5 Clever Hacks for Researching That Will Help You Write Better Stories

5 Clever Hacks for Researching That Will Help You Write Better Stories

Working as a writer and blogger can often mean producing content across a variety of sectors — not all of which may be your area of expertise.

Writing about new topics requires a bit more exploration and reading in order to be familiar with your subject matter. Completing this research in a smart, efficient manner enables you to concentrate more on the actual writing, and less on digging up information. This means more timely key articles for clients, better value for money, and a happier work life all around.

Here are five clever workflow hacks to help bloggers and writers gather information quickly and efficiently.

1. Set up Google Alerts

Google Alerts are an excellent place to start when setting up a smart workflow. Set up a series of Google Alerts for keywords you need to keep an eye on, and the relevant info will come straight to your inbox.

Need support with this? I’ve put together a short screencast to walk you through the process.

2. File newsfeed articles and sector roundup emails to a Google Doc

When you subscribe to a variety of news roundup blogs and sites, as well as the most important blogs in your niche, you’ll have a number of emails hitting your inbox each morning. Organizing these messages is crucial if they’re going to be of any use to you.

I use a filing trick in my Gmail inbox to earmark any important items as ones I’d like to write about or investigate further. I have set up a range of filters using IFTTT.com, a service that connects your web apps based on the concept of “If this, then that.” For example, if I star an email in my inbox, the content gets filed directly to a Google Doc marked “Blog ideas”. Then, when I’m ready to write, I simply scan the Doc for an interesting tidbit! (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

3. Use Twitter lists to file news and articles to Evernote

Twitter lists are a time-saving trick which I highly recommend. In addition to reading tweets in this way, I use IFTTT.com to move any tweets I mark as ‘favorite’ to my Evernote notebook, ready for later use and reference.

4. Send key RSS feeds straight to Evernote or Google Docs

For sites with regular content that you really can’t miss, set up an RSS feed alert. You can set this up within Feedly Pro, or use IFTTT.com to send the content directly to your Evernote or Google Docs account. This makes sure that your key resources will always be available to you when required.

5. Use existing collated research

Stumble Upon now has list making facilities, similar to those on Pinterest, which are extremely helpful for sourcing new ideas and articles along a theme. Follow some key list-makers and influencers and use their collective research to boost your own.

Similarly, List.ly is a handy collaborative list-making site that may have some resources you need with a different spin to kickstart some ideas.

Do you use any of these methods for your research and writing workflow?

Filed Under: Craft
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9 comments

  • Jenn Mattern says:

    Great tips!

    I haven’t had much luck with Google Alerts over the last few months. Where I used to get regular updates, now I’m lucky if one or two links come through each day for a popular keyword phrase related to my business. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve heard from others that they’ve seen similar issues. I hope it’s resolved at some point, because I loved that tool.

    You have some interesting ideas for tool integration here that I hadn’t considered. Thanks for the suggestions. 🙂

  • Hey Jenn thanks so much for the comment. Yes, my Google alerts have slowed down too, but still worth using to cover all bases 🙂
    Good luck with the tips!
    Jo
    x

  • Train your mind to notice. Once your attention to set to Notice you will never run out of anything ever again and the issue is then collation. (Jo, I think you have some posts over on your website about that one?)

  • These are tricks I wouldn’t have thought of/discovered on my own. Thank you for the awesome tips! 🙂

  • Hey Cornelia, awesome, so glad you enjoyed them 🙂 x

  • This is great! I have all these apps and now I have a way to make them work for me in a powerful way. Thanks so much!

  • Wendy says:

    So, if you’re married to Google, this article gives you a few ways to get more websites to look at. Seriously? Reality check: we don’t all rely on the Cloud. In fact, for some of us who don’t have 24/7 access, being Cloud-dependent is a major reason not to get something (Which is why I’ve never contributed an article to Write Life–using Google Docs not only requires me to use precious on-line time for off-line tasks such as editing, but creates an assumption that I can be reliably contacted through my Gmail account, which is normally my “junk mail” account and only gets checked once or twice a year).

    When I do a web search for a research topic, oftentimes, I may get as much as 98% irrelevant returns (search engines seem to have forgotten that text in quotes means “exact phrase” and think that if I’m searching for “gurney,” I might be interested in returns about “bed”). I would not care to imagine what my on-line life would look like if I allowed alerts based on such over-broad interpretation of my criteria.

    And while the internet certainly makes things convenient, relying exclusively on internet content–depending on your topic–can be dangerously myopic. My high school teachers (back in the pre-internet days) wouldn’t allow us to use more than one or two encyclopedia entries as references; encyclopedias were meant as guides to help us figure out where to look for REAL references. If we couldn’t find REAL references, then we probably didn’t have enough references to be writing on that subject.

    Unfortunately, with today’s internet, it’s very difficult to distinguish between “encyclopedia”-level sites (which aren’t all obvious enough to have a “-pedia” in their name), serious references, and worthless garbage.

    And that’s just talking about the internet. As I said, it’s often dangerously myopic to be getting all your eggs from that one basket. For example, I’m researching the Fitz right now. I’ve scoured YouTube for related videos, found interesting tidbits that I’ve in turn searched out (one of those providing my 98% statistic: out of 5 pages worth of a claimed 7,000+ returns, only TWO were a match for the criteria I gave it–and this happened on multiple search engines), I’ve checked out close to 20 books and videos through my library system (I don’t want too many at a time, I need to analyze and digest them), and purchased three (on eBay, where I’ve also been bidding on photos, though I haven’t won any).

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