up some unexpected information,” says Lucy Mowatt. “As an editor, I always research my subject before I start writing, so I have all the necessary details to hand.

“It is especially useful in an interview scenario, speaking to an authority about their area of expertise. Research might reveal a recent news story about their industry, or a development in their career, for instance.

“At this point, I might revise my plan from step one to incorporate the results of my research. If I have a unique take on a subject, I might change the entire plan, in order to provide readers with a new perspective.”

There are two core types of research, which we will explore now. 

Primary Research

This tends to be the harder, more involved route. Primary research is work you undertake to prove a hypothesis.

A good example is the State of Content Survey, which Method Marketing launched this summer. 

We wanted to test the hypothesis that consumers view mistakes negatively, because it affected the content of an upcoming presentation. To test the hypothesis, we ran a short survey to gauge opinions about mistakes and whether it affects shopping behaviour.

The results supported our theory. Lucy could state that accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar are important to business success. 

Read more: The State of Content Survey Results 2019

But surveys aren’t your only option. You could run face-to-face or telephone interviews or focus groups. Or you could observe behaviours in real life, or using session recording software on a website.

The main disadvantage of primary research is cost. It takes considerable time and money to run a research programme, even if you outsource to a specialist. However, the information that you glean will be unique to your business, so the return on investment may make it worthwhile. You have to weigh your options carefully. 

Secondary Research

Often referred to as ‘desk research’ this tends to be cheaper and less involved than primary research, but often gives great results. 

‘Desk research’ refers to the process of seeking out facts and figures that already exist. For instance, you could choose to read academic journals on your subject or go back through old news articles.

We often find that data from YouGov and the Office of National Statistics are good starting points for finding reliable data. In fact, Wikipedia can provide good leads; follow the citation to find the original source of the information to make sure it’s credible.

If you disappear down a rabbit hole, even better. You might find a nugget of information that transforms your content and sets you apart from the competition. 

Once you’ve got a bank of data to call upon, you’re ready for step 3 – writing your content. Stay tuned for part 3, where we give you tips about how to get words onto the page!

Read more: How To Be A Better Writer: The Complete Series

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