If you’ve been reading my blog for more than a few days, you may have noticed I’m a big fan of doing researched posts. They can actually be really easy to write, so I thought I would share some tips that might help if you want to try doing that style of post.
Wikipedia can be a great place to start. It’s got a massive collection of articles, and you can find a decent overview of almost any subject That’s the upside; the downside is that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, which means that there can be some wrong information. But there’s also an army of volunteer Wikipedia editors keeping an eye on things. There are a few factors to consider when evaluating the reliability of a particular Wikipedia page.
Are there any editorial flags at the top of the page pointing out problems with the article? If the flag is still there, chances are the issue hasn’t been addressed, so take that into account.
Is the writing style more like an encyclopedia or an editorial? If it sounds like an editorial, that suggests the reliability is questionable, and most likely the page hasn’t gotten any attention from editors. All articles on Wikipedia are supposed to be written using a neutral tone (if you’re GenX or older, think World Book encyclopedia); if there are biased statements, that bias should come from the source being cited rather than the article itself.
Is the information referenced? You’ll see this as numbers in superscript at the end of sentences, like this. These will be hyperlinked to the reference list at the bottom, and if you hover the mouse over the number, a little box should pop up giving the reference information. If it’s an academic journal that’s cited, that info is probably pretty reliable. It the information comes from Joe Schmoe’s Flat Earth Blog, you’ll probably want to steer clear.
There’s more on how to evaluate information on Wikipedia in this post on media literacy.
Finding Other References
The Wikipedia article on your topic may have given you ideas for other information you might want to find. So, off you go to your favourite search engine. It will probably give you a massive number of results. What next?
Some kinds of websites are more likely than others to have reliable information. Government sites, which you can spot by domain suffixes like .gov, .gov.uk, .gc.ca, and so on, are good places to get information.
University websites can also be really helpful. In the U.S., these are easy to spot by the .edu domain suffix. A lot of schools have some really useful non-academic content; for example, Harvard Health Publishing is great for looking up health conditions, and U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good site has some really good info on things like gratitude and compassion.
Charitable organizations can be another good source. They often have lots of informative material that’s written in clear, simple language.
Another thing to look out for is an author’s qualifications. If someone is making supposedly factual statements (rather than expressing opinions) but doesn’t have any credentials in the subject area and they’re not citing any references, they may well be just pulling the article out of their ass.
Putting an Article Together
I don’t retain information well, so I make notes as I’m reading of the bits that stand out for me. Those notes will also serve as the basic structure for the post. By the time I’ve made my way through a few sources, the pieces of the post are pretty much already there, and I just have to connect them.
Feel free to use direct quotes from your references. If you’re not using a direct quote, you need to paraphrase what that you’ve gotten from a reference source, as using someone’s words without quoting them properly would be considered plagiarism. When doing a direct quote, just make sure it’s clear what the source of a quote is and link to it, and you’re good to go. The WordPress blockquote feature is handy for longer quotes, and clearly sets apart the source’s words from your words.
If you’re starting off knowing nothing at all about your topic, a referenced post may take a while to write. However, if you’ve got some basic knowledge, you may be able to do more of a skim read of your references, and you may be surprised how quickly you can bang out a post.
Benefits of Doing Researched Posts
There are a number of benefits to doing researched posts. Including links to high quality references gives you the side benefit of a little search engine optimization (SEO) boost. More importantly, you get to learn something new, and so do your readers. This type of post can work well if you’re feeling a little low on creativity, because once you come up with your basic idea for the post, you’re mostly going to be writing about what other people have to say on the topic.
Do you ever include researched posts on your blog? Why or why not?