Saturday, 11 February 2017 15:46

Why Actual Research Is More Important than Ever in Freelance Writing

By: 

In many ways, freelance means freedom. Freedom from an office. Freedom from coworkers. Freedom from a daily schedule.

Not everyone can handle it, but for those who can, the opportunity to freelance is a gift that allows you to build your client base and portfolio, expand your audience, and enhance your knowledge. Sometimes, though, it can feel like a gift you don’t want to open—one that perhaps you’ll just leave on the shelf a while longer.

Why?

Because there’s a lot more that goes into freelance writing than typing up a few words and hitting submit. Every idea that goes into your writing, every point that you make—even the ones that you are certain to be true—must be backed up with data, numbers, studies, and other research, proving that you (or perhaps, more importantly, your client) have the expertise and knowledge to publish on the topic.

One of the biggest problems here is that this kind of heavy lifting can be time consuming. Not only is research a daunting task, but sometimes you just don’t even know where to begin. And furthermore, why is research so important?

Here’s your primer on how to research the right way, and why it matters.

Your Reputation: Standing Out in a World of Competition

The freelance community is grand. With over 54 million freelancers in the United States alone and almost 3 million blog posts written daily, there’s a lot of content out there vying for your audience’s attention. If you want your articles to stand out among the others, you must deliver material that is worth people’s time to read. When you produce well-researched content, you put your best foot forward against your competition.

Additionally, your writing is a reflection not only of your work ethic but also of your commitment to produce valuable content. With over 3 billion people using the internet worldwide and over 2 million Google searches happening on a daily basis, someone will undeniably notice a blunder and leave a comment to call you out, especially if you write for a reputable or well-known client. That’s not to say writers and their articles must be perfect, but with the resources available to verify facts, it’s imperative that you take the time to do so. Producing underresearched or inaccurate content risks sending your reputation down the drain. It’s not a good idea to let even one small piece slide through that’s not been thoroughly researched, or else your audience will see right through your work and you’ll lose your credibility.

Freelance Writing Audience

Your Grand Audience: Clients, Editors, and Readers

Your clients have agreed to compensate you to create content for them, which means they either don’t have the skills in-house, they don’t have the time to do it themselves, or both. Clients who are willing to outsource and pay freelancers do not want to receive content they could otherwise produce on their own. They’re also not typically looking for the least expensive route, but rather the highest-quality material that will propel their brand forward.

As freelance writer Lisa Brownlee notes, “[Clients] want quality, unique content that has been verified and will not be challenged, or worse, embarrass the company, or—yet worse—result in litigation.”

When you sign a contract, it becomes your responsibility to deliver your finest work. You represent a brand, and your voice will take on that of the client’s. You must put forth the effort needed to meet your client’s expectations, even if that means more work than you originally thought.

Most successful writers agree that the results of putting in the extra effort is worth the time it takes to produce a well-researched piece of work. “There’s a huge (and hungry) market out there for people who write on highly specialized and generally well-researched topics, so once you’re in that class, your research is literally half the value of what you do,” notes Megan Williams, freelance writer at Locutus Healthcare. Williams goes on to say well-researched pieces “lend themselves to much deeper understanding of topics, as well as connections in my industry. That means that I’m becoming more valuable to more organizations and meeting people who can help further my career as a content creator.” Simply put: Your clients will notice the quality of your work and the effort put into it, which can potentially lead to more exposure, higher pay, or even more gigs.

Furthermore, the editors you work with will check your work for accuracy. In addition to fact checking, they’ll also find places where necessary sources are missing. Keep in mind providing disreputable sources or making claims that cannot be backed up can give you a poor track record among your editorial staff. Not only will you lose your credibility as a valuable writer, you risk losing your job. Additionally, in-house editors communicate with each other about writer quality. If you have a public profile or portfolio and you deliver underresearched work, chances are your editors will spread the word.

Perhaps most important, publishing false or erroneous information can cause potential harm to people and, on a greater scale, society. You’re accountable for what you disperse to your readers, as they will take what you say and internalize it. Misleading your audience could influence questionable decision-making based on imprecise information. You’re not directly responsible for each one of your readers, but you must keep your audience’s best interests in mind.

Develop a Plan and Organize, Organize, Organize

Freelance Writer Getting Organized

The kind of research that goes into freelance writing depends heavily on the type of content being created. Additionally, you must consider the topic, format, tone, voice, and target audience. But research goes far beyond a Google search and simple fact checking. So, how exactly do successful freelance writers conduct their research?

The first step is simple: Develop a basic, but solid plan. Some writers do this part by hand since research suggests using pen and paper helps people process information more deeply. However, if you prefer to work digitally, it’s helpful to use a program such as Evernote or Microsoft Word to organize your thoughts and ideas.

Make a list of anything related to the piece you may need, for example, potential sources or contact information for interviews. Marketing freelance writer Callie Wheeler emphasizes the importance of understanding your audience because it helps you “shape the language you use, resources you cite, and perhaps even the overall approach to structure and content.” In essence, without considering your target audience when developing a plan, you may miss the mark on what types of resources are best for them.

