The field of online research methods is new and expanding rapidly. Using social media is a new opportunity for gathering information, but it’s complex and time consuming.
In some ways, research has never been easier. The Web is a goldmine. But it’s also a sink hole into which many writers fall, never to be seen again. Some writers die from an overdose of information, others simply disappear and give up, telling themselves there’s simply too much already written.
Of course, on the other end of the continuum are those experts who strongly believe their message has never before been expressed, and therefore, they don’t need research. Hopefully, you’ll be somewhere in the middle, someone who knows your topic well, and also knows you’ll need to find out what else has been written.
In this blog post I share how I do content research, but what I know is limited to my own areas of expertise: leadership issues, health topics, and topics on the brain and psychology. This is how I do research, because that’s what I know best. Other ways (social media) may be more appropriate to you depending on your area of expertise.
The first thing I do is market research, as I wrote about in my previous post here. I want to find out what titles are selling, what keywords are sought after most by the readers in my target audience. I want to find out if there’s a gap between what’s been published and what people seek to know. Then I turn to the content research on topics and subtopics.
How to Research Content
I try to narrow the topic down to something that hits the sweet spot between what readers seek to know, and what I already know. There are a number of obvious resources.
- Google or other search engines
- Wikipedia, and other specialized encyclopedia sites
- Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and other social media sites
- Books and ebooks on Amazon and other book sites
- Magazines (Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired) and newspapers
- Blogs and online news sites (Huffington Post, HBR, AllTop, etc.)
- Public Libraries, professional and academic journals
- Crowd sourcing
- Surveys and polls (Gallup, Survey Monkey)
Some will be better sources of information than others. Often, article titles will inspire subtopics to research.
Once you find your topic and subtopics, you’ll make a first draft of the proposed table of contents with chapter titles. You’ll have to do further research for each of these subtopics (chapters).
My favorite research tool is books, especially those written by professors of major universities. First of all, they have a more scientific approach and will cite major research studies to back up their ideas. Secondly, many of them have done their own research, case studies, and will supply stories of how their theories show up in the real world.
How to Use eBooks to Research Content
Now that I’ve read 5-10 books on a topic, it comes time to summarize what’s already been published.
It used to be I used a yellow marker in print books and turned down page corners each time I found a quote or story or key piece of data. Now that I use ebooks on a Kindle, my book research is easier.
- I highlight a key passage.
- I can review these highlighted notes after I finish reading the entire book, by using the ebook feature for this.
- I then make a manual written list of the key passages I want to include in my new book, and make a note of where – which subtopic – this material is relevant.
- I then start writing each chapter and refer to the key passages from a variety of books as appropriate.
- If I forget where I read something, I can use the search feature and pull up everything in a book that uses that keyword.
Once you’ve done this a couple of times, you’ll find that reading books and collecting the information and research you need for writing your own expert ebook just got a whole lot easier and faster.
What’s been your experience researching in this new era of online content? How do you research content? I’d love to hear from you.