When imagining life as a freelance writer, you might conjure up images of casually sipping coffee and writing think pieces about your favorite topics. While some days may look that way, freelance writing includes a lot research on new topics. Without proper research you will deliver poorly conceived articles and lose clients.
While you may already be an expert in a particular field, chances are good you’ll also have to write about other topics from time to time. That’s where research comes in, and it’s critical to do it well so you can serve up quality content that keeps clients coming back for more.
In this article, I’ll reveal my three step research process for producing credible articles. By the time we’re done, you’ll know how to find (and organize) reliable information about a new topic. Let’s start researching!
1. Stick to Recent Sources
If you’re anything like me, you won’t start writing about a new topic until you’re sure you understand its ins and outs. For example, if I were writing a tutorial about how to use an application, I’d start by looking at the most recent documentation for it.
Having recent sources is important because you want to avoid relying on outdated information. If I were to look at old documentation or tutorials for that application, I may end up giving bad advice. That’d make me look bad as a professional, and my client could suffer for it as well if they chose to publish that piece as I sent it. It’s a mistake that could cost both of us dearly.
During my career as a freelancer, I’ve had to tackle articles ranging from ‘fun’ supplements to cryptocurrencies, and slot machines. I’m not an expert on any of those fields, so I had to do some research to get things right. Here’s how I tackled it:
- Start by looking for articles that deal with the same subject I want to cover, using a search engine.
- Sort my results based on how reputable each source seems.
- Discard any results that are more than two – or three, at the most – years old.
- Use the information that’s left to complement my own blog posts.
I admit – two years is pretty arbitrary on my end, but it’s a personal rule that hasn’t led me astray yet. Trusting information that’s older than that can be dangerous unless you triple check it, which takes time. In the end, sticking to recent publications from reputable sources is the safest bet while researching your next piece. Plus, Google enables you to filter your results depending on their dates of publication pretty quickly, so there’s no reason not to do it.
2. Get to Know Some Google Search Commands
When it comes to search engines, I’m pretty vanilla. I don’t Bing, WolframAlpha, or even AskJeeves – I just Google. In most cases, I can find what I’m looking for within a couple of searches or pages, but other people aren’t so lucky. The thing is, you need to remember that any search engine is only as good as the terms and commands you use.
Chances are you’ve already got a good grasp on what keywords to use for your searches. After all, most people Google things often. However, you may not be aware there are also advanced commands you can use for your searches. Armed with these tricks, you’ll find what you’re looking for faster and spend more time writing instead of researching.
The more obscure the topic you’re targeting, the more likely it is you’ll need to use commands to find the results you want. For example, those slot machine articles I talked about earlier were definitely not easy to research. However, I got what I needed thanks to some helpful commands such as:
- Using double quotation marks to find exact phrases, such as “research blog posts”, which is often necessary for researching quotes and such.
- The or command can help you find one term or another, such as slots or machines. This one can help you tackle multiple terms at once.
- Using the site: command to look for information on specific websites such as site:leavingworkbehind.com freelance.
As you can imagine, there are dozens of commands available for Google alone. If you want to sharpen your search engine skills, have a look and practice using them for your daily searches.
3. Organize Your Findings Using an Outline
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to start writing. At least, that’s what many people do. I take a different approach. I prefer to organize all my research into an outline, like the one shown at the start of this section. This enables me to plan out which points I’m going to hit alongside any sources I plan to mention or link to.
Sure, it’s extra upfront work, but it pays off tremendously in time saved while writing (or at least it does for me). If I’m working on an article without an outline, it usually takes me a couple of hours, depending on how long it is, and how well I know the topic. With an outline, I can blow through 1,000 words in less than half an hour. After all, I already know everything I’m going to say, I just need to build on it.
It was actually a client that introduced me to outlines a couple of years ago. Back then, I thought outlines were a waste of time. Now, I can’t work efficiently without them. Here’s how I organize mine:
- Include an introduction and a conclusion and write them out in full so you have two reference points for your article.
- Divide each major section of your piece using subheadings.
- Use bullet points to mark each subject you’re going to write about, in order.
It’s that simple. Personally, I like to expand a bit on my outlines so I can hit the ground running with my writing. However, you can use as little or as much detail as you want to on yours. Here’s a quick template to get you started. If possible, I recommend keeping your outline open on a different screen while writing. That way, you can quickly reference it while you write without juggling documents.
You need to research blog posts thoroughly if you want your pieces to be accurate and authoritative. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, but as a freelance writer, you need to keep yours to the bare minimum. If you want to flex your muscles by writing about new topics, check out the Paid to Blog Jobs board, which is full of diverse opportunities.
Here’s the way I research blog posts to deliver excellent work every time:
- Find recent sources to get the best possible information.
- Use advanced commands in Google to improve search results.
- Organize research results into an outline.
Do you have any questions about how to research blog posts for your freelance gigs? Ask away in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.
Great piece! Thanks a lot!
I totally agree on outlining! My English teachers used to require one, so I’d always just throw one together after writing. I thought they were a waste of time, but I was wrong!
Blogging is so much simpler when I have a plan for each piece and don’t have to go link searching while writing.
Thank you for sharing your tips!
Alexander Cordova says
I thought so too at first! These days, you won’t catch me writing anything without an outline.
Claire Elliott says
Very helpful article indeed and thanks for the links. The structure article is excellent and I didn’t even know about the Google shortcuts. Awesome!
Alexander Cordova says
I’m glad to hear you found the shortcuts helpful 🙂 they really help improve the results you get.