Before content comes research. There’s little chance you’ll be able to convince a reader that what you’re saying is true (or even worth reading!) without something to back it up.
Here are four of the top methods I use to find up-to-date stats and killer bites of insight, to give my writing that necessary credibility.
1. Google Alerts
An oldie but a goodie. If you’re working on an ongoing project or you’ve got a blog post or report coming up on a particular topic, setting up a Google Alert is a useful way to keep up to date. Once you’ve configured it, you’ll receive email updates when new content is published on your topic, at the frequency you choose. (I suggest going for daily. For timely issues, weekly isn’t frequent enough, and ‘as it happens’ gets annoying.)
2. Google operators
Google is generous. It likes to give you as many results as possible. It does things like change your search terms and search for words it thinks you’re looking for, or only search for some of the words you type. So what’s a writer looking for some very specific data to do?
Enter Google operators, little-known tools you can use to narrow down your search and zero in on the information you’re after. Some of the most useful options for research are:
- site: This searches a specific site or domain. Say you’re looking for the official Australian government position on metadata (or if there is one). You only want to find information from government sources, so you’d type ‘site:gov.au metadata’.
- filetype: When you want to find real industry insights, blog posts and news articles aren’t enough. You’re going to want to look for things like white papers, reports and conference presentations. Google can help with this by letting you search for distinct file types. If I wanted to find reports or white papers on brand publishing, I could type ‘filetype:pdf brand publishing’. Other searchable filetypes include spreadsheets (.xls) and slideshows (.ppt).
- intext: The ‘intext:’ operator lets you search for a specific word that absolutely must be on the webpage, getting around some of that Google generosity. If you want a multi-word term, put it in double quotation marks (‘intext:“big data”’) and if you’ve got two or more words that don’t necessarily need to be together ‘allintext:’ plus your search term works too.
Note that with all of these, there’s no space between the colon and your search term.
If you want to know what people are saying about any given topic, there’s no better place than Twitter. Unfortunately, its own search function leaves much to be desired – and that’s where Topsy comes in.
Topsy is a search engine that lets you search Twitter. Results are ranked by relevance, views and retweets. Similarly to Google, you can set up email alerts for particular topics, and even use search operators. They’re not as sophisticated as the Google ones above, but you can see a list here.
Not so much a tool as a mindset, this one is probably something I’ve picked up from my days at uni, wracking databases for articles on incredibly specific topics.
What I learnt was that often you won’t find what you’re looking for in the ‘first layer’ of results. Sometimes you need to dig deeper. Sift through articles for links to other pages, scan documents for keywords you might not have thought of to add to your search, dissect reference lists. You can badmouth Wikipedia all you want, but I’ve often found the reference list at the bottom of an article to be a goldmine of useful links that can’t always be found with Google.
If I’m being honest, this is the one I use most often!