Last week we talked about researching to find facts to use in your queries and in your writing. Research plays another important role for the nonfiction writer: finding out what has been published before. If the market you want to pitch has already covered the subject, there’s no point in asking the editors to do it again. And if lots of publications have been hitting the same subject, you might as well put away your notes and do something else. But if only a few—and not your target market—have written about it, you can use the information in those previous articles to help you write your own and to make sure you take a different slant.
In my Freelancing for Newspapers book, I talk about going to the library and digging into the “morgues” at your local newspaper. You could still do that, but these days, you can do most of your research, including your library research, on the Internet. We talked about some of the sites last week. Google is always good. Do you know about Google Alerts? If you go to google.com/alerts and set it up, Google will send you notices of everything that gets published about your subject.
Some other sites to consider in your research:
YouTube–You might think this is just music videos, but it’s not. You can find all kinds of information there. When I wrote about salt-water taffy, I watched demos on YouTube of how it’s made. The site is loaded with interviews, how-tos, training videos, and all sorts of audio-visual information sources. Plug in your subject and try it. You’ll be amazed.
Magportal.com–This site will lead you to magazine articles that have been published on our subject.
Newslibrary.com offers extensive listings of articles published in newspapers. if you want to read the whole article, they will ask you to pay a nominal fee, but you might find enough info in the summary.
New York Times archives—You do not have to pay to read articles from the New York Times going back to 1851.
Blogsearchengine.org—We can’t ignore the wide world of blogs. This site will lead you to blogs on just about any subject.
Journalists Toolbox—I saved the best for last. This fabulous site offered by the Society of Professional Journalists provides an extensive list of places to do research and advice on how to research effectively.
One caution: These sites (and many others) offer so many fascinating things to see and read that you could spend all day clicking from one listing to another instead of writing. Save them for your reward after you get your day’s writing done.
Now go write.