One of the most challenging aspects of blogging is how to perform research and more importantly, organizing your research. As a technology blogger, I face this problem too, so some days ago, I did some research on... guess what? Yep, on how to organize research for writing articles or blog posts!
A natural question that arises here is why should bloggers organize their research in the first place? There are many benefits to it, the most obvious is that because your writing reflects your thinking or thought process itself, getting into a regular habit of organizing your research work will then force your mind to organize your thought patterns too. This will, in the longer term, make you a better thinking and more intellectual person, and also help your creativity as your creative mind will now have a much larger and more organized arsenal of knowledge to come up with more ideas more quickly.
The bad news, though, is that organizing research isn't an exact science, there is no one true way of doing it and every blogger evolves their own method over time. Having said that, as Katie Holmes describes in this article, "Librarians are known for a few things. Aside from loving cardigans and tea, we tend to be Amy Santiago levels of organized". The article borrows some great ideas from librarians in this regard!
Before straightaway diving into online research, let's determine what kind of research we are doing first. Have you already decided on the exact topic and/or headline of your next article and doing research just for gathering content? Or you don't yet know the topic and you're just doing some "general" research around a broader topic to then find out what exactly to blog about? The latter is called preliminary research and you should ideally do it prior to performing the actual "heavy" research.
In fact, preliminary research is something I happen to do almost always as that's how I come up with ideas for my next blog post. Accordingly, you may organize your note taking process. What I personally do is I've created two folders called "research" and "drafts" for the preliminary and actual kinds of research respectively. Inside the research folder, I have various topical subfolders like tech, health, lifestyle, etc. in which I store notes in the form of plain text files. The drafts folder is for my actual writing projects, in this folder go one file for each article I'm in the process of writing and these are in markdown format. The end result may look something like this:
├───drafts │ │ how-to-get-near-perfect-shave-in-less-than-5-rupees.md │ │ how-to-understand-determinism-with-flowchart-analogy.md │ │ how-to-maximize-happiness-with-dmu-philosophy.md │ │ why-we-should-support-community-distros-like-mint.md │ │ │ └───fiction │ └───research ├───finance │ nifty.yaml │ ├───health │ yoga.yaml │ ├───horticulture │ organic-fertilizers.yaml │ ├───lifestyle │ frugal-living.yaml │ yoga.yaml │ ├───tech │ github.yaml │ linux.yaml │ microsoft.yaml │ └───writing organization.yaml
The markdown files are initially filled with chunks and subheadings, all organized into a rough outline until I finally call the research done and then start organizing the actual content of the draft. This way, I gradually come up with an article's content bit by bit, as if picking up parts of a big jigsaw puzzle and joining them one by one. Trust me, doing all of this might sound very "boring" or monotonous initially but it'll be real fun once you start getting the hang of it!
Apart from this, you can also maintain something called Concept Maps which Katie also describes in her article. It's a form of organizing your brainstorming process. You start with a topic say
python. Then you might link various areas of applications to it, say
machine learning, etc. Then you think of various frameworks and apps like
mezzanine, etc. So, you can have something like this:
Web Development ├───Flask ├───Django ├───Mezzanine Machine Learning ├───NLTK ├───TensorFlow Data Analysis ├───Numpy ├───Pandas
You don't need any specific app or software to maintain this, you can even maintain them in something called
yaml files (*.yaml). These are plain text files with support for hierarchical text storage and can work wonders for tasks like this if you have a good text editor such as Notepad++ or Visual Studio Code.
As for the preliminary research text files, I create one for each major topic. For example,
ssh, etc. (under technology). In each file, I'll add a link or citation (for the source) and few bullet points for each below it (this is what Katie calls "cue cards" or "annotations"). For example, in case of
: + Microsoft acquires Github Inc. + Speculations arise as to future of source hosting facility. + Competitor Gitlab pushes on advertising. + Many developers thinking of migrating to Gitlab. : https://www.businessinsider.in/Microsoft-has-been-talking-about-buying-GitHub-a-startup-at-the-center-of-the-software-world-last-valued-at-2-billion/articleshow/64420905.cms
A simple organizational trick I follow here is that I append the bullet points in my own words with a plus sign (+) whereas a dash or minus sign indicates that the quote is lifted from the article as it is. So, "Microsoft acquires Github Inc." above is my own note.
Organizing information collected from various sources in this manner forces you to think like a journalist and believe me, you'll come up with much more creative, original and refreshing content as a blogger, once you start practicing this strategy! It's not necessary that you put just bullet points, you can have direct quotes in quotation marks, brief annotations or notes in your own language, etc.
The most important thing is to write down ideas as they come to you. Say you're reading this above source (the Business Insider article) and one blog post idea suddenly strikes you: Microsoft's Github Acquisition - A Perspective
. Then stop reading it and create a new markdown file for this article in the drafts folder, and start writing down things as they come to your mind. Ideally, you'll also have the
github file in the research folder open in a separate tab of your text editor to borrow sources and bullet points from there as and when needed. This is the most organic way of coming up with articles and you can never go wrong with this method.
Alternatively, the idea for the github article may arise sometime later. For example, after you have had a good night sleep and wake up with a fresh mind next day. But since you already have everything organized in your computer now, it'll be much easier to just open up your preliminary research folder and skim through your notes and thus equipping yourself with a much better chance of coming up with a good quality article. If you hadn't organized this, you'd have to go through your browser's history, bookmarks, etc., and do a tremendous amount of head-scratching just to recall what good points you had read yesterday!
Apart from this, it'll also help you to read about the three types of sources as described in this article by Smiti Nathan of the Habits of a Travelling Archeologist blog. As bloggers, we mostly base our research on tertiary sources (like online news blogs, articles, Wikipedia, etc.) but it's also important to be aware of primary and secondary sources in your field too if you want to establish some reputation as expert in your subject matter.
The article also describes various ways of finding sources like getting to know your nearby librarians, Google Scholar, locating literature reviews, checking out Academia or ResearchGate, engaging with live sources (experts in various fields), etc.
More inspiration for organizing writing content can be found in Mike Hanski's article titled 5 Writing Tips: How to Organize your Research. Hanski starts by describing the importance of quality research which is highly lacking in today's blogosphere and then proceeds to give some important tips like Record Everything, Always Be Ready for Genius to Strike, etc.
In conclusion, I feel that organizing research isn't easy or straightforward, but if you're motivated enough and prepared to dedicate it some time, you can do it successfully and evolve your own organization process over time.