Do Your Homework: How to Research Your Writing Topics

Do Your Homework: How to Research Your Writing Topics

Whether you cover technology or hockey, it’s important to know what’s going on and stay on top of the latest news in your field.

Knowing what’s going on in your field can help you land more stories, and it might help you become your editor’s “go to” person for related topics.

Follow these techniques to stay on top of your beat.

1. Use Google Alerts

Writers use Google Alerts in all sorts of different ways. You can use this free service to subscribe to companies, people or phrases, and Google Alerts will send you an email notification when the keywords appear online.

Many writers have a Google Alert set up for their name so they see when they’ve been mentioned or have an article published.

This is also a useful way to stay on top of your niche and the main subjects you cover. If you cover technology, you might want to set up an alert for a specific technology company or a specific kind of technology or an aspect of the field.

Of course, when you receive an alert, that means someone else has already covered the topic. This is a great way to stay on top of current developments in the field, but not the best way to break the news yourself.

research writing2. Subscribe to journals

Whether you cover penguins or parenting, there are likely at least a few research journals that may be of use to you. When you subscribe to academic journals, you can read studies and articles about your field and stay up to date on the latest research.

Joining a society or organization in your field is often a good way to access these journals as many memberships include a subscription or a way to access one or more relevant journals.

You can also read many subscription-based journals for free at a local public or academic library.

3. Network and use your contacts

In order to stay on top of the latest developments, cultivate great sources and have a chance to break some news yourself, it’s important to network and have contacts in your field.

If you cover aerospace, reach out to leading aerospace researchers and ask them to keep you up to date on their latest developments. Ask to be included on their public relations media list. However, they are busy with their research and reaching out to the media is likely not one of their top priorities, so you will have to be proactive.

Check in from time to time and see what’s new. They may be able to give you a heads-up on the research they are currently working on or an upcoming newsworthy project. See what’s going on and check in later to stay on top of their work.

Be sure to clarify with your subjects what is “on the record” and what is “off the record.” Some may give you a heads-up about a project coming down the line in a few months but not be ready to officially comment on the topic.

4. Attend industry conferences

While cultivating individual relationships with the top experts in your field is important, it takes up a lot of time to track down a dozen or more individuals and stay on top of what each one is doing.

In order to optimize your time, consider attending industry conferences and events to see a number of prominent experts in one place. Use the time to network, cultivate contacts and learn everything you can about the field.

Industry conferences are different from writing conferences. Writing conferences include writers, editors and agents, while industry conferences feature scientists, researchers and top industry experts sharing their knowledge.

Conferences typically host panels, speakers, and events where you can also get story ideas. Be sure to check with conference organizers and presenters to see what is “on the record.”

Sometimes, these types of events involve presentations on in-progress research and other developments they want to share with colleagues but aren’t prepared to share with the wider world. You don’t want to get on an important contact’s bad side by sharing preliminary results without the proper context, so be sure to make sure the findings are ready to publish.

Staying on top of your beat will take a certain amount of time, but it’s invaluable to cultivate important contacts and learn as much as you possibly can about your field.

When you know the people, the latest developments, and understand the field thoroughly, you can make yourself a “go to” reporter on the topic.

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9 comments

  • Colin says:

    All good suggestions, Kristen. Thanks. I mainly write novels, but there is a tie up. It is about selectivity and with a genre novel plot line you need to get better acquainted. Never read The New Scientist to any extent before preparing a science fiction novel, but became an avid reader of relevant space topics. Also homed in on news items about Mars and space travel, during the year of involvement through to final draft. It seems like an obvious direction to go in, for a writer-that is immerse yourself in the genre, but it’s good to be reacquainted with the message. It is like a method actor who lives the part more fully off stage to perfect the part onstage. Attending industry conferences and of course being part of a particular industry can be a great resource for your writing. An obvious fact for academic work that produces thesis and reports. In fiction you need to research assiduously to achieve veracity. Also to be selected and not get side tracked.

  • Nicole says:

    Thanks for the advice, the suggestions are interesting. Another important tool for researching using search engines such as Google. You can search for interesting topics in your field of study or area of interest using search engines.

  • John says:

    Please explain “too simple” just out of curiosity? If there are additional suggestions, could you fill us in?

  • The subscribing to journals and learning a lot including latest developments and research in the field of interest is of help for me. and for the others as well.
    Great tips for great results.

  • Ron says:

    I found all of these tips very interesting. I am following up on these now and hopefully, will be able to update later on my positive progress. Thanks Kristen

  • Mohua Rashid says:

    Thanks for this useful piece. Saving this for future use.

  • Leslie says:

    Great tips Kristen – I would also add doing a bit of keyword research and seeing what people are looking for and how you can answer that demand.

    As writers, we can at times get lost in the things we want to write about, instead of writing about the things people want to read about. Taking both into account can be a great strategy.