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Copywriting 101: Research

It happens to every copywriter at some point. A client asks you to cover a topic you are not familiar with, but you say yes because work is work. You and the client agree on a word count, a deadline, and a few other details, and you're off.

In this blog post, we'll discuss how to tackle research for this kind of assignment and a few other points to keep in mind as you go along.

Factor research time into your estimate

When taking on a new project like this, you need to consider the amount of time you'll spend researching the topic.

Just like your client - time is money! When preparing your estimate, make sure you consider the extra time that may be required for the blog post or article. Don't worry; the client approached you because they like your work or you were recommended to them by someone who likes your work. Even though this is a new field for you, it's an investment for both of you in a new and presumably long-term relationship.

Ask the client for recommended reading

Clients often hire copywriters because they don't have the time or interest in writing blog posts, press releases, or other pieces that are incredibly useful for their organizations.

However, clients are usually a great source of information. Start by asking them if they have a recommended expert, book, website, or other sources of information that would be useful.

Go big and broad

Start with a few very basic search terms. You will get sites like Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, and a handful of others. Use sites like these to get an overview of the topic while also keeping an eye out for interesting angles or points that might be of interest or use to your client. Keep a list of these for future reference either for this particular piece or if the client asks you to write something like this for them again. That way you'll have a list of ideas ready to offer.

You should also spend time looking at the resources used to produce the Wikipedia or encyclopedia entry. This is a great trick to set you off on a deeper, more thorough exploration of the topic and the specific angle your client wants you to explore.

Research the researchers

As you review the primary sources, take a moment to see if there are any recurring names. These are the experts in this topic, and a mention of them, their institution, or their work lends credence to your piece and is advantageous for SEO, too. Be sure to also do this with any materials your client offered or recommended. You'll also be able to take a deep dive into more of their work and gain a greater understanding of the topic.

Read, watch, and listen to everything

Ok, well not everything, but pretty close. You are trying to gain an understanding of this new topic, so you need to immerse yourself in it so you can explain it from the angle the client has in mind. The more you read, watch, and listen to, the sooner you will start to get a feel for what's quality information, what isn't, what themes repeat in terms of the topic, and what seems interesting or even unexplored but still of interest to the client.

Take notes - lots of notes

Write down information as you go and save links. Believe me, at some point during the writing process, you want to know where you found the information because there's something missing. Notes also help you sort out various details and create a shape of the topic in your mind that you will later transfer to the page.

Focus on an expert or two

Every topic has experts and discovering who those people are and where you can find their work is going to be very helpful. You may decide to talk to one or two, depending on the kind of piece you have been asked to write, but then again, maybe you won't. It's worth emphasizing again that a mention of them and their work and perhaps even linking to their website or work will be good for your client’s SEO.

Make an outline

You've gathered heaps of information from all kinds of different sites, found experts, maybe even talked to them, listened to podcasts, and watched YouTube and TikTok videos galore. Now, you need to start putting it all together. Don't worry too much about the beauty of phrasing or even the logic of your outline at first. Just get those points down. You can rearrange or add to them later.

Consider sharing the outline with your client. You don't have to do this, and your client might not be fussed either way, but it can be helpful to the process. Since your client asked you to write about the topic, they may know the expert or they may have another smaller point they want to draw out. Sharing the outline with them is a way to discover that before you put in all the work of writing a piece.

Incorporate ideas and write the first draft

Follow the outline but also feel free to change it as you see fit. You'll end up doing a bit more research, too, as you realize you have a more detailed question about the order of events, how something specifically works, or suddenly you'll ask yourself why something happened or didn't happen. When a writer is working on a topic that is new to them, these are typical things that happen. Add any new resources to your list, too, for future reference and when you go back to check things like the spelling of names and dates.

Put it away

Do what you want to do for a while…and resume your work.

You know the drill. Engage your body and brain in something totally different - a walk, running errands, playing with your cat, yoga class, whatever - to let all the ideas sift and settle. Then, come back to look at it again. Even if it's only an hour later, you'll approach it with fresh eyes. This is especially important with a new topic. You've added lots of new information that is still sifting and settling in your mind, so stepping away for a moment lets you gain a bit more perspective and perhaps come up with something new that will tie it all together.

Write the second draft

You'll end up doing a bit more research, fact-checking yourself, and making a tighter piece.

When finished, send it off to the client to review!

Side note: Research for blogs versus website copy

It's important to note, too, that research for a blog post or article a client asks you to write differs from say, web page creation or rewrite. If a client asks you to work on their website copy, you need to do a few different things. You will definitely be doing the broad and big research, but you will also be spending time on their current website or with their current promotional material. You may end up interviewing the client and members of their company to find out more about how they do certain processes. You may speak with customers to get testimonials or be reading testimonials. You might do product research and spend time seeing what their competitors do, how they write or talk about their work, and what sets your client apart.

New experiences create new opportunities!

New topics are exciting and a great opportunity to expand your repertoire. Figuring out the best way to approach the research necessary to write about something well will make you a better, more versatile writer.

What do you think?

Got any ideas or tips on copywriting research? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Let's keep the conversation going!


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Originally from Ohio, USA, Bailey is an experienced freelance writer and editor, especially for technical and scientific content. With an MA in English and a background in science, he also has more than 20 years of experience in teaching English around the world.

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