If you plan to package information, publish a customer newsletter or establish yourself as an expert by writing and/or speaking, you’ll find yourself collecting information all the time. After a while, however, it’s easy to depend on your regular sources and forget about the other options you have for finding useful material. To make your information gathering more effective, you’ll want to tap into as many sources as possible.
Before you do, however, set up a system for handling the material that you collect. A series of file folders labeled with the broad categories you’re most likely to use is the easiest system. When you see an item of interest in the newspaper or a magazine, you can clip it and file it quickly. Consider having a folder for random ideas, too, so when you think of a subject or anecdote that you’d like to use in the future, you can make note of it and slip it into its proper place. Since ideas are fleeting and can occur anytime and anyplace, you have to be prepared to preserve them on the spot.
Although you’ll be depending on personal experience for some of your writing and speaking, your work will be livelier and have more impact if you support what you have to say in a variety of ways. When it’s time to collect ideas and information, here are additional sources to consider:
Conduct a poll or design a questionnaire. Who would people most like to be seated next to on a long flight? The hands-down winner in one poll was Oprah Winfrey. We love to know what other people are thinking and doing. As a result, pollsters have created a lively business interviewing folks on every conceivable subject. You don’t need to be Gallup to conduct a poll of your own and publish the results.
Several years ago, Suzy Mallory instigated her annual poll to select the Most Watchable Men in America. Mallory, the founder of Manwatcher’s International, sent out a questionnaire to her members, who then voted on the men they found most attractive. Once the results were tabulated, Mallory would send the findings to newspapers and other major media outlets, generating a ton of publicity for her organization and, I assume, attracting more paid members.
If you publish a newsletter, you could follow Mallory’s lead and quiz your readers. Or you could spend a few hours at a mall or an airport polling anyone who will talk to you. Members of an affinity group also make fine candidates for polling.
Once you’ve got the results (and it doesn’t have to be highly scientific), write a press release or include your findings in some other work.
Interview interesting people. Experts in your field, your peers, and unusual folks in your neighborhood are all good subjects for interviews. The key to a successful interview is to come prepared with questions that you want to cover. Sometimes that means doing some preliminary research on your subject; at other times, you can ask your subject for suggestions about topics they want to discuss.
If your interview is taking place in person, ask your subject if it’s okay to tape record the conversation. You’ll have a more accurate account of your interview than if you rely on your notes or memory. If the person objects to being recorded, however, you must comply with their wishes. Some celebrities do not allow interviews to be recorded, but your local inventor will probably have no such objections.
Subscribe to related publications in your field. What are the trends in your industry? New discoveries? Who are the movers and shakers? Keeping up in the Information Age can be challenging, but the better informed you are, the more credible your work will be. Take time to glean information from trade journals, general publications and specialty newsletters. Online services are another vast source. As an expert, one of your jobs is to condense huge amounts of information and pass along the most pertinent to your audience.
Keep up with the latest books. Knowing the newest books in your field is, obviously, important. If you publish a newsletter or frequently write and review books in your field, you may find that book publishers are willing to send you review copies of their new titles. (Yes, for free.)
Here’s how it works. First of all, you must request titles that are new or nearly new — published within the last year. Make regular trips to your local bookseller to see what new titles have arrived. Another good source is Publishers Weekly magazine, which you can find at your library. When you come across a title that appeals to you, write to the promotion department of the publisher.
Not all requests will be granted, of course, but when you do review a book, send two copies of your piece to the publisher. You may even find an excerpt from your review included as a testimonial when the book comes out in paperback.
Do hardcore research. Your reference librarian can be a great asset to your research efforts. Take time to get to know what resources your local library has. Colleges and universities often let legitimate scholars use their facilities, even if they are not affiliated with the school.
Backing up your ideas with quotes, examples and stories from other experts in your field can add credibility and also demonstrate that you’ve done a thorough job of investigating your subject. Don’t skimp.
Sometimes your information gathering will take on the personality of a detective hunt. At other times, information will seem to drop into your lap. Either way, the search is endless and the more you have to draw on, the more interesting the search will be for both you and your audience.
There’s more where this came from.
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