In Blogging Done Right, we’ll teach you how to transform your company’s blog into a valuable community resource that positions your brand as a thought leader. In this first instalment, learn how to research effectively and bring verifiable facts to your audience.
Research is the backbone of great content enabling you to provide the facts and insights that readers crave. Digging deeper than a Google search and conducting some old-fashioned reporting will attract a valuable audience and retain it forever.
So what counts as research? Depending on the topic, it could mean conducting a survey, interviewing experts, reading scientific journals or reviewing documents from government proceedings.
If you want to produce thorough and valuable work, follow these five steps:
1. Find an expert and ask them questions
Blog writers are rarely the be-all and end-all authority on the topic they are writing about. This means we rely on experts and research to build authority into our work.
As an example of building authority, we spoke to PolitiFact staff writer Jon Greenberg for this article. Greenberg is known for fact-checking the 2012 Presidential Election and works on the site’s Truth-O-Meter, which rates a political statement’s truthfulness between a positive rating of “True” and negative rating of “Pants on Fire.” He shared insights on how to research effectively.
“Experts are an integral part of our process,” said Greenberg. “We [as journalists] are not the experts, but it is our job to connect with those who have credentials and who are reasonably objective.”
An expert isn’t an expert because they claim to be one, but rather because they are respected among their peers or are accredited in their profession or field of study. Look for the following when vetting sources:
A: What are they writing? Whether it is a blog, editorials, or professional journal entries, identify an expert by their body of work and its reception in the marketplace.
B: What have they done? Not every expert is a professor who publishes research. Other times, they’ve created a business or a product of great value. An executive leader can share insights on the reality of an industry.
C: How new is the field? In some industries innovators often quickly become experts. Think about social media and Big Data: 10 years ago jobs in these fields didn’t exist, but now early adopters are the industry experts.
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“It is incredibly easy to look at a spreadsheet and misinterpret it,” said Greenberg. “Unless I know everything about a data-set, I share it with an expert to ensure I have the right read of it.”
What matters here is that your accredited source has a deeper understanding of the issue than you do. Build relationships with these professionals and maintain them.
2. Choose a topic that is grounded in fact
What helps Greenberg fact-check statements by presidential hopeful Donald Trump or soccer star David Beckham? Choosing statements that are grounded in tangible fact opposed to opinion.
Using data and facts enables a writer to call out contradictions directly, which makes for excellent blog writing. In the context of PolitFact’s Truth-O-Meter that means always providing the opportunity for fair comment, especially when you’ve found something that might be wrong.
“In many cases the speaker will have a source, report, or study that they’ll cite as evidence—this becomes part of our research library,” said Greenberg. “Our role is to take it to the next step and evaluate what evidence we need to determine if a statement is true and what evidence we need to determine the opposite.”
Facts drive the research process and will guide the story you tell—not your opinion. This builds credibility.
3. Use multiple sources
Depending on what you are writing a single source is never enough. As an example, we reviewed 100 of PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter comment vetting at random to determine how many sources are noted in each. In the end, Greenberg and his team used an average of 11.4 sources to determine the truth about a given statement.
Even when writing a profile it is best to speak with a subject’s colleagues to learn more about their life or work habits. The main source for this article is Jon Greenberg, supported by primary research conducted about PolitFact’s sourcing habits as well as background reading on expertise and research process.
To make your writing-life easier build a spreadsheet updated with research sources that you work with often. This way you can go back to these documents more easily and cite them quickly.
4. Take your time
Greenberg’s process can be as short as three hours or as long as a couple of days, but emphasizes his publication puts more weight to being right than being timely.
“We don’t need to wrap up a fact-check in a single hour since we’re not the news of the day,” said Greenberg. “We run down each alley that is available to us and take each as far as it goes.”
5. Schedule time for your research
Terry O’Reilly is a radio personality and former ad writer who hosts Under the Influence on the CBC. His 30-minute show consists of marketing and adverting stories around a theme. In a recent episode, O’Reilly discussed his process for research, which utilizes a team approach. A single episode requires about 40 hours of research, or, requires a full week’s work.
At its worst, branded blog writing can be misleading or misinformed. Getting the facts right not only protects a brand’s reputation but contributes to an industry’s conversation on the topic, which then gets tied back to your brand as a catalyst. The more inquiry that goes into a single article the more can be gained by the reader, who is ideally your target customer.
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