How to Become An Expert in Anything: Or, Our Research Philosophy

Wouldn’t it be great if knowledge worked by osmosis? It would be so convenient if you could just absorb information by proximity and become an immediate expert.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. Becoming knowledgeable enough about a topic to credibly write about it takes a lot of effort and research – but that’s one of the things we’re full-time experts on.

Our clients love us because of our Mad Research Skills. We put in the hard work to understand every topic they give us. It’s our job to represent them as the experts they are, and that usually requires a little (or a lot!) of background reading long before we write our first word.

The Starting Point

Our clients may come to us with a study they’ve conducted. They may have a few articles they’d like us to explore. Or maybe they’ve just got a really good title and want to leave the content up to us.

We can build on that.

In her post about the writing process, Diane’s very first step was deep research, followed by lots of thinking. Thinking, research, and more thinking is also at the top of Heather’s to-do list.

This can often take us hours. No matter how much information we’re given to start with, we always spend a lot of time learning and processing to make sure we fully understand the subject.

Once we’ve absorbed whatever the client gives us, we’ll dive into other sources. Knowing how to conduct background research is a skill on its own, and it’s something that makes us especially proud.

Usually, this means starting with a really thorough Google search. And when we say really thorough, we mean it. We don’t look at the results of a single search string. First, we explore the topic generally, from multiple angles. Then, we hone our search terms to focus on gathering more precise information. After all, we’re SEO experts, too. We can put together a series of keywords and search strings to find exactly what we’re looking for.

We’ll also look at the client’s previous posts to see what they’ve written about in the past and the sources they’ve used, conduct interviews with experts, and reach out to people we know in the field to get even more information.

We Crave Credibility

What we’re looking for is dependable sources backed by reliable data. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and we don’t want to waste any of our (or our clients’) time with it.

We home in on well-known publications, vetted industry professionals, and data-driven consulting firms to catch up on the latest research and trends. Even still, we double check to make sure the research holds firm.

It’s important we can verify the sources used by a publication, and if they reference a study, we go straight to the original research to interpret it ourselves.

When it comes to our sources, we look for:

  • Dates: We want fresh data. Ideally, the research or article was completed in the last 18 months – sooner if we need something more topical.
  • Methodology: How was the research conducted? Who were the respondents? Is the study large enough to be a representative sample?
  • Backing institution or publisher: We look at who’s commissioning and writing the pieces. Are they known for their research? Could they possibly be a competitor of our client?
  • Bias: This can be tricky, but we need to know if there’s any way the data or its interpretation could be skewed. If we have any suspicions, we won’t use it.

Hmm… That’s Not What We Expected

We’re fortunate to get to work with people who are very knowledgeable in their field, so they’ll typically have done some research of their own before sending us a topic. Ninety-nine percent of the time, our findings line up with theirs and we can get down to writing.

Every once in a while, though, the studies simply don’t support the thesis.

For example, I recently started a blog post based on the premise that working remotely is good for the environment. Unfortunately (and surprisingly!) the numbers showed that home offices don’t actually cut back on carbon emissions, so we had to rethink the angle.

With a creative pivot, I was able to refocus the post on how remote employees could be more eco-friendly in their day-to-day lives. The client loved it. It can be a productive challenge to find a new angle for a piece.

Finally, It’s Story Time

Once we’ve done our research, we settle down and start studying. It’s time to really get to know the data and turn it into a compelling narrative.

By this point, it can feel like the hard part is out of the way. We’ve spent hours developing our knowledge of the topic. While the writing is by no means easy, it’s facilitated by the brainpower we’ve already dedicated to the task.

Our purpose is to showcase our clients’ expertise and persuade readers to use their services. If the audience comes away from a post having learned something new and feeling confident in our clients’ credibility, then we’ve done our job.

How to Become An Expert in Anything: Or, Our Research Philosophy
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Anna O'Neill

As a writer at Version A, I spend my days crafting all sorts of content for our clients. From blogs to white papers to customer stories - you name it, I’ve probably written it! My background in science and the arts means that I approach each project through a double lens of research and creativity. Whatever the topic, I look at every piece as an opportunity to teach myself something new, and hopefully help readers learn something too. My constant writing companion is my little mutt, Scout.
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