It doesn’t take a super-sleuth to figure out that writing isn’t as hard as it’s cracked up to be. Thinking about what to write, though, is an entirely different story. Two factors come into play when choosing the kind of writing you’ll be doing on a regular basis: What you can do, and what do you want to accomplish?
Are you great at writing compelling fictional character stories, or are you the sort of person who finds writing non-fiction almost second nature? Do you want to write to educate, to entertain, or to make money?
Regardless of the path you choose to take, writing will certainly involve certain steps; the first step, the backbone of your work, is research. Now, while it is true that research tends to play a more critical role in non-fiction writing than it does when writing fiction, it is still important for fiction writers to understand the value of research, particularly when it comes to looking for references to base the elements of your story.
This is the part where you gather as much information as you can. When doing preliminary research, you don’t need to spend too much time reading and analyzing studies, articles, books, and even videos. All you need to do is find them and compile them for later.
The first part of research is, of course, figuring out exactly what it is you want to write about. You’ll want to consider a topic that you can talk about for hours to days on end – preferably, something you’re passionate about. Make sure it’s a topic you have a good grasp on, though, otherwise, you’ll be writing fluff-filled pieces, and your readers will certainly notice.
The best way of identifying which topic could work well with you is by jotting down at least 10 of your interests. Then for each interest, write as much sub-topics as you can that are heavily related to their parent topic.
Once you are done doing so, pick the topic that has the most sub-topics – that is your golden topic.
Now that you know what you want to write about, it’s time to start the actual research!
Researching doesn’t just mean gathering facts. It also means determining exactly how to write your piece in order to make it both unique and valuable. For example, if you’re interested in writing about money, don’t just stick to money as a general topic; go deeper, finding a sub-category, or a microniche, so that your book can be laser-focused.
If the main niche is Money, then its microniches (or sub-niches) are personal finance, investments, among others. Why not write about personal finance or investments?
The next part of researching is spent on gathering lots of related materials. It is crucial that you do proper research, avoid inaccuracies, and make sure to nail all those tiny little details that may build up and eventually ruin a good book or article.
Gathering data may range from facts and information pertaining to your topic of choice to published works discussing topics similar to or tangentially related to yours. Note, however, that this step is akin to making a stew. You simply throw everything into the pot without doing any hard reading or analyzing just yet.
All you need to do is skim through your resources and find potential references; read the titles and subheadings, perhaps even the intro and conclusion as well, and just throw them into your makeshift database if the material looks like it would fit.
On deciding what sort of materials “would fit” check out books that are similar to the topic you want to write about. Look through their table of contents to get a general idea of what the book emphasized.
Make notes and identify what all these books have in common when it comes to content, and also determine what makes each of those books unique. If this sounds like a lot of work, here are some tools to help you with this stage:
Google Scholar – if your topic requires academic search results, use Google Scholar. You will see peer-reviewed studies, books, articles, journals, and the like.
Google Search Operators – when using Google, it will do you well to learn the many operators it has so that you can get more specific results.
YouTube – Videos are also a great source for helpful materials like how-to’s. You might be able to find a fresh outlook on topics once the way it is presented is changed.
Do not immediately jump to researching using blogs, because you might catch yourself heavily relying on them. Only start looking for relevant blogs once you already have a specific (but not compulsory) outline in mind. Check out Alltop and Reddit for leads.
Find the posts that are closely related to your main topic and determine if they are valuable enough to use as research material.
- Does the article or post in question have lots of social media shares?
- What about comments?
- Is it one of their top performing posts?
Generally, these metrics are what you want to see, because it usually means people responded favorably towards them.
Separate good feedback from bad feedback. Check out what the readers had to say in the comments section and learn how to filter the good from the bad. Categorizing these will act as your do’s and don’ts when writing your book or article.
Keep a copy of anything that is relevant to your topic, including the link(s) (it’s research, you will need to revisit your sources a lot), compile them in the same spot and make it semi-organized – basically know where you can find what in the shortest amount of time. Once you have done compiling all there is to read about the topic, then organize your stash according to relevance.
After this stage, it’s basically just reading and reading and more reading, before you begin the process of weaving everything that works well together and discarding whatever doesn’t. Use the outline you’ve created earlier to guide you on what to focus on and what to write.
Afraid that you’ll spend too much (or too little time) researching? Don’t stress over it too much. As a matter of fact, you can complete your research in just one day and start writing the next.
Analyze everything. Remove the not-so-relevant parts and the bad stuff. Work with what is left on your table. Then, begin mapping out all the clues like how the private eyes on television shows do it. They grab all their newspaper clippings, photos of suspects, maps, and other forms of evidence and lay it all out on a cool-looking board or wall or table.
After removing the nonessentials, draft your final outline by dividing each section using their own headlines. Be sure to note what “worked” for the readers and try to capture the same “lightning” in your own figurative bottle.
Grouping info by relevance will also help when it comes to writing. Once your paragraphs can flow with relevance, and the harmonious flow in your structure is established, writing will be very easy. You already have everything you need based on your preliminary research. You just have to make proper use of them – make them work for you.
Note that while others prefer to research, read, and then write, then research again, that is just messy. It takes your mind away from your writing. But by researching everything first (read: compiling all the relevant data) then reading everything later (and removing the unwanted parts), you can focus on just your writing.
Lastly, there are a few other important things to keep in mind during the writing process:
- Cite your sources properly. (Aren’t you glad you kept all those links?)
- Base your conclusions on data from your research, i.e. things you can defend on your own in the event that questions get raised about your conclusions’ validity.
- Learn to exercise good judgment and consider both sides of the coin before choosing what to include in your writing. An opinion that is popular is not always right.
Remember: Only write the things you can back up with credible sources. When in doubt, do without. Now, go forth and be the Sherlock Holmes of writers.