Research – More Than Just Google

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2008/09/research-more-than-just-google/

by Terreece Clarke

Deb’s note: I don’t usually bust in to other people’s blog posts like this, but won’t you help me welcome Terreece Clarke as our newest blogger and winner of the FWJ Idol contest?

I love Google. A quick Google search can often make all the difference in the world, but when it comes to an article, you need little more.

When writers research, whether it’s for a book, or an article or for a client, we need to look beyond the information found on Google’s famous pages. A search engine can be a great starting point, allowing you to get the general scope of the subject, but to go deeper you will need to get to those who specialize in the subject whether it’s through interviews, published research papers or books.

Lovin’ the Library

Most public libraries have great online resources allowing you to not only search through their catalog and reserve items, but you can also look through electronic journals. There will come a point, however, you may have to (gasp) leave the house to pick up the materials.

College Connection

Colleges, universities and trade schools have gobs of experts just sitting around being experts of everything. Writing an article on picking a preschool? Look through the education department’s web site for the chair of the early child development department. Pitching an article on automotive care or picking a mechanic? The local community college or trade school will have experts in auto care that not only can fix a carborator, but are practiced in introducing and expounding on the subject for an audience.

Don’t forget the schools’ libraries as well. Often they will have a pretty extensive online collection that is open to the public.

Amazing Amazon

Because of the large number of books made available to this online retailer, Amazon will often have books, including e-books, that are not available locally where bookstores, libraries and schools have limited storage resources. You don’t have to buy every book on the subject you’re interested in, but you can mine the listings for authors who can then become interview subjects.

Saucy Sources and Social Networking

Put your sources to work for you. Ask if they’ve got a go-to guy or gal in the field that could be used as a source. Ask about their mentor or if it is a subject with two competing sides find out who disagrees with them.

One quick Tweet could put you in touch with a hard-to-reach author or expert. Use your social network contacts to put out an “all points bulletin,” you’ll be amazed at what will turn up.

The Nutty ‘Net

While you can supplement your research with books, sometimes scouring the net is the only way to get the quickest, most up-to-date information, especially if the subject has a hot new angle. A few things to be aware of when searching:

  • Try a combination of search words.
  • Be careful of who is providing the information – we all know that anyone can write anything for the web and claim to be an expert.
  • Be careful on the slant of the information provided.

Got great research tips? Share ‘em! What are your top 2 fav ways to research? Where do you go when all else fails?

I am so happy to be a part of the FWJ community. While the focus of my work here will be on article writing, much of the information provided will be applicable to many different types of writers. I will even slide in some press release info – I got so much positive feedback on that area. I mean “technically” it is still a type of article, right Deb? :0)

Comments

  1. It’s funny, I was just at the library on the weekend, and it made me realize how long it had been since I was last there.

    I also find trade publications to be of great value for getting ideas and research for the consumer pubs, as they give you an insider’s look at consumer trends and services that haven’t hit the mainstream yet.

    Great post, Terreece!

  2. Great first post, Terreece! (And can you give us a phonetic spelling? I’m saying tear-ee-s in my head. Is that correct?)

  3. Welcome to FWJ as our newest blogger, Terreece and congratulations on winning FWJ Idol!

  4. Amanda Trade pubs! Yes, they are a great source of info, experts, insider info, the whole shebang – great addition!

    Brandi Thanks! It’s like Teresa without the ‘A’. I the world outside my mother’s creative head it would have been spelled Therese. But it makes me unique!

    Thanks Deb! I’m so excited, I got a little stage fright before I hit publish, then my hubby walked by and told me to get over it and get to work – nice to have him around :0) LOL!

  5. Deb – the note at the top is hilarious!

  6. Welcome Terreece! Love your new post and your freelance writing blog. Glad to have you with us!

  7. Great post! Research is so important in writing. I’ve found the more (and better) the research, the more your article will stand out against others on the same topic. Also, never underestimate the value of an interview. At my last office job as an assistant editor I was constantly shocked by how many writers would turn in articles without quotes–even when they were profile pieces!

  8. Bridget – Thank you! I’m very glad to be here.

    Natalie – Absolutely, I totally agree. A profile without one quote? Wow.

  9. Terreece – I love that you are writing for FWJ! Welcome and I can’t wait to read more from you (well I have already but now I know who it is!)

