Enrich Your Blog Content with Research
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Here’s a fact. You will be able to write only about a dozen fascinating posts out of your own thought processes. Then, you will become boring because you may have little more to say. Or you may get into a rut in the way you say it.
Above all, you don’t want to be boring. Fortunately, there is a cure. You can be an interesting writer if you do research.
In another context, I explained how to research a profitable blog topic. This is different. I want to provide tips about how to do research to provide fresh blog post content that captivates readers.
I have shared these research techniques in my books, videos and seminars, but let me give you a quick view here. There are two major kinds of research, informal and formal.
Informal Blog Post Research
Once you have picked a blog topic, you want to write a series of posts related to your central theme. If you write one post per week, that’s 52 posts per year. If you write the recommended two posts per week, that means you need 104 post ideas that revolve around your central theme.
It’s intimidating to think about writing 104 posts that should be at least about 1,250 words each. Yet, if you’re going to succeed as a blogger, you must think about it. But let me say it is entirely manageable if you follow my suggestions in Plan Step 3.
That means that you schedule blog posts at least 90-180 days in advance so you can do some research. As you do research for one particular post, you’ll spot a tidbit that would work in another post you have planned, so you can conserve your research efforts when you plan ahead.
As you think about the topics, list tentative titles, and write a sentence or two about the problem you intend to solve in the post, the gears of your brain start to grind away. That’s why I call the first phase of informal research, “Skull-Diving.”
Skull Diving Revealed
Skull Diving is a term I coined is a metaphor for exploring your own mind. What is the source of your blog topic “special knowledge?” Typically, people know far more than they think they know, and so they only need to release the knowledge. The knowledge you have is probably rooted in one of these five factors:
- Life experience
- Formal education
- Job training
- Military training
Even though most people could probably write dozens of blog posts based on one or more of these five factors, you may need to do some “Skull Diving” to identify what you know. Your mind is like a pool, so dive to the bottom of it to find the treasures submerged there. Let me give you some steps to do it.
1. Find a quiet place where you are unlikely to be interrupted for half-an-hour or so. Eliminate all distractions like music or the television in the background. Have paper and pen at hand so you can make notes immediately after you emerge from your enhanced state of consciousness.
- What do I know about my topic?
- What are the steps in the process?
- What hidden knowledge do I have (“tricks of the trade”)?
- When did I learn it (think of the setting)?
- What people helped me learn, and how did they do it?
- How can I help others with the knowledge I have?
- What methods can I use to best share my knowledge?
Since you have dived into your own skull, you might as well swim around a bit and enjoy it!
Take Notes About Your Inner Discoveries
Write down the insights you receive immediately after you emerge from your relaxed state. Don’t delay. You want to conserve what you discovered in your own mind by writing it down.
What did you discover? Most people emerge with a wealth of information. In the relaxation state, they were able to visualize everything. They can see the big picture as well as remembering the little things they had forgotten. They think of people and situations from their own learning experience that they can use to convey the details to their readers in an interesting way.
The Skull Diving technique allows you to explore your inner world. Skull Diving is a kind of “soft research.” You explore the information resources you have within yourself. You also need to do “hard” or “formal” research to gather data for your information product.
Formal Blog Post Topic Research
Doing formal research is critical to the quality of your blog posts, and your success, because it enables you to round out what you know, and to add authoritative sources to enhance your credibility.
Many people think research is dry and dull. I disagree. Research can put money in your pocket. Research enables you to gather fresh:
- Opinions of others
- Experience of others
- Case studies
…all of which will add interest, substance, and credibility to your work.
You may be able to write your entire post out of your head, but most people need additional information to add value. I have already made the point that research starts with an inventory of what you already know, and you move on from there.
Research Helps You Flesh-Out Your Post
How do you use research to flesh out your own knowledge? In two ways. First, by giving you a new perspective on the topic of your post. You learn something you didn’t think about, and you can add it as a new heading or sub-heading. Research helps you add fresh content to your post.
Research can also help you augment what you have already written. You have the basic outline or structure of your post, but research, but research helps you hang meat on those “bones.”
Adding Flesh to Bones: An Example
Here is an example of a “handyman” type blog. Say your blog post is about “How to Frame Your Own House.” You can certainly start by using your own training and experience with something like this:
Before you raise the walls, cut in sway braces at the corners. You do this by placing a 1 x 6 at a 45-degree angle from the bottom, marking the location with a pencil, then cutting into your studs using your electric saw.
