Facts make your writing powerful.
So does originality; but online, only a privileged few articles have both.
I feel cheated when I read a fascinating article, only to find that few -- if any -- of their interesting ideas are supported with trustworthy evidence. But it's not much better to read a well-supported article that summarizes Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment for the thousandth time this year.
Some writing captures my attention and quite forcefully compels me to share its ideas. It shows me data I've never seen before, and helps me understand why that research is meaningful. This kind of writing is not impossible; it can even be easier than trying to publish an interesting conclusion without any evidence, or only by using tired, overshared studies.
If you take the time to create original research, or source and interpret fresh findings, you may find that publishing compelling content is not so difficult after all. But most people don't make that effort.
Fresh Research Matters More (And Takes Less Effort) Than You Think
In the panicked hours before your next article is due for publication, it's easier to publish your ideas without evidence, or to simply back up your thoughts using the bullet points of a popular study. And it's the sad reality of academia that much of the best research is locked away in expensive journal subscriptions.
The Internet is an echo chamber. So these factors combine to ensure that a tiny set of experiments receive an astonishing share of attention -- and that most writing about these studies will be mind-numbingly repetitious. In the past six months, I must've read forty nearly-identical summaries of Iyengar & Lepper's jam study from "The Paradox of Choice". I think the biggest contributor to this problem -- and the problem of research-backed writing in general -- is that creating original research takes time, and sourcing new research can feel impossible.
But fresh research is extraordinary. The first few writers to parse an interesting study for their niche reap the rewards of being an original source: shares, links, mentions, authority. Research you have created is even more powerful. I'm always impressed at the quality of 23andMe's blog, where they use customer genetic data to tell stories about people, their history, and their place in the world. In exchange, their blog posts receive thousands of shares and dozens of links. That directly contributes to their extraordinary mindshare in home genetic testing, and how prominently they show up in search engines.
Not every industry lends itself to original research, but there are more opportunities than you might think. My Morning Routine collects interviews with successful artists, entrepreneurs, managers, and others about their morning routines. Just a few weeks ago, the site aggregated those responses into a beautiful page displaying what successful morning routines have in common. According to Open Site Explorer, that's earned the site dozens of social shares and 12 backlinks so far. Wait -- 13 backlinks.
Your research doesn't have to be flawless or overseen by a team of scientists. You don't even have to provide interpretations. You can simply gather facts from your business, your content, or your industry, and present them in an appealing way for the rest of the world to see.
If you decide to forgo the path of original research, you can still work magic with current research from your niche. One of my favorite recipes for working with new research comes from Mark Schaefer's The Content Code:
When you see a particularly compelling piece of research, quote it, provide proper links and attribution, and then give it your own spin:
- What did you learn from this new research?
- What new ideas did this enable?
- Was the research done correctly, or is there a problem with the methodology you need to highlight?
- How can the research be practically applied to problems in your industry?
- What surprised you? What doesn't make sense? How does the research provide a new world view?
Sourcing Research Without Expensive Subscriptions
Is it even possible to find good research without paying for expensive subscriptions?
There are dozens of directories and search engines that aggregate open-source research. You may be surprised at the richness and depth of the freely available information in your industry, if you know where to look. In my own work (and free time), I turn to a select few of these search engines.
Below, you'll find my 10 favorites.
- Directory of Open Access Journals
DOAJ is a search engine pulling from a giant list of open-access journals. In my experience, it returns less results than BASE or CORE, and so I generally will only use it as a last resort.
- JURN (Primarily arts & humanities)
- Social Science Research Network — (Primarily psychology & cognitive science)
- CiteSeer — (Primarily computer science & IT)
- Microsoft Research
- Google Scholar
Wonder is not actually a search engine. Instead, you can ask a specific question to their team of librarians and researchers, and they'll dig up research for you.
- Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram is a search engine for data, facts, statistics, and more. But it also generates graphs and charts, provides a powerful calculator, and provides all sorts of serendipitous information to go along with even the most mundane searches.