Research 101: The Importance of Reading

As promised, the next few blog posts are going to be a quick summary of some of the material I covered in my latest book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Researching: How to Squeeze Buckets of Content Out of Your Research, Become an Expert in Anything, and Make More Money. The link there goes to the US page for the book on Amazon, and the book will be FREE on Amazon through tomorrow. (You can also get a free PDF copy by signing up for the series mailing list here.)

Reading is Crucial

The first major component to the research process I use is reading. Lots of reading. Without taking a single note. I’m a big fan of covering a wide range of source types (books, academic articles, etc.) because it’s very rarely the case that just one source is the authority on anything. Read as much as you can on a narrow topic.

Instead of tackling a broad subject like “oceans”, or even one particular ocean, pick something narrower, like marine life that has been discovered living around hydrothermal vents. You can find a lot of information on that, but not so much that you’ll never get out of the reading phase.

Flag, Don’t Write 

Make sure you use something like Post-It Flags when you read. You can also use the highlight and bookmark functions on the e-reader of your choice, or in PDF documents.

Whatever you do, though, don’t take notes your first time through. Reading the content and marking information you want to come back to and include in your writing later on. Reading multiple sources helps you notice repeating information – facts and points that are made in almost every source, or that keep surfacing in your research. These points are probably the most accurate and most important.

Becoming an Expert

The main thing reading helps you do is become an expert. There’s a real problem in the freelance world with writers who simply reword the content of other people. They’ll pull an article, rewrite it in their own words – sometimes not even bothering to change the structure or consult one single additional source – and then they sell it somewhere, either on Constant Content or a content mill of some kind.

That’s fine if you want to continually be chasing your next dollar, but if you want to be able to charge higher prices, pitch to a wide range of markets, and write eBooks and books, you have to be able to speak intelligently about a topic in your own words without having to consult books or sources.

That’s what reading extensively will help you do. You’re not pausing to take down every note, you’re not concerned with writing or editing or structure, you’re just reading and absorbing.

If you’re setting out on a research project, and you want to get the most mileage out of the number of hours you put into researching, make sure a good portion of your research time is spent reading.

I know it feels like you’re not “doing” anything, but you really are.

The next post will be about note taking, the second step in the research process I outline in my book (and that I use). So stay tuned!

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