Research is the cornerstone of good copywriting.
Unfortunately, way too many writers confuse “research” with “Google search” and use information from the first result that they come across. This can result in work that’s vague, inaccurate or biased. If this is your go-to strategy for research, you may find your work (and possibly your reputation) suffering in the long run.
Poor research habits don’t have to affect your work, however. It’s possible to break even the most deep habits, and doing so will improve the quality of your research and the overall quality of your work as well.
If you aren’t sure how to make these improvements, here are a few things you should do during the research phase of any project:
Look for Authority First
Not all information sources are created equal, especially if you’re searching online.
While you might find quality info in surprising places, you’ll find that certain types of websites provide more quality than others as a general rule. One of the best sources can be an authority on whatever the topic at hand is; this could be a manufacturer’s website, the site for a government agency that regulates the topic at hand or an organization that specifically deals with it.
Take the time to identify possibly authority sources before you begin researching, and then hit their websites first. While this may not give you all of the information that you want to know, it’s certainly a great place to start.
Improve Your Google Know-How
Don’t get me wrong… there’s nothing wrong with doing research online, especially if you don’t have direct access to books and media on the topic you’re researching.
This doesn’t mean that you should just blindly rush in and grab the first link you come across, though. Be specific with your searches, and don’t be afraid to name specific websites to search (by typing a flag like “site:yoursite.com” after your search string) to nail down results from a specific source. It may mean more search time, but it will also result in better quality results.
If you don’t have a specific target site in mind, you can at least restrict your results to domains that have a higher chance of providing quality info. Just like you can use the “site:” flag to restrict your results to specific URLs, you can restrict domain types by adding flags like “site:.gov” or “site:.edu.” This will weed out all of the .info sites and other sources of junk so you can focus on sites with authority.
Take the time to evaluate your search results.
Just because you found a link on a .edu page doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better source out there. Open pages that seem like they might have the info you want and look them over. Try to confirm the author if possible, since the page may be written by a student or other non-authoritative individual even though it’s on a site for a college or federal agency.
Check to see if the content is original or if it was syndicated from somewhere else; a lot of sites used to get content from “content spinners” or other content mills, and the quality and accuracy of syndicated content can be all over the place.
Being picky about your sources takes time, but it pays off in the end. When you write copy that’s factually correct and well researched, you’re building your reputation and strengthening your brand. The research habits you develop now will serve you well for years down the road, and your future clients will thank you for it.