Doing research the old fashioned way

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Credit: Anna Langova

Bob Bly has a great article in the Jan/Feb, 2015 issue of Target Marketing on using “old school” methods when researching a writing assignment. Mr. Bly writes mainly about doing research for writing copy for ads, fund-raising letters, and such, but his suggestions are well taken for any kind of writing.

At first blush, some readers may be surprised that copywriters need to do research. Yes, at its most fundamental level, research is just discovering what has already been written about a topic. No need to reinvent the wheel, but also no need to restate something that has already been stated, perhaps in a clearer and more concise manner.

The part of Bly’s article that piqued my interest was his admonition to do some research the old fashioned way, by actively reading print copies, browsing library stacks, or just thumbing through magazines at hand. Often, you will find gems of wisdom – and a treasure trove of ideas – seemingly by accident. For example, I was recently flipping through a volume of essays by Wendell Berry (one of my favorite commentators on man’s place in the world) and I came across an essay on the life of Nate Shaw, a quite remarkable man of integrity and uncommon wisdom. From that essay, I gleaned several good ideas, which produced thoughts that were later developed into points in a college lecture I gave on making good economic choices.

If I had not carved out time to do some “leisurely” reading, I would never have come across this material and my lecture would have been lacking. Writing, lecturing, or speaking of any sort, is intellectual work and must be built with intellectual material. Acquiring that material takes time and effort but it is well worth the effort. As a writer or speaker you are not wasting time browsing through libraries, bookstores, or the stack of magazines by your chair. The logger must fell some trees before the miller can saw them into lumber and the builder can build the house. As a producer of intellectual work you must be the logger, miller, and builder – which is sometimes exhausting but worth it if it is a labor of love.

NOTE: You can read Bob Bly’s original article HERE.
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