It's the most tempting thing in the world to get caught up in reading reams and reams of information on a topic and not have anything meaningful at the end. Believe me, I spent my whole academic life doing this, and I know I'm not alone! Therefore, it's helpful to know how to filter information right from the beginning, and also how to get it from reliable sources.
- If you want your article to be actually informative and helpful, there is little point just copying what you've gleaned from Wikipedia. Now, don't get me wrong - I think it is a great springboard site, providing an overview of a situation before you start writing about the nitty-gritty, and it can also direct you to helpful websites - but it must be used sparingly. Don't read it as a procrastination technique (which I am prone to doing occasionally).
- To ensure you are getting information from reputable sources, type any of the following 'filters' after your search word or phrase:
- Also - don't forget that books can be a useful resource too!! The upside is that they also tend to be more reliable. Whether they are appropriate or not depends on the topic of course, but don't discount them if they are. I have a few 'go-to' books here at work that I find invaluable.
- Before you start researching, write down your title on a piece of paper and brainstorm ideas of what to include - this doesn't have to take long, maybe 5 or 10 minutes, but it allows you to focus your research and you will save time in the long run. After this you will have a clearer idea of which areas of the topic you will write about.
- Decide on a few 'sub-headings' or topic areas (as a rule of thumb, I would say stick to four or five, but of course this will depend from article to article). I also used to do this for essays at university too, and I think I've saved days of my life using this trick.
- Copy and paste certain blocks of text that you think will be useful into a word document. This page will seem chaotic at this point but resist the urge to organise it now - this will only slow you down.
- Scribble down useful words/phrases/ideas on said piece of paper as you research. I usually write down the research under the relevant 'sub-headings' (which I might or might not include in the actual article). This means I have a visual aid of where I have enough research and where I need to find out more.
- Now is the time to type out the first draft. The trick is not to overthink it. Just make coherent sentences out of the information you have, and delete and cross out your notes as they get written up. Seeing this visually really keeps me motivated.
- The hard part is done, but don't rest on your laurels yet. Now is the time for reading through and rewording, restructuring, and replacing some words with better ones (the thesaurus is your best friend at this stage).
- Take 5 minