Research like a Pro: Insider Tips for Writing Compelling Articles (Part 1)

December 29, 2022
Updated: Jan 18, 2023
Research like a Pro: Insider Tips for Writing Compelling Articles (Part 1)

An editor once told me they can tell poorly-researched pieces from well-researched ones in “half a glance” — and that they rarely hire writers who do the former. 

Yikes. That sounds… harsh?

It is. However, research is also the difference between a mediocre and an expert writer. 

But as a beginner or even intermediate writer, it can be hard to distinguish between shallow and exhaustive research. 

The good news is that exhaustive research is a much more interesting process than people would have you believe. It can be exhilarating to uncover new developments, expert ideas, and important studies on the topic you’re writing about. 

The benefits it brings your clients are even greater — higher authority, viewership, and traffic. 

But good research takes time and — more importantly — processes. 

What is research all about?

Research is more about asking the right questions than finding the right answers. 

If you’re only using other blogs, ebooks, and whitepapers to ask them, you’re not the only one. For the longest time, these were my only sources too. After all, they are supported by data, current trends, and industry news. 

But blogs and ebooks only cover a small portion of the information available on the web. Over time, I realized that this wasn’t enough and built a research process so thorough that clients actually wrote testimonials about it.

I learned that thorough research is a combination of multiple platforms and methods. 

So in this extensive three-part guide, I’m going to share my research processes with you divided over multiple channels. 

In this first part, I’ll cover active research sources: 

  1. Podcasts
  2. Online Courses
  3. One-on-one interviews
  4. Industry events
  5. Webinars

When to use each channel: 

1. Podcasts

Podcasts are God’s gift to thought leadership. If you’re writing a piece that needs expert opinions, but you don’t have the time (or capacity) to interview multiple people, you can listen to topic-specific podcasts for research. 

No matter how obscure your topic, you’ll find a podcast exploring it in detail. You can take your pick of industry, speaker, host, and relevance to your topic. 

Let me walk you through an example of how I used podcasts for research. 

Earlier this month I was writing a piece on Marketing Metrics and I had an overview of what I needed to cover:

H2: What are marketing metrics?

H2: Why are marketing metrics important today?

H2: Which metrics should marketers track?

          H3: Data Metrics 

          H3: Performance Metrics 

          H3: ABM Metrics

To find answers, I started looking at podcasts, and these are the ones I ended up using:

Topic: What are marketing metrics?

Podcast: The Marketing Analytics Show

Topic: Why are marketing metrics important today?

Podcast: The Evolution of Marketing Analytics 

Topic: Which metrics should marketers measure?

Podcast: Incremental Measurements x Marketing Analytics

Topic: Data metrics

Podcast: Data x Marketing Analytics 

Topic: Performance Metrics 

Podcast: Performance Marketing x Analytics

Topic: ABM metrics

Podcast: Successful ABM Campaigns 

How to dissect a podcast: Chances are you don’t always have the time to go through 6-8 hour long episodes for a nuanced understanding of your subject. I know I don’t. So here’s how I get the juiciest bits in the least amount of time. 

Step 1: Read the podcast summary. 

Usually, it has key highlights, a “what you’ll learn section”, and the guest’s introduction. 

You can quickly scan this to understand whether the podcast is pertinent to your audience and topic.

Step 2: Go through the transcript and “Command/Control + F” to look for keywords. 

For example, in this blog on Marketing Metrics, I simply looked for “metrics” and found a directory of all relevant points.

Step 3: Use the search option (Command/Control + F) to also look up “for example”. This will give you real-life examples of when the host/guest used a theory or tactic in real life. 

Here I looked up “example”, and found an instance of Simeon Atkins using metrics in real life. 

Step 4: In the transcript, if you come across a section that’s exactly in line with your topic, play it in the podcast to ensure you understand the tone and the context. . 

Pro tip: Create a table to fill in expertise from multiple podcasts. 

2. Online Courses

Online courses have always been goldmines of expertise, but even more so since remote learning became the norm. 

Post-covid, people are turning to online courses to supplement academic knowledge, upskill in their jobs, and transition to entirely new professions. 

Translation: the information in online courses today is niche, verified, and actionable. 

But where do you look in a course?

Here’s my step-by-step process:

Step 1: Review the introduction page. 

For example, Hubspot’s course on Content Marketing tells me who it’s for and what I’ll learn from it. 

Here’s how I’ll use this information:

Course summary: Recommended for: Marketing Professionals, Inbound Professionals

How I'll use this information: Read this section to check if my audience falls under any of these categories. 

Course summary: What you’ll learn

How I'll use this information: Review this section to see if my content piece addresses any of these 

Course summary: Includes: 1 certification, 54 videos,11 Quizzes, Resources 

How I'll use this information: This section tells me there are resources and quizzes I can read through to understand the lesson. (And that I don’t have to watch all of the lesson videos.)

Step 2: Go through the course syllabus to understand how in-depth the course is and which chapters are the most value-packed. 

You ideally want to skip introductions and filler lessons. 

For example, if I’m writing a blog on storytelling, I can know from the course syllabus that the first lesson will be valuable. 

Step 3: Bookmark all valuable lessons and review only those. 

Note: It’s easy to get lost down course rabbit holes, especially when the content is interesting. That’s why it’s important to have processes and stick to them. 

Step 4: Once you’ve bookmarked important lessons, take a look at the table of contents within them. 

In my example of the Power of Storytelling, I bookmarked “Business Storytelling in Action” and watched that video. 

For the rest of the sections, I simply skimmed the resources for an understanding of the context.

Step 5: Skim the resources and quizzes to quickly summarize what each section is about and if it can be used in your blog post. 

