I realized that over the course of both my academic and professional career, that I have always been fond of (sometimes down right enjoyed) research. Some classes I took at undergrad and grad school were extremely interesting, and I relished in the chance to delve deep down the rabbit hole and see where it would take me. Bear in mind this was still at a time where most research was done at the library, and with books. There were some online sources, but it was mostly academic articles piled together, a la JSTOR, which you had to print anyway. Some people don’t like the type of leg work that research involves, but I could never understand why. That’s how you get to the meat for your story, or problem or argument. To me, it is just so satisfying to find answers to your own questions and work out your logical argument or point of view along the way!
I have a favorite memory while an undergrad at Notre Dame, on a (non-football) Saturday. It stuck with me and stays pretty vivid to this day. Funny how memories work like that. My class had recently chosen research topics for my Late Medieval, Early Modern Irish History class (yes that seriously was a class I got to take just because I wanted to, and the professor was visiting from Trinity College to boot), and mine was about the dissolution of the Irish (and English) monasteries in the 16th century, and the subsequent records kept of this. The parcels’ history and ownership were tracked for centuries and kept in huge reference books imposingly called The Annals. They were kept on the 12th (I think) floor of the Notre Dame Library. So one Saturday when I was feeling particularly excited to get a head start, I visited them (after duly asking the librarian where on earth they were). I felt like I was in the special manuscripts research room of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, delved deep in important (and interesting) academic research. There was no one around, it was just me and the racks of library books. I nestled in on the floor, because again, these books were awkwardly large and this way they were all right at my fingertips. If I recall correctly, there were about 10 volumes. I stayed in there for a couple of hours just pouring over these books, tracing land, titles and ownership from over 500 years ago and taking notes. I left that day in awe. Because not only did I have exquisite facts for my analysis on when and why monasteries were wiped out, and why they were given to certain families and what eventually became of them, but I was tracing land in another country back 500 years. All because someone kept records. I get goosebumps thinking about it. I mean, this is King Henry VIII stuff. So yea, I like research.
When it comes to doing research for a client, I always think back to that Saturday amongst the books, and go to the primary source. It doesn’t have to come from 500 year old records, but trace the information back to a reliable source. And if possible, get multiple sources to back up what you’re writing. There’s nothing worse than reading a book, article or report with a flimsy bibliography. That shows either laziness in the writer, or lack of know-how to pursue more sources. Most of my research has been academic, but I have also delved into deep internet research for copywriting clients. The same rules apply – imagine that! I have found that it also helps to have an outline (I love outlines and lists, as discussed in my previous post), that way you have a general idea of what topics you’re going to search, based on the result requested by the client.
Another helpful technique to consider when you’re researching is to set your boundaries. I know I can be easily side tracked from my original objective, which is why I find outlines so helpful. If you’re like me and easily follow one clue to the next , you can tend to migrate from your purpose. There is always one more lead to follow, but before you do ask yourself, will this significantly contribute to my subject? If the answer is no, it probably doesn’t need to be included. I’ve read articles that are all over the place and trying so hard to cover every little thing about a subject, that it ends up a mess without a cohesive argument. So the next time you’re lucky enough to have some research to do, just stick the basics and remember you’re most likely not writing a research paper for the client. Keep you copy short, tight and cohesive!