Call me archaic, but I believe there’s something about words on a page that the internet just can’t give to us. Sure, we have blogs and e-books and online articles, and those all serve their purpose. I think web content is great – I make my living writing it. But when it comes to writing for the web, and researching, books just can’t be beat.
I know a lot of writers who decide to find online articles and use them as a kind of “template” for writing their own articles. They research popular subjects, merge a few articles together to create a technically “unique” format and set of information, and try to sell it. And that’s fine.
But when it doesn’t sell, or they’re asked for revisions, or it doesn’t get the web traffic they thought it would for their client they get confused. Why does this happen?
Because when you search online for information – unless you’re really delving into the jungles of information and using a ton of sources and highly authoritative locations for information – you’re basically eating what’s online, chewing it up, and spitting it back out in a different format. It’s “technically” unique in that CopyScape won’t catch it as being a copy, but it’s not unique in that it sounds exactly the same as everything else online because…well…that’s where you got it.
So how does a writer go about creating an article that will stand out from the online crowd? I say by researching from books. Sure, sometimes they’re outdated or you have to dig a little more or spend a bit more time researching, but the quality of articles you get is much better. Don’t believe me? Here are my top 10 reasons for my love of book research.
1. Nobody else is doing it.
You want unique information? Find a unique way of getting it. Going to books for information is really nothing new, but in this day and age it is certainly unique – particularly for web content writing.
2. It gives you different information.
Almost without exception the information you find from books is going to be different from the information you find online. Especially when it comes to things that don’t change much or haven’t changed in a long time – like the laws of physics. It allows you to remove yourself from the online regurgitation game and put something very relevant, but very true, out there.
3. You look more professional.
There, I said it. Look, I have nothing against online research – I do it, too, but usually when I’m looking through online academic journals and such – but taking an article and spinning it is not hard. It doesn’t take a lot of craft. And that’s why so many people do it – because there are still a lot of clients who think spun content stuffed with keywords will work. But it doesn’t. Freelance writers should be professionals, and if you’re including book sources and offline sources for your work, you automatically look more professional than the rest of the crowd – because you are.
4. You get more done.
Nobody ever got distracted by Facebook because they were reading a book. Online research can go south really quickly, especially if you have a squirrel brain like mine that thinks of 15 different things at once. When you can so quickly and easily access everything you can think of doing you tend to get distracted, sidelined, and nothing gets done. Books? So long as you put your phone away, that’s probably not going to happen.
5. Your writing is better quality.
I write novels and books as well as articles and web content. When I write novels – by and large – I write them out by hand first. (Gasp, shock, I know.) Why? Because it forces me to think about what I’m writing, how it sounds, and really helps me chop lengthy sentences. (If I feel like I’ve been writing the same sentence forever, chances are the reader feels like they’ve been reading it forever.) But researching out of books and hand-copying notes also forces you to slow down and think about information and how you’re writing and structuring. In turn, your writing is better.
Just libraries. No, I’m kidding. I love libraries, and the fact that I can spend a lot of my days in a library – one of many I go to – just makes the nerd in me so happy. But also, libraries give you access -for free – to loads and loads of information that other people, by and large, are not using. The books you find at libraries are often different from books you may find in the mass media or on the shelves of book stores because those shelves are constantly being stocked with the latest, newest, and most sought after titles. But older books don’t necessarily mean obsolete books. If you’re writing about something that changes every day, like the latest technology, then you may have to find more electronic sources. But most online content is evergreen because that’s what keeps people coming back. Physics, nature, travel locations, animals, personal finance, computer basics, mutual funds, real estate (certain elements), engineering, and other topics may have new developments within them, but if a book is a few years old it’s still relevant. Libraries give you access to those books, allowing you to shine a different light on a subject.
7. Free References
Usually when you read online sources such as blogs and web articles you don’t get a whole lot of references given to you as to where the information comes from. (Usually because it only came from one source and they don’t want you to know just how closely related it is.) Wikipedia is the exception, but while I love Wikipedia for a brief overview of a topic and some references, it’s probably not an authoritative source most of the time. But books usually offer you a ton of references in the back as to where the information comes from. This literally puts more information in your lap that you can go find and read if you need more, making your article, e-book, or other writing project even better and more complete.
8. Less Eye Strain
I don’t care what they say, staring at a bright computer screen for 14 hours a day just can’t be good for anyone. Call me an old soul, born in the wrong century, whatever – it’s probably all true – but for my eyes I’d much rather look at words on a page over words on a screen if I’m going to be doing it for any length of time. 🙂
9. Less Chaotic
Again I might sound like an old duffer (I swear I’m only 28) but the online world is so very…noisy. It’s chaotic and crazy. You go on one site and 15 ads pop up, someone messages you, you think suddenly if you’ve checked your bank account or not, you go to that web browser, an email pops up…ahhh! It’s madness. The calm, quiet respite of the library is so much easier for me to deal with, and I get far more accomplished with less stress. 🙂
10. More Money
I kid you not. I know it’s slightly mind-bending to consider that a research method and outlining method (by hand) that takes more time can make me more money. But it’s true. Why? I sell a higher volume of my articles by doing it this way. In the morning I usually do a few online articles on Zerys and maybe Textbroker, though I largely don’t use Textbroker anymore, and that helps me to know that I’m at least hitting $x per month. I’ve never had a problem with a shortage of work on Zerys and their articles pay higher rates. Take a few, write them, submit them, and I can move on with the rest of my day, which is usually focused around Constant Content or Kindle Direct Publishing articles/e-books/e-articles. Because this method allows me to write higher quality, unique, and more well thought out pieces of work, more of my work sells. Hint: Clients look in more than one place for content, and they know what’s regurgitated. Stand out with unique insights, and bam – you sell more.
There you go. My top 10 reasons for why I love researching out of books. The employees at the local libraries know me. They always smile when I check out 20 books on 15 different subjects. They know by now that I’m a writer – and an obsessive learner – and they’re so helpful to me in tracking down information I need if I can’t find it myself.
Writers – in case you haven’t noticed – have a tendency to be homebodies and become slightly removed from the world. I think outside of grocery shopping and church I’ve literally had weeks where I didn’t leave the house. Which really isn’t healthy for anyone.
I finally started forcing myself to go work at coffee shops, outdoor plazas, libraries, and other places because it helps me meet other people, forge relationships, oftentimes get sources for magazine articles, and engage with the community.
Nature doesn’t like a vacuum – so get out there, find some books, get a good cup of coffee or tea, and amaze yourself with what quality of articles you can achieve by looking beyond the usual sources. 🙂