Step 6: Go through student questions to understand what else your audience wants to know. 

Pro tip: Download any graphs and/or diagrams because they can help you come up with angles for your blog, support your viewpoints using data, and quickly explain concepts. 

Important Note: Look for sources that are reliable and peer-reviewed, and be sure to consider the context and perspective of the information you are using.

3. One-on-one interviews

There are two stages in the research process where you can interview experts:

  • Before outlining
  • Before writing your first draft

In either case, you want to maximize both your time and your expert’s. So, share your questions ahead of time.

While creating your questionnaire, make sure to intersperse technical questions with personal ones so it feels more like a conversation. Also ensure you add any lists, studies, or graphics that are part of your questions. 

Here’s the questionnaire from my ‘Marketing Metrics’ blog:

  1. Why are these important for marketers beyond the 101 (analyze campaigns, predict future performance etc)?
  2. Have you seen a shift in the metrics that were important pre-pandemic? Sub questions: Have they transitioned into newer ones? Have they become stronger?
  3. How did you use these in your everyday role as a marketer?
  4. Which marketing metrics did you lean on the most and how did you pick those?
  5. How frequently do you evaluate these metrics?
  6. Have you used any marketing metrics super creatively?
  7. I say marketing metrics should guide your campaigns but not be your north star, you say ___
  8. Which marketing metrics, if any, have inspired you to push for more creative campaigns? What’s the story behind that? Has the reverse ever happenned?

After you’re done with the interview(s), here’s a step-by-step process on converting it into content. 

Step 1: Listen to the recording with headphones on and a doc open.

Step 2: In the first listening, segment each expert’s responses and create themes and sub-themes as you go. (See figure below).

Step 3: Analyze these themes for how they relate with one another, how they relate with the headline, and how they provide value.

Step 4: Find quotes and examples. (highlighted in green below)

Quotes lend credibility and context to a piece. 

Note down ideas that give actionable advice, experience backed takeaways, or an analysis of trends.

For example, ‘in my first 10 years working for X company l learnt how to do Y in 3 steps’

You ideally need quotes for the introduction, the conclusion, and one quote that summarizes your key ideas.

Step 5: Once you have identified the themes, sub-themes and quotes, you should organize them to form a narrative. Do this after a second listen to identify nuances, examples, and real-life experiences. 

Step 6: Add external examples, brand use cases, and/or templates to make your blog value driven and actionable for your readers. For example: Jaina Mistry, Head of Email Marketing at Litmus, told me that they’d recently seen a peak in unsubscribe rates for newsletters. When they dug deeper, they realized all of these came from people who hadn’t engaged in a long while. Since they had recently changed their segmentation criteria, the high unsubscribe rates indicated that the new segmentation was working well.

Add external examples

4. Industry events 

Multi-expert events are my favorite place for research. 

Why? Three reasons. 

One, unlike one-on-one interviews, events come with a pre-strategized schedule and set of questions. 

Two, you get to ask experts questions at the end. 

Three, you can hear contradictory views and present both sides of the argument for your audience. 

So how do you carry out research from industry events?

Step 1: Identify which industry events are relevant for your audience. 

For example, I make it a point to attend Inbound by Hubspot because it covers a lot of topics relevant to my audience. 

A quick way to do this is to Google “[Industry]+events+[year]”. 

Step 2: Shortlist which panels you want to attend and go through their agendas. 

For example, I decided to attend “How B2B Marketers are Using Inbound and ABM to Drive Growth and Move Upmarket” because I was writing a piece on Inbound Marketing.

Step 3: Do a background study on the speakers. 

Step 4: During the session, take notes and download any resources. 

If you have a multi-expert panel, create a table to document every response on every topic. (See the figure below for reference.)

Step 5: During the Q&A round, ask specific questions to get more clarity on your topic and note down the answers. 

(Ask the speaker if you can quote them in your piece.)

Example

Here’s how I attended an industry event with multiple experts and wrote a blog based on the insights. 

First, I documented all of the inputs from speakers in a tabulated format. Next, I did an analysis of responses based on the questions asked by the host. And finally, I filled in the blanks with the answers to questions I asked.

5. Webinars/webinar recordings 

Webinars are current, relevant, and pre-stocked with a panel of experts. They’re an excellent place to look when researching trending topics, seeking expert advice, or writing a thought-leadership piece. 

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Review the panel of experts to understand their level of experience and expertise. 

Step 2: Put on headphones and open a document while listening to the recording.

Step 3: As you listen to each expert, segment their responses and identify themes and subthemes as you go. (See figure below).

Step 4: Examine how these themes relate to one another and to the headline.

Step 5: Find quotes and examples(highlighted in green below). Quotes lend credibility and context to a piece. 

You ideally need quotes for the introduction, the conclusion, and one quote that summarizes your key ideas.

Step 6: Create a list of recommendations, experience-backed takeaways, and analysis of trends. 

For example, ‘in my first 10 years working for X company l learnt how to do Y in 3 steps’

Step 7: Create a narrative by organizing your themes, sub-themes, and quotes. Take a second listen to identify nuances, examples, and real-life examples.

Step 8: Add external examples, brand use cases, and/or templates to make your blog value driven and actionable for your readers.

Pro tips: 

  • Break down personal stories into step-by-step guides for the readers
  • Find common themes between all trends and create an outline based on those. 

A final note

Hard truth: You cannot learn the art of research in one sitting. 

Good News: What you can do is practice asking questions as often as possible, study your industry, and regularly consume content by industry experts. 

Doing this will cut down the initial dread of extensive research. You’ll already know where to look when talking about certain topics and who to talk to when you need in-depth interviews.

P.S.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.

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