    I’m a fan of the local library websites because of the periodicals available online. Even if you can only see the abstract often it is enough to give you a jumping point for more ideas, other angles and even new search terms.

  10. @ Terreece: Welcome to FWJ (officially)! :D Great post!

  11. Terreece — WELCOME!!!!! I’m so psyched to have you writing for FWJ. As a fellow Idol candidate (Megatron), I can say with confidence that I think you’re definitely the best person for the job. I’m really looking forward to your posts!

  12. Great post – I would also add phone interviews as a great research tool. Many people are scared to pick up the phone, but if you are writing the article about an organization or company, chances are good a salesman or paid pr contact is eagerly awaiting your call. I recently did an article on the Green Party of Canada and was sent all of their financial information by an eager intern – this was something not readily available on the web.

    I also can’t go on enough about checking the validity of “scientific” reports – especially when you are writing on environmental topics. Companies have deliberately skewed studies to greenwash their products. there was a study put out by a European University which was sponsored by Bosch that actually concluded that using a dishwasher was more efficient than washing dishes by hand – not only did they discount the electrical use in the study, they compared it to washing dishes with the tap on 100% of the time, and who does that? Many prominent “green” sites didn’t bother fact checking and posted the results of the study as gospel. The agency responsible for ads in Britain made a manufacturer pull a TV ad based on the study after numerous consumer complaints were registered.

    The reader (and editor) can usually tell when you are going “above and beyond” with these simple research measures and as such they are a must-have kit in your toolbox for wowing your clients every time.

    Congratulations on your new gig and I can’t wait to read more!

  13. Welcome Terreece!

    I do a lot of research and it used to drive me crazy when I’d be teaching college kids whose attitude was “if it’s not in Google, it’s not important.” Having said that, Google has some excellent, but little known specialty tools that I found invaluable for searching newspaper archives earlier this year.

    The library is a must and I think too many people are scared of using the microfiche readers. If you have a college library nearby, even better.

    I’m also lucky because I write for an educational database publisher so I have access to their research archives.

  14. Congratulations Terreece. Great first post.

  15. Nikki – Thanks! It’s great to be able to let it all hang out now! I don’t think I’d make a good secret agent, the secret identity was killing me!

    Jodee – Thank you!

    Carly – Thank you!

    Angela – Good point on both phone interviews and the reports, I am a big phone-a-phobe and fight myself the whole time I’m dialing, but you just can’t beat the interaction. In person is even better. The amount of info I’ve gathered from an in person interview…it’s fantastic. No way to edit yourself or to wave me off. I think we’re seeing more writers getting duped by press releases disguised as articles or news reports from companies. That’s another blog entirely.

    Fiona – you are lucky! That is a valuable resource. The students I tutor feel the same way and they just love Wikipedia. OMG!

  16. In addition to phone interviews, also consider ProfNet.

  17. Don’t even remind me of the papers I’d read that used Wikipedia as their primary resource, or another undergrad paper that had been posted online!

  18. Congrats, Terreece! I enjoyed your first article.

    My friends and I often joke about Wiki: “If I saw it on Wiki, it *must* be true!!”

  19. You know just yesterday, I came up with this long elaborate story about a camel infestation. My husband keeps telling me I should post it on Wikipedia to see how long it is before it becomes “fact.” It is tempting.

  20. I just got back from the library, as a matter of fact. You know, the Internet is a wonderful thing and Google is great, but I’ve often realized in my work that looking for a credible source online (not a personal website, not Wikipedia, etc.) can be a huge waste of time as compared to walking into the library and just pulling a few books off the shelf.

    And speaking of Wikipedia–I know we all trash it all the time, but it does have its uses, namely that it’s often a good starting point, especially at the end of the article where you can look at the footnotes or bibliography. I often get ideas from checking those out. And while we all know about the bad Wikipedia articles–the celebrity du jour pieces written by an enthusiastic yet semi-illiterate ten year old, the 87,934 Pokemon articles (many written by those enthusiastic ten year olds), the raging political fights that take place in articles about current events–the majority of the articles I’ve looked at are actually pretty good; obviously they’re written by some pretty passionate amateurs. Last weekend I was researching a project and I had a number of online encyclopedias open–Britannica, Columbia, etc., plus Wikipedia. I was surprised to find that for a number of the subjects I looked at, the Wikipedia article was the best written and most comprehensive version. I know, sacrilege, but there, I said it.

