“A-list” copywriters often point out that the secret to writing great focused copy is not the writing at all.
It’s the research.
Solid, complete research can make writing your copy a lot quicker process to say the least, while incomplete research can make the writing process more difficult.
Yet along with being time-consuming, the research phase can be intimidating for new copywriters.
How can you become more efficient at it? And how do you know when you’ve done enough research? Below are some tips I’ve found helpful in streamlining the research process.
Get yourself ready to do the research
Like anything else, the more prepared you are when you set out to complete a task, the more likely you are to be successful at it.
A little preparation before you fire up that laptop can make your research a lot more focused and productive. (You won’t get lost down any rabbit holes.)
First, define your audience and what it is you’re hoping to deliver to them. And yes, actually write it down. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about specifics, at least start with a general idea.
Your ideas may change as you learn more about your topic anyway. But going in with an idea of what you hope to say can be very helpful for staying focused.
Next, brainstorm a list of search terms you’ll use for the research.
These also aren’t set in stone; often you can use the search engine suggestions that are based off what you’re typing into the search bar to expand your list. You can also use a thesaurus to help with brainstorming search terms.
Finally, familiarize yourself with advanced search functions. For example…
Using an asterisk (*) in place of the suffix of a word will yield different variations of the word. Let’s say you search finance*, you will get results for finance, finances, financially, financial, etc.
Try using “and” to expand your results or “or” to narrow them.
Most search engines allow the use of quotations around a word or phrase to search exactly those terms only.
Use the “help” or “advanced search” features on a search engine to explore different ways to search as there can be slight variations from one search engine to another.
Start Broad… Then Narrow
Once you have your prep work done and you’re ready to dig in and learn all you can about your subject, it can be wise to start broad and narrow your focus as you go.
Here’s what I mean: if you’re writing about “research tips” for example, you might want to start with Wikipedia, keeping in mind that while Wikipedia isn’t necessarily a credible source, it can be a good place to start.
It can help give you that broad understanding of your topic I was talking about.
On the other hand, if you’re researching a product for a client, you may want to reach out to an expert on the product or even the creator of the product, if possible.
You can also look for websites run by trade associations. Often they will contain a lot of credible information and can help you gain an understanding of industry standards and terms.
The idea here is to get as accurate an understanding about your product, service, or topic as you can.
Then you’ll be more likely to know how to narrow your focus and provide your reader with the right information.
Capture Your Ideas
Another thing that can be helpful is to keep a running list of ideas as you do your research: often the research phase is where you can come up with an outline for your project.
Additionally, your ideas can sometimes be converted to subheads or headlines. Be sure to write your notes in your own words if you plan to use any of the phrasing in your piece.
You can also save valuable time by skimming the first page of your search results before clicking on the links.
The descriptions under the links can help you gain a better understanding of which results are best suited for what you’re looking for and keep you from wasting time on less valuable sources.
If You’re Struggling… You’re Not Done
Finally, to answer the question of how to know when you’ve done the research right… It’s simple really. When you’ve done the research thoroughly, your piece will be a lot easier to write.
If you’ve completed your research yet are struggling with the writing, it’s usually a good indication that you need to go back and do more research.
Try breaking your research up into 1-2 hour blocks or sessions. And at the end of each session, study and organize your data.
Then take a break and let it all sink in. Depending on your project length and your deadline, your break could be anywhere from 30 minutes up to a day or two.
Next, go back over your data: try to create your outline if you’re finding it difficult to come up with a plan, then start back with another research session.
A good research strategy can take your research efforts from time-consuming and boring to focused, productive, and even enjoyable.