Then write down all sorts of questions about the topic. Start with a few simple queries in the beginning to avoid getting overwhelmed. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes; what would they want to learn or know about your topic? Get really particular and granular with your questions. Dig deep and “eventually you’ll hit a natural progression as a result of your own discovery,” encourages Wheeler.

This phase of research is vital to freelance writing and can help make the whole process run more smoothly. “What helps is that I look at it as a game of discovering the answers to questions. The information and statistics I put together often determine the structure of the piece I’m creating…so everything starts with research,” notes Williams.

Take your time and make sure you fully understand your industry and its unique challenges before you fully dive into writing your article. “I think it’s important to convey a message from a position of authority, and the only way to do that is to truly understand the topic you’re writing about,” says technology and software freelance writer, Eric Bruno.

A freelance writer searches Google

The Internet Search: A Bigger Undertaking than You Think

Once you’ve written down the essentials and questions, determine the best method of attack for your research. Most writers go straight to the internet when it’s time to do research—and yes, it’s true that sometimes your job is to take and organize information that’s already out there on reputable news sites and blogs and make it accessible for your readers.

There are plenty of resources on the web, but not all are reliable. Anyone can create a website, and, consequently, the internet is polluted with commercial, political, or just downright incorrect information. Many sites are user-generated, which means that anyone, anywhere, at any time can edit or add information to it. Blogs, discussion forums, Tweets, podcasts, and how-tos are typically created by writers who are not paid for their contributions. This does not coincide with faulty content, but it’s not information to necessarily rely on or redistribute to your readers.

Most freelance writers know that Wikipedia is not a citable source, and that’s because it’s user-generated. While it’s regulated and maintained by a staff, it can also be updated rapidly and frequently, so you can never 100 percent trust that it’s up-to-date and accurate. However, Wikipedia can be an OK place to start so long as you explore where the information came from and find the original source. It’s not a good idea to cite second-hand news, so if you begin your research on a user-generated site, be sure to click on any links provided. Even if you’re referencing a study in an article from a reputable source such as The New York Times it’s still best practice to revert back to the original study, which is hopefully provided in the article.

When you perform an internet search, be sure to check the top-level domain (TLD), the right-most part of the domain name, before clicking any further. TLDs include .gov, .com, .edu, and .org, and can help you determine credibility. For instance, there are strict regulations in place to attain a .gov TLD, so you can trust the reliability based on its .gov status. News sites such as NPR, government-regulated sites like US Dept. of Labor, industry professional blogs such as eMarketer, and nonprofit research organizations like Pew Research are among the most reputable sources.

Quick and Dirty Tips

Internet-Related:

  • Don’t rely on the first sources that pop up when you conduct a search. Scroll down a few pages and see what else is out there before choosing something to read.
  • Consider your keyword. For example, rather than searching “car tips,” try “car tips to improve fuel efficiency” to find even more related sites.
  • Use newsletters, online communities, or RSS feeds to communicate with other writers and professionals in your industry.
  • Watch out for sponsored content. If a brand pays for feature pieces about their products or services, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the whole truth.
  • Study the commentary on your industry professionals’ social media accounts to get an idea of what people are saying and thinking about your topic.
  • If you use data from public research like a Twitter poll or crowd surfing, be aware that it might not be definitive in its methods, meaning you may be unable to determine important information, such as the sample size.

General:

  • Consider a formal interview. Interviews are ideal in several scenarios, for example, when there’s an anticipated future endeavor in your industry, if you hit a dead end or are having trouble getting started, or if you know someone who has a particularly unique or new perspective to offer.
  • Ask your publisher or editor if there is a research database for you to access. If so, that’s an excellent source for industry-specific definitions and definitive research.
  • Get as close to your topic as you can. If you’re reviewing a product, for example, ask for a demo. If you’re a travel writer, schedule a visit to the location. “‘Doing’ is often the best way to learn,” says Bruno.
  • Avoid studies that date back beyond two years old. Data must not only be relevant, but also up-to-date to be accurate.
  • Double, triple, quadruple check your facts. It’s best to have as many sources as possible to back up your claims.
  • Thought leaders do not cover ideas that most people already know about. If you were hired to create thought leadership, your client wants you to deliver original content that hasn’t already been published elsewhere. Consequently, your piece will require fewer sources, but you still need to cite any specific data, percentages, or numbers that you reference.

Unless you’re pursuing a PhD, you may have thought your days of conducting research were done. But, that’s actually not the case at all. With so many reasons why research is such an essential part of freelance writing, important is likely an understatement. It’s no wonder why the most professional and successful writers continually highlight its significance.

Want to learn more about research? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter to keep up with the latest content creation tips and stories.

Source : https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/storytelling/why-actual-research-is-more-important-than-ever-in-freelance-writing/

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