As a freelance writer, you know what a dream job looks like. It’s that writing assignment about a topic close to your heart: a personal hobby, a professional interest, a time-honed skill. You can finish the assignment quickly and with flair. All the information you need is right there in your head, and you already have a wide variety of reputable source material waiting at your fingertips.
It does happen, sometimes. Really, it does. Those who consider themselves business writers sometimes get to write about business. Educational writers sometimes get to write about our nation’s school system. But, more often than not, freelance writers face topics that are relatively unknown to them and require research.
When a Google search just isn’t enough
When faced with a relatively unknown topic, most of us start with an all-purpose Google search. It can be a great way to give yourself a broad overview of a topic. And for some assignments — a casual blog post, for instance — that might be all you need. But what happens when you need to dig deeper? What if the piece you are writing requires more thoughtful, reputable source material, sources that you can cite and which will lend legitimacy to your argument? That’s when it’s time to search the “unsearchable” web. Here are a few good places to start your in-depth investigation.
- Google Scholar – If you need scholarly articles from which to cite facts to back up your literary arguments, Google Scholar is a good place to start. Google Scholar is a search engine, but rather than searching everyday web content, it searches through the full texts of published scholarly articles, including those found in online journals as well as books. For the most targeted search, be sure to use very specific search terms. “Bariatric surgery,” for example, not just “weight loss.” To make even better use of your research time, you can have new search results delivered to your email account as they become available.
- FedStats.gov – The FedStats website offers American citizens free access to “statistics from more than 100 agencies.” Its searchable database is divided into several categories including maps, public health studies, crime statistics, and information from the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. You can search for information by topic or look through an alphabetized list of contributing agencies.
- Internet Public Library – The IPL is a non-profit organization run by the students of Drexel University. It maintains a searchable online collection of newspapers and authoritative texts on subjects as diverse as fine arts, history, computer software and hobbies. It also allows users to “ask a librarian.” If you type a question into the search bar, volunteer librarians will conduct research for you and provide an answer to your question.
Just the facts, Ma’am
Not every article you write will need such rock-solid research. A blog post on Easter decor, for example, can be pretty light-hearted. But, if you are writing about science, medicine, politics or even history, it really pays to get to the facts straight before you start to write. Your readers will appreciate the high-quality content, and you’ll gain a reputation among your clients as a solid, dependable writer.
Kate C is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.