  21. Fiona and others who mentioned Wiki,

    This is just the latest “false sourcing…”

    Some of the names and figures following are off due to it being an old story, but basics are true:

    In one of my textbooks in college, (my degree is in Mass Com, concentration in Radio-TV), there was a story about how Time or Newsweek (?) had a story on the Ugandan (?) army. The editor wanted the reporter to put in the number of troops, Reporter called embassy and asked the number of troops. Embassy spokesman didn’t know. Reporter told editor. Editor told reporter to make up an “educated” number. Reporter used 250,000 (?) in article. As soon as article appeared, embassy called reporter back to say number was 250,000 — it wasn’t that the reporter guessed right, it was that the embassy used the magazine article as the source of its figure.

  22. In terms of interviews: in person = best, phone = second best, and e-mail = third best.

    The rule applies most of the time, but if you’re pressed for time and/or just need a quick the human interest element is not as important, then I’d say e-mail and phone work equally (ie: I just wrote a piece on real estate, and the developers’ words were more important than how they were sitting or how they looked).

    For interviews and profiles, though, I try to see it in that perspective.

  23. @ Phil – that sounds horrible… great for international relations, I’m sure… eek. This is a major problem in journalism – the estimation of numbers and then the “telephone effect” shoots the estimates even higher; before you know it, an 800 person protest is a 5,000 – 10,000 person protest. (Good point to bring up!)

  24. While the internet is indeed an awesome research tool, I liken it to the old trick of someone pointing up to the sky — you know, when someone points or looks up, everyone passing by stops and starts looking up, because there MUST be something there.

    The internet is like that too, especially for a younger generation who, that’s all they know and have come to take it as gospel:

    “I read it on the internet — it MUST be true!”

    @Fiona — I LOVE your “Camel Infestation” idea. That would make a very interesting communications/social experiment, perfect for a college paper for Mass Comm or Sociology.

  25. Fiona – Oh, not the online paper!

    Skippy – There are some good article, well researched etc., but people should do what you did, cross reference it with other information, but for the most part I use it to catch up on television episodes I’ve missed :0)

    Phil – Funny and yet very sad. Though I am a little worried that they needed to confirm the information, not with their own officials, but through the media.

  26. Congratulations, Terreece! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!

  27. Hi Terreece,

    Welcome amd thank you for this excellent post. I tend to do a lot of research for my fiction writing as well as for my non fiction writing. Getting the facts right for a certain period in history or for a culture etc. is vital.

    I have done some interviews in person and some via email. Both work well. I’m a fan of the library as well as the internet. You’re right about checking facts on the internet since anyone can post info it’s best to check the facts for accuracy in a few places.

  28. Snopes.com is a good site to verify some information especially email stories. Welcome to the site, Terreece

  29. For article writing my main research resource is of the human variety. :) I can check with those that I know to be knowledgeable in a subject to point me in the right direction, or I find a rep from a company or organization to provide the basics for fact-checking later.

    Usually interviews are great for research — but your friends, family, and co-workers with a myriad of talents and interests can also be great places to start when you are feeling out a new topic for the first time.

    Congratulations Terreece — I am quite looking forward to your posts.

  30. I like to go to like page 15 in a google search to get info that isn’t immediately obvious. I also use known websites that I rely on personally, like psychologytoday.com.

    Welcome to our little writer’s corner!

  31. Thank you everyone for the warm welcomes! I think this has been a great discussion that I know I’ll go back to when I’m in need of a more research options.

  32. Congratulations, Terreece, on the win. :-)

    Great post. In addition to the ‘Google’ and ‘Net’ searches, I use more focused internet searches through other search engines and databases. Firefox allows users to easily add such options in their search engine field so they can use their default search engine, or scroll down the list of their making and select any other search engine or database.

    A few I have on my list include:
    Business.com
    Creative Commons
    Dictionary.com
    Merriam-Webster.com
    Reference.com
    MarketWatch
    ESPN.com
    BBC News
    Thesaurus.com
    weather.com
    Technoratisearch.com
    Amazon.com

    I also have certain reliable sources of info bookmarked in a special research folder on a bookmark toolbar. The folder includes sites like JAMA and those with scholarly papers.

    I really love your suggestion about the College Connection! I will have to bookmark more of those as sources of more interviews and information. Thanks!

  33. Great post, and congratulations!

  34. Thanks Dani and great resources!

    Thanks Renee!

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