With a little research, you can flesh out this advice. You find supporting data through research and do a rewrite:
Before you raise the walls, cut in sway braces at the corners. Sway braces prevent twisting caused by both strong winds and earthquakes.
The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors defines a sway brace this way: “Metal straps or wood blocks installed diagonally on the inside of a wall from bottom to top plate, to prevent the wall from twisting, racking, or falling over “domino” fashion.”
You cut in sway braces by placing a 1 x 6 at a 45-degree angle from the bottom plate, marking the location with a pencil, then cutting into your studs using your electric saw.
By providing additional authoritative information like this, you add value to your blog post.
Fact-Checking is Important
Fact-checking is essential to your credibility. You don’t want to share false or inaccurate information. Research enables you to do fact-checking. Fact-checking is merely verifying the information you are providing is accurate. You want to verify it using at least two trustworthy sources.
For example, if your blog is about Chinese pottery, you might say something like:
The vase was created by an artisan in the Tang Dynasty (1618-1907 AD) and is highly valued. A recent auction brought $55,000 to a collector.
What’s wrong with this? The Tang Dynasty lasted from 618 to 907, not 1618 to 1907. Simple fact-checking research could have saved you. Yes, seemingly small things like this are important.
Keep in mind that errors could be much more critical than the dates of the Tang Dynasty. If you’re writing a recipe blog post, verify measurements. If you are doing a blog on car repair, verify things like torque settings. If you are writing a travel blog, verify street names and directions. Google Maps is excellent for that. Get the details right through research.
Where to Do Research
Where should you do research to augment your own knowledge? Everyone automatically thinks of the Internet, and it is an excellent resource. However, do more than just a Google search. Here are some other places on the Internet to do research:
- Specialized search engines
- Online Newsgroups (Yes, they still exist and are very helpful)
- Academic journals
- Personal, email and telephone interviews
And here’s a shocker. There is a place in your area that you might have forgotten about. It’s your public library. It’s a great place to visit, and it’s good to go there often to do research.
Internet Research – The Google Option
Many people just input a search term on the main Google search page and think that’s the way to do research. That is not adequate. If you click the “More” button on the Google search page, you will see there are many specialized searches, including those for news, books, financial information, and more. You will get different and more in-depth search results when you use these options.
If you click the Google “Settings” button, you can set criteria for and advanced searches.
Google Scholar search (academic/medical research and case law) seems to have disappeared from the regular Google search menu, but you can find it here.
Internet Research – An Advanced Option
But Google is the “beaten track.” If you want to do better research, you often have to get off the beaten track and use specialized search engines and websites. That’s why I’m a big fan of iSeek.com. This is what is known as a “Cluster” search engine.
When I typed in the “Ming Vases” search term under the educational category at iSeek.com, it showed me 338 web pages, 94 books, 18 files, 13 slide presentations, 13 videos, and 4 documents. That’s a vast number of easily accessible resources to get from one simple search. iSeek.com puts all the Google options to shame.
The iSeek.com cluster search engine offers a web search, but you can also focus on medical, education, or finance if you wish.
See “My Personal Research Stash.” I list all the places I like to use to quickly find unusual and interesting information that I include in all my writing. The annotated list includes iSeek.com and several dozen more specialized internet research portals.
Conduct Personal Interviews
Personal interviews can be a great way to get blog content. If you want to write an automotive post on “How to Change Your Own Brake Shoes,” speak with a local mechanic who might be able to give you some tips you did not think about.
If you have a blog for artists and want to write a post on “How to Paint Portraits from Photographs,” chat with a local artist.
You get the idea. Almost everyone is happy to share information with you if you ask nicely.
Here are a few things to consider before you conduct interviews:
- Get permission in advance to do the interview. Tell the person why you want to do the interview and how you will use the material. Set a time that is convenient for the person. Try to find a time or location where there will be minimal distractions.
- Make a list of the questions you want to ask in advance. This is an essential thing to do. In the ebb and flow of the conversation, you may forget something important. Having a list also helps because you do not want to be slavish about asking questions in order, you want to go with the flow. Just check off the question when the person answers it, regardless of the order. The list will also help you stay on track―don’t go off on tangents no matter how important you think it is at the time.
- Think about how you are going to conserve the information you collect during the interview. Will you record it or make written notes? You must do one or another, or you will not remember any of the good points the interviewee makes.
If you are new to interviewing, interview your spouse or a friend before you do your first real interview. A little practice is a good thing.
