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Research for Your Articles or Books

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 13 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Unless you work exclusively in very lightweight copywriting, it's inevitable that, sooner or later, your writing career will involve research. If you've had a university education then the chances are that you already have some research skills, though they may be limited to working with journals in a library.

If not, it's something which you'll need to teach yourself on a priority basis. Whether you're researching for an article or a novel, an understanding of certain basic techniques will stand you in good stead.

The Internet

If you base your writing work around your computer, it's likely that the first research tool you'll have at your disposal is the internet. Many people dislike using the internet because a lot of information on it is inaccurate, but there are inevitably inaccuracies in any collection of information - what matters is that you know how to identify and work around them.

The first rule of researching information on the internet is to use more than one source - aim to cross-reference everything. You should also rank your online sources in order of trustworthiness. Some are highly trustworthy. For instance, if you want to know what a company has to say about its new product, you can trust its press releases.

You should be more suspicious of sources which contain scandalous allegations or make suggestions which don't tally with common sense. If you're using Wikipedia, check the Talk pages to find out if what's been written on a particular subject is controversial. Take advantage of resources like Snopes which investigate unlikely stories.

The Library

Many people researching books and articles for the first time are surprised by the range of services the library has to offer - and for free, too! Remember that you have not only your local library at your disposal, but also any nearby business libraries and research libraries. If you are or have been a student, you may be able to access your college or university library.

Libraries carry all sorts of information of interest to the researcher. You can use them to look up academic journals on a wide range of subjects, and if they don't carry the relevant documents then they may be able to order them - or copies of them - from somewhere which does.

You can find land records in the library, showing you who owns what property now and in the past. You can find maps from assorted places and times. Larger libraries can also give you access to microfilm records of old newspapers dating back over as much as a century.

The business library can provide you with company records past and present, showing ownership and business addresses, and it can give you access to telephone directories from around the world. You'll also find guides published by press agencies which can help you contact public figures, and even the latest editions of writers' guides, filled with all sorts of useful information.

If you're new to using libraries and you don't know where to begin, remember that the librarians are there to help you.

Original Research

Sometimes you'll need to know things for a book or article which you just can't find out from the usual research sources. This is when it's time to get out and about and start looking at places and speaking to people for yourself. In this situation, it's useful to have a press card which proves that you're not up to anything dodgy, but sometimes it can be useful to go undercover so that you get straight answers to your questions rather than the guarded ones people might offer to journalists.

Even without a press card, you'll be surprised at the access you can get and the things you can find out just by asking. The trick is to be completely self-assured. If you look as if you're supposed to be there, few people will question you. Be friendly to people and take an interest in them, and they'll be prepared to reveal all sorts of information.

Ultimately, there's nothing like original research to sell an article, and undertaking it will give you that intimacy with your subject which brings out the best in novel writers.

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