In our resource series of writing tips, Tiffany Mayer helps you polish your skills and strengthen your confidence and impact as a writer. This week she explores one of the foundations of good writing: doing your research.
Tell me if this isn’t living the dream: you have an intern or research assistant who could do all the fact-finding work that comes with blogging. They would compile all the answers to your questions in one perfect package so you could write, take photos and post to social media without ever getting bogged down in the tedious details.
Yeah, I wish for that, too, most days. I love research as much as the next nerd, but sometimes our to-do lists don’t give research the priority it deserves. Or we’re too exhausted from doing everything else on that list that we wish someone would spoon-feed us the information we seek.
I get it. But other people are busy, too. So when you send an email to a guru you think could help and they don’t reply for hours or days, don’t despair. You’re really a research star who can find answers quickly and easily. I know some of the information in this post will seem rudimentary but sometimes we all need a refresher.
1. Google Is Everyone’s Best Friend
The great Google gods are at our service to help us find everything from basic tech questions to more involved cooking techniques. And I guarantee somebody has already asked the same question you’re about to punch into the search field. In other words, there are no new questions — and that’s good news for everyone.
Want to know if you should boil sausage before putting it on the grill? The simplest way to find an answer is to ask Google the same way you’d put that question to a chef. If the answer doesn’t materialize in the first few pages of results — sometimes you need to dig deep in those search results — try entering only a portion of the question as it might appear in the answer. Do it with quotations around it, too; for example, “boil sausage before grilling.” Chances are, that will get you closer to the information you seek, even if it winds up on Page 5 of your search results.
2. Websites Have Search Engines, Too
The really good ones do, anyway, like the FBC site or Food Blogger Pro, which are a food blogger’s utopia, really. So put your search terms in the field with that big magnifying glass and watch magic happen. Don’t fret if it leads you to a 30-page PDF that you don’t have time to muddle through. Hit Control + F on a PC or Command + F on a Mac to open your computer’s search tool. Put your keywords in there and let your computer do the scanning for you. Click through the results to find what you’re looking for and then enjoy your new-found knowledge and all the time you’ve saved.
Other Useful Search Engines
No we don't mean yahoo or bing. Here are some other great search engines that can help you find tutorials, articles and more
- YouTube - owned by Google, YouTube is its own search engine for every kind of tutorial you can imagine - including installing plug-ins, learning photoshop, watermarking your photos, cooking tips...
- Pinterest - yes - it is a wealth of blogging, small business, DIY and photography information!)
- wikipedia - up to date info on virtually anything you can think of - including unusual ingredients and how to cook them
3. Message Boards Mean Many Gurus
Still getting crickets with that initial email you sent to someone you thought had the information you needed? Are you concerned the information Google provided was dubious at best? Post your question to a subject-specific message board or online forum instead. There will be many people willing to share their knowledge. FBC has a member’s forum, and there are several local FBC sub-groups, too, with good souls willing to help.
This spring, when I was overwhelmed by kale from my garden and CSA, I did a Google search for tips on freezing kale. My results turned up varying opinions: it should be blanched first; no, it can be frozen raw; you need to vacuum-pack it; no you don’t. I posted my question to an FBC group knowing someone there would have the expertise I sought. I was reassured I didn’t need to spend time blanching or invest in a Food Saver and now my freezer is filled with raw kale.
If no one has an answer in the first forum you try, search Google or Facebook to find other groups related to the subject of your question. I’m sure there are plenty of kale and zero food waste groups out there that I could have turned to, if need be.
4. Schedule Time for Research
This might be the most important advice I can offer. Make time for your fact-finding missions.
If you have an editorial schedule for your blog (I’m jealous!), you know what’s coming down the pipe. Set aside an afternoon once every couple of weeks to research ingredients, nutrition facts, recipes and photo ideas for as many posts as you can. That way it’s not a last-minute job when it’s time to publish.
Got a brand or magazine you’d like to pitch to? Then you really need to take the time to get to know them before reaching out. As a freelance writer, I spend many days just researching publications, and reading back copies of those I’d like to work with to see if my story idea has been done and how it was written. Here's some quick tips on finding magazine editorial calendars.
Individual brand and publication websites will have oodles of important information about themselves under About Us, which is sometimes buried in the home page footer, or in the FAQ. Be sure to see what Google turns up, too. You may find a writing or freelance forum that can provide insight into working with a specific company. I found a writer's board with lots of reassuring information about working with my publisher before I signed the contract.
There are tons of other resources with much to offer, too, including podcasts and videos if your eyes are going blurry from reading. Food Blogger Pro puts out some fantastic sound waves.
But again, schedule the time to read, listen, or watch and learn. Soon enough you’ll be saying "Who needs an intern?"
Be sure to check out the rest of Tiffany’s Writing Workshop Series!
Who Are You? Finding Your Writer's Voice
Narrative Know-How: Using Creative Non-Fiction in Blog Posts
Care To Chat? How to Ask For an Interview
Have I Got A Story For You: How To Pitch An Editor
Going On A Word Diet: Tips For Tightening Your Writing
Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at eatingniagara.com.