Creating well-researched posts can help your blog stand out online. However, many creators find themselves overwhelmed by the process.
When it comes to blog research, some of the common questions people ask are:
- Where should you start?
- How can you know which sources are trustworthy?
- And when does the research stage end and the writing begin?
You’ll discover the answer to all of those and more in this resource. But first, is research really necessary to write a great article?
Why blog research is important
Not all research requires you to bury your head in old dusty books or spend hours in a lab. In fact, here is a user-friendly definition of research: the process of discovering and supporting ideas.
Conducting research before writing your blog post ensures you've taken the time to think about what you want to say and that you can support the points you make (usually with links, images, quotes, or examples).
A few of the benefits of good research are:
- It improves your credibility and trustworthiness with the reader.
- It increases your writing and publishing speed because the ideas are already clearly mapped out.
- It fuels future content ideas.
Research is a necessary step for any writer aiming to create posts that rank well and provide readers with the best information on a subject. The tricky part is not to let the research stage take too long.
Defining goals for your blog research
Research can become a bit of a black hole for creators. Initial questions lead to many others, and one source will link to a dozen more worth investigating. It’s easy to get lost in a mountain of information, especially when you’re interested in the topic.
That's why it's essential to keep a clear end goal in mind so that you know when the research can end.
Once you understand the main idea of your article, what points need to be included, and can support each point, you can then move on to the next stage of writing your blog post.
You don’t need to know everything about a subject in order to write a helpful article. It's about discovering the right things, and a streamlined process can help you do just that.
5 steps to simplify blog research
There are many ways to do research for your blog, but the following method is useful because it saves you time by relying on modern tools and strategies to help you organize your ideas and get back to writing as soon as possible.
Step 1: Explore your ideas
Once you have an idea in mind, the best place to begin researching is with yourself. You can save a lot of time by asking these two questions:
- What do I already know about this topic?
- What questions do I have about it?
Good research is about clarifying the ideas and questions you have to create content that helps others. If you begin by immediately looking at what others have done, your end product will wind up looking very similar to them. Your viewpoint, knowledge, and gaps will make the article you create unique.
Start by capturing your ideas in a tool like Notion or a physical notebook. There's no need to follow any set order at this point. The only goal is to get everything that's in your head onto a page to see what's there and where the opportunities lie.
Step 2: Collect resources
After you’ve written down your topic-related ideas and questions, the next step is to search for and save resources: articles, videos, images, and any other content that may be helpful.
The main question guiding this stage is:
What has already been said that can help me understand the specific ideas and questions I have about this topic?
Most often, writers will begin by using Google's search engine to find what they need. But sometimes, this can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Author Ryan Holiday's advice is to "get rid of the extra hay" by using search operators. These are short commands you can add to your searches to find more specific results.
They include punctuation or terms like “”, OR, AND, *, (), site:, AROUND(X), and more. You can read this article from Ahrefs for more information or watch the video below on how to use them correctly.
During this step, don’t spend time reading every article or watching every video all the way through. You simply want to see enough to make sure it's relevant and then add it to your collection. In the next step, you'll have the opportunity to dive into the resources you’ve gathered.
Tools that can help you during this collection phase include:
- Notion, which has a web clipper Chrome extension that allows you to save full-text articles.
- Instapaper and Pocket work like the previous tool, but you can save more types of media.
- A commonplace book or a notecard collection are physical solutions to collecting and saving resources.
- If you’re an avid reader, the Kindle Notebook is an accessible way to review bookmarks, notes, and highlights from any books you’ve completed.
Depending on the type of article you're writing, data-focused sites like Gallup, Statista, and Google Scholar may be of interest to you. As you develop a library of trusted sources, you can eventually use a tool like Feedly to pull them together and create niche feeds that will support your work and offer future content ideas.
Step 3: Read and connect the dots
Now that you have a healthy collection, it’s time to dive in. Take the time to read, watch, or listen to your sources thoroughly.
As you do that, write down notes as you go, either in Notion or a physical notebook. Capture things that stand out, such as quotes, main ideas, and additional questions that come up.
The question guiding this step is:
What answers or guidance will my reader be looking for?
Knowing the reader's intent will help you sort valuable sources from distractions.
As you comb through your collection, you'll start to notice trends and recurring themes. These will likely become the main points in your article outline. The best outlines combine brainstormed ideas with the insights collected from research.
It’s not uncommon to do additional internet searches during this step. However, do your best to keep this to a minimum. There will always be more to learn about a subject, but a good researcher builds awareness on how much is enough.
Step 4: Review the competition
The last step before forming your outline is to look at what your competitors have written about your specific topic. In some cases, you may have already stumbled upon their work during your research phase.
But there's a specific reason to review the competition at this step, to answer the question:
Am I missing anything important?
In each step, you’ve been reminded that the purpose is to create something unique for your reader. This fourth step ensures that our distinct article is also complete.
Review your competitor's blog and social media profiles for the research topic to spot any important points you may have missed. Even if you intend to approach the subject from an entirely different angle, you may still find a gap that needs to be filled.
Once you've identified any important gaps, repeat steps 2 and 3 exclusively to fill the information gap. After you’ve reviewed any additional sources and notes, it’s time for the final step.
Step 5: Organize your research into an outline
The final step of research is to organize the most useful portions into a clear and concise outline; which was our main goal from the beginning.
The number one mistake bloggers make when writing well-researched articles is that they try to include everything they’ve found. But this will only make your article too big and difficult to follow.
Organizing your findings means eliminating the extra. Focus on the sources that best support your main idea and are easy for your readers to understand. Anything that may cause a reader to be confused or to follow an unrelated tangent doesn’t belong in your outline.
Many outlines follow this format:
- Introduction to the main idea.
- Additional context about the topic.
- What’s important for your reader to know before getting to the major points.
- Body of blog post, usually consisting of several related points:
- Point 1, supported by research.
- Point 2, supported by research.
- A summary or conclusion that reiterates the main idea.
A solid outline will include a list similar to the one above, with a sentence or two about each main point along with links, files, or images to support each one.
Typically, you will make your outline in the same tool where you plan to write your first draft. Options like Ulysses, iA Writer, and Google Docs all work well and integrate directly with Ghost's publishing platform.
Good research goes a long way
Publishing well-researched articles will help your blog stand out online. Ultimately, the goal is to provide your readers with the best resources possible so they learn to recognize and trust your brand.
To close, here are a few frequently asked questions to help you succeed on your research journey.
FAQs about blogger research
How can you know if a source is good or bad?
The more research you do, the better you’ll be able to spot great resources and avoid mediocre ones. But when you’re first beginning, asking these three questions will help:
- When was this published (is it recent or outdated)?
- Who is the author or publisher (are they known in the industry)?
- Where is the content located (on a trustworthy site or somewhere else)?
How much research is enough?
In terms of how many sources you'll need to collect, this will vary according to the topic and type of article. In most cases, choosing 3-4 high-quality sources per main point will be sufficient.
For example, if you think your outline will include 4 main points, expect to collect 12-16 sources to build your article.
What if I can’t find any good sources?
If you're having trouble finding materials related to your topic, the best thing you can do is ask a subject matter expert to point you in the right direction. Twitter is an excellent place to search for knowledgeable professionals you can ask, and more often than not, they will be happy to help.