How can you write an article faster? How can you increase your writing speed?
One of the most draining aspects of article writing is the research that we need to put into writing an article. No matter how hard we try, we end up spending hours, even days digging up for the right research.
But what if there were a faster and better way to do research. What if that method was “accidental”, yet super reliable? Let's find out how to go about it, shall we?
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Have you ever accidentally found money in your jeans?
When I was growing up, I almost exclusively wore jeans. Except I'd wear one pair, then pull out another and soon I'd have an assortment of jeans hanging on hooks behind the door.
A pair of jeans might have sat there for a week, or a few months, before it washed. Right before they went for a wash, I'd dig through the pockets to empty them. Now and then, I'd find money, and I'd make a big announcement. “I've found money in my jeans”, I'd say excitedly.
My mother thought I was daft.
“That's your own money and your own jeans”, she'd say. “You didn't find anything. You had it all along.” Yet, to me, the accidental discovery was real and exciting. It was money I didn't think I had and I was going to put it to good use.
A similar kind of philosophy needs to be implemented when it comes to research for your articles. Instead of driving yourself crazy, trying to find research, how about accidentally finding the research and putting it to good use?
Yet, right before we dig into this little khazana (treasure) of unexpectedly finding research, let's find out why we go about it the opposite way—and why it slows us down a lot.
There are two broad types of articles when it comes to research.
There's the research-based article written by journalists. Which is to say a journalist will spend days, weeks, months or years interviewing, digging up facts and counter facts. And that kind of article is something you find in the New Yorker.
It lives not solely by its writing but by its research and detail. The goal of journalistic writing isn't usually to take you immediately from A to B. Instead, it's often a slow burn, to give you facts and analysis that you may not have understood. It still brings change but it isn't usually instant change.
Even so, the research that we seek exists all around.
Take a case study of Barbie, for example.
Did you know that Mattel (the company that makes Barbie) has been struggling to sell Barbie in the last few years? Modern mothers don't like the concept of a skinny woman as their kid's role model. Mothers ignored the advertising, causing Barbie sales to dip quite considerably.
Well, there you go—that's a story.
Barbie was stuffed as a brand and has made a comeback, based solely on the change in Mattel's strategy. There are facts, figures, strategy, and all of that is pure and unadulterated research.
When you run into that level of research, you have to thank your lucky stars.
You can take that case study and write an article that makes readers sit up and take notice. But in most cases, none of us has time to go looking for stories of this nature.
As a writer, you could spend several hours searching for facts and counter-facts that will prove your point. Yet, that's usually not the goal of the business writer, that's the task of the journalist.
The real goal is to get you from A to B. As a business writer, if I can give you some case studies and data, that's great.
The primary goal is to get you to your destination and a result, which brings us to our second kind of writer—namely you and me. We too, must research because it helps bolster our articles. It makes them more attractive. Facts and case studies are clearly compelling.
And let's not forget the First Fifty Words of the article.
Having a story unfold in a way that holds the readers' attention is an incredible asset to have. If we are to do this kind of research, we need to do this in our “low energy zones”. Maybe you're reading a book, or on the bus listening to a podcast.
And on that podcast, someone talks about the Barbie movement. You realise that the information is valuable as a case study and it probably has data to make your article shine. This is the way you and I have to do research—almost accidentally.
We need to stumble on something, and then take that data and create the article around what we have found. Or, if it's not possible to use that material right at this very moment, we store it away and can use it sooner than later.
Sooner is always better, of course.
I ran into this Barbie movement story about a year, maybe two years ago. I have it stored away, but I only know a few of the details. I knew a lot more when I first read it.
Which means I have to not only track it down but have to go over the information once more. And that takes time—often time I don't have, which is why you need to find a story, case study or data and work with it as soon as you can.
Most of us work the other way round and try to find research that fits the idea. Instead, stumble on the information and put an article together.
Also, remember that one case study is usually enough.
As you keep your eyes and ears open, you'll often run into several interesting stories. When we are talking about “marketing movements”, for example, there are bound to be many case studies. Take Casper mattress, for example. They too created a movement as did many other brands.
It's easy to get sucked into the vortex of flitting from one case study to another. And in doing so, you're not necessarily making the article a lot better, but you sure end up spending a ton of time and energy.
The story can't just be dropped in to your article. It has to be crafted in a way that makes sense, has pace and is interesting to read.
All of which takes even more time that you didn't have in the first first place. Keeping to a single case study, that you accidentally found, is usually enough to get your point across.
As business writers, our goals are at least moderately different from the journalist.
Yet, almost all the material we've read over the years, whether in a book or through reporting, has been the journalistic kind of article. It's baked solid with details and research.
The journalist is trained to go into the nitty-gritty; to find how “the flood has impacted an individual” or “how the new monetary policy has caused a few people to get inordinately rich”..
This level of detail is pretty standard fare for a journalist. Their articles are also defiantly aiming for change, but it's a different kind of change. It's slower moving and requires a lot of digging.
We, on the other hand, need to get the client to move to the next stage. Which is why it's best to find the research in advance, and craft the article around it.
Let's find it accidentally and put it to good use right away saving time and effort, while keeping our storytelling standards interesting and informative.
And now for a tiny summary
1) Journalism calls for research. It's not as vital for us as business writers.
2) Our goal is primarily to get the client from A to B. And if we have a great story or research data, that's great.
3) Research needs to be done accidentally and then used in your piece. It needs to be quickly used while it's still “hot and relevant” in your brain. Otherwise, you're likely to waste time, searching for it much later.
4) You don't usually need more than one piece of research. If you have one Barbie story, use it well. Forget the Casper mattress story, even if it's just as relevant.
5) Let's not forget the purpose of your article. It's to get the client from A to B.
P.S. Notice this article has no research data at all. It's still interesting. And it gets you, the reader, to make changes to your writing technique.
In short, a job well done, eh?