Conduct Email Interviews
If a face-to-face interview is not possible, use email to ask questions. Most experts will answer you, although not as quickly as you might wish. If the person does not reply, send another email to another expert. There is a certain protocol in asking an expert for information. Follow these guidelines:
- Keep the initial email polite and short. You can always elaborate later if you get a favorable response. In this introductory email, acknowledge you know whom you are talking to—something like, “I realized you are a leader in the field of….”
- Tell the person what you are doing and get permission to use their reply. Say something like, “I’m writing a blog post about [fill in the blank], and I’d like to include your views in it.”
- Ask a just few (3-5) specific questions. Do not expect anyone to answer general questions that may take pages of response. Keep it simple and direct. Often, experts will direct you to other resources like websites, books, or articles.
- Exercise wisdom about follow-up emails. Experts usually do not want pen pals, so only send additional emails if you have explicit permission from the expert. It is always good to send a very short “thank you” email after you receive the information from the expert.
Keep in mind that the information you receive from an expert (or anyone else) in an email or personal interview is copyrighted material and belongs to them. You never want to take personal credit for what they say. Always quote them and give them the acknowledgment they deserve.
How to Conduct Telephone Interviews
What about telephoning an expert to ask research questions? That is a bit trickier. With email, experts can reply when and if they wish. A phone call is more in-your-face.
- If a phone conversation is essential to you, I suggest you get permission to call via email first. By the way, most states have laws against recording someone without their knowledge, so ask permission before you turn on your digital recorder.
- Recording a call is a good idea if you have permission. Inexpensive digital recorders and phone connectors are available on Amazon.com. Here’s my favorite digital recorder and it’s cheap too. You don’t even need a cable to transfer your mp3 voice files to your computer because the USB connector is built-in.
- If you use Skype, check out their recording functionality. It is now built-in.
Here is the technique I use. Before I turn on my recording device, I ask for permission. Then, after I turn it on, I casually say, “You gave me your permission to record this conversation, and it’s running now—you’re good with that?” By following this procedure, you get permission in advance, and then you get recorded confirmation. The person cannot claim later that they did not give you permission to record.
Keep Track of Your Research
No matter where you do your research, or how, you must keep well-organized notes. There are many ways to do this. Many bloggers think they will remember where they read something or what someone told them, but sadly, this is seldom the case. It is better to have notes to refer to, and the more detailed they are, the better.
The Old School Way
The old school way is to take notes on 4 x 6 index cards. They are handy to carry around and easy to sort into categories later. Bundle topics with rubber bands.
This may seem like ancient technology, but it’s surprisingly useful and straightforward. Even though almost all of my research is computer-related, I still use index cards when I am off the grid.
The Best Software
If you are doing computer-based research, perhaps the best tool you can use is OneNote, which comes with most Microsoft Office packages. If you do not have OneNote, you can also use EverNote, which is available in both free and paid versions.
The two programs function similarly. The genius of both of these programs is they allow you to cut and paste anything you find on the Internet, text, or images, and refer to them offline. It is a great way to capture material to organize and review later.
What to Track
What kind of research information do you want to collect? You do not want to collect too much data because you will only have to sift through it later. You are looking for ideas to enhance your own thinking. You are looking for statistics. You are looking for anecdotes that will make your writing more interesting. Be selective.
Be sure to capture complete bibliographic information when you first collect the data, so you do not have to waste time later retracing your steps.
Collecting bibliographic information (author, publication, website URL, date, etc.) is essential because you want to give credit where credit is due. As you collect data, you want to put big quotes around the words of others, so you do not accidentally copy them and use them as your own. That is copyright infringement or plagiarism, and you want to avoid both.
By the way, if you need to learn more about how to collect and manage research notes, I highly recommend How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking by Dr. Sönke Ahrens. It provides clear direction and will save you untold hours.
Here are some key thoughts to enrich blog content with research:
- Don’t expect to always be able to write blog content out of your own brain. If you do, you’ll soon become boring and repetitive.
- Keep your blog posts fresh by doing research. There are plenty of resources available. Interviews make especially fascinating blog posts.
- Don’t forget that one great reason for doing research is to check facts. Never be guilty of including false or misleading information in your posts.
I’m going to leave you with one important idea. That is, set a time limit for researching each blog post. You can waste an enormous amount of time if you start researching Ming vases on the Internet and end up on Amazon.com shopping for a new vacuum cleaner.
Likewise, you must limit interviews to a specific timeframe, like 30 minutes. When you allow an interview to become a conversation, you have missed the point of the interview and ceased being a professional blogger.
ALWAYS keep your focus when you do research. The best way to do that is to set a timer and do the research in the allotted time.