Research vs. Rehash – Finding a Happy Medium

Posted on July 31, 2012 by Bryan B

“Give me an engaging article supported by facts, cited where necessary.”

“Include facts, but don’t sound like a textbook.”

Every freelance writer has gotten requests like these before. The client is on the right track with their idea, but what they’re asking for is awfully hard to execute. If you insert too many facts, you sound like you’re simply hiding behind other people’s ideas. But if you don’t cite anybody, you’re presenting a flimsy argument that holds no credibility.

What’s the best way to find a happy medium between these opposite ends of the spectrum? It depends on the subject matter and your audience.

Say you’re doing an article that’s heavy in facts, like something in the legal or accounting realm. There’s not much room for personality in those disciplines. In this situation, you’ll want to include lots of facts from respected authorities. People reading this type of article aren’t looking to be entertained; instead, they want to learn about something they don’t know, and they want to be sure they’re reading credible information. Leave the flash behind, and give your audience the certainty they need to bring this information to work tomorrow with confidence.

Most subjects allow you the chance to show your creative wit and take the piece in a unique direction. Here’s where you want to take one or two really good facts and hit the reader with them early. Look for a stat or a figure that will not only get the reader more invested in your article, but show that you know exactly what you’re talking about. This double dose of credibility and intrigue will help you as you develop your hypothesis, and even if you present something different than the reader expected, it’s clear that you have authority and your ideas are backed in logical and factual reasoning. That’s a lot better than throwing non-cited facts out there and sounding like you made them up.

Now, this is a thought that often plagues freelance writers – if I use citations, am I actually taking credibility away from myself? After all, if I state a fact and tell you where I found it, I risk losing you as a reader. Clearly, this person is more knowledgeable; why wouldn’t you just stop reading my piece and read what that other person has to say?

There are two things you can do to get around this little pickle. One idea is to cite multiple sources if the subject matter allows. This way, at least you’re doing the research for the reader, giving them everything they need to know without having to do their own fact-finding. Your other option is to grab them right away with a unique hook – make your writing the reason they stick around, with the citation acting merely as a device to bolster your credibility. Of course, you should strive for this with every article, but sometimes a heavy focus on facts makes this difficult.

As freelance writers, it’s our job to present facts in a manner that piques the reader’s interest and educates them at the same time. As you check out assignments, think about the volume of facts you’ll need to accomplish those goals and work from there. If you have to leave a little personality off the page, or if you only cite one source, so be it. Keep the reader’s needs first, and you’ll be fine.

Bryan B is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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