Great Research Equals Great Writing
(Without Writer's Block)
The good news is, I like to write. I get up in the morning knowing I’m going to spend the day doing what I love …
Unfortunately, because I love writing so much, I sometimes jump right into it and skip over one of the most important parts of any writing project: the research.
This is a problem because to write convincing sales copy, you need loads of proof. This proof can only be found when you do enough research.
But after a few hiccups with clients, I've learned my lesson. So now, before I start any writing project, I make sure I’ve done my research. It has many benefits.
Starting with a solid foundation of information gives me plenty to write about and all but erases writer’s block, for example.
If you’re like me, you probably learned how to research in school. I found it to be a tedious process and somehow I’d always forget to cite something.
Researching now is a lot more fun. This isn't boring academic research — I'm writing about products I’m interested in.
Here are the steps I follow for researching each project:
1. Take inventory of your research materials.
Ideally, your client should provide you with quite a bit of research material. If they don’t — or if they ask what you need, here’s what you should ask for:
- A product sample. No matter what the product is, you should use it before writing about it. You need to know what the reader will experience when they buy. If you’re writing to sell an information product or training program, read it completely … more than once.
- Ask if you can talk to the person who created the product or service. Some of your best information will come from the person who made it. Interview them. We’ll talk more about this in Step 2.
- Customer support letters and testimonials will give you a deeper look into how your prospect thinks and feels. You’ll be able to see the words they use, what they liked about the product, and what they didn’t like.
- Past promotions — both winners and failures. It’s always a good idea to review past winning promotions from your client. But if you can see the failures too, you can make sure you avoid making the same mistakes. If your client doesn’t have any past promotions, try finding a promotion from another company in the industry.
2. Set up an interview with the person who made the product.
Talking to the creator of the product is a great way to get a lot of information. They know their product better than anyone else and often they can give you much of what you need as far as features and benefits.
Try to set up an interview as soon as possible. You’ll want to give yourself enough time to go through your research materials so you’re prepared for the interview, but you want the interview early enough that you have time to develop a Big Idea and write the promotion before your deadline.
When interviewing the creator, listen more than you talk and take good notes. If you can’t keep up with them, ask if you can record the conversation. Also, be appreciative of their time.
3. Read everything and take a lot of notes.
As I’m researching, I jot down notes, thoughts, ideas, a-ha moments, stats, and more. Anything I think I can use, I make a note of and cite where I found it. Later this makes writing easier because I can find the information I need.
Bob Bly says, “Gather as much information as you can and key your notes into your PC. This reduces the mountain of source material into a more manageable print-out of between two and 20 or so single-spaced typed pages.”
Also, keep track of all your research and where it came from. Don’t simply write down a stat. Write down the stat and where you found it. You never know if you’ll need that information again or if your client will need to see where you found it.
4. Get information from outside sources.
After you finish reading what the client supplied, go to outside sources such as search engines and other sites. Check out USA.gov (a great site for statistics and U.S. Census reports) and The CIA World Fact Book.
Also, use a search engine to find more information about the product, the client, or the author. What do people say about them online? Who are their competitors? What do they say? Also, search for your product’s main benefit and see what other sites and products come up.
Make sure any statistics or facts come from reputable sources. For example, Wikipedia can be a great starting point, but because anyone can edit it, you never know what you might find. Use the citation links at the bottom of the page to verify the information.
If you’re in the health niche, research sites to check out are The United States National Library of Medicine, Aetna InteliHealth, WebMD, and The Douglass Report.
If you write for the financial industry, The Motley Fool, Yahoo! Finance, and Edgar Online are great places to find research.
5. Research what others are saying about the topic.
Go to Amazon and look at the books on your subject. Read the summaries, titles, and table of contents. Read the customer reviews.
Also, read customer reviews on review sites and read the comments on forums and blogs. People are more likely to share their true opinions in casual conversations like this.
Talk to your friends, family, and strangers about your product or your product’s topic. What do they say, think, and feel? Are any of them in your target market? Take note of what interests them or what bores them. If they find something hard to believe, make sure you back it up in your promotion with a lot of proof.
At this point, you probably have enough information to begin brainstorming. Don’t forget to start with your Big Idea and settle on one before writing.
Then, follow your typical process for completing your first draft. I personally like to fill out an outline. I know writers who simply sit down and start writing based on everything they learned. Other writers take some time off to let everything swirl around in their mind before writing. Do whatever works for you.
If you get stuck while writing, either go back to researching or make a note that you need more proof in that area and move on to another area of the promotion.
7. After you finish your first draft, look for weak areas.
As you’re proofreading, if you come across something that is boring, unbelievable, or confusing, do more research to beef up that area with additional facts, figures, or other kinds of proof.
When you’re done with the project, don’t throw away any research. Save it because you never know when you’ll need it again.
The more I write, the more I see how important research is. And, it’s becoming more and more fun. I’m always coming across interesting facts to share and learning things I didn’t know.
I’m also making it a practice to research daily — whether I have a project or not. You might want to focus your research within your chosen niche. But, keep in mind other industries may have interesting stories that could help in your promotions. It’s a good idea to get information across a variety of sources and industries.
My daily research ensures I know what’s going on in the world and gives me plenty of interesting tidbits that I may one day weave into my copy.
For example, do you know the highest speed ever achieved on a bicycle? It’s 166.94 miles per hour, set by Fred Rompelberg in 1995. Amazing, huh?
What interesting tidbits have you learned lately? Share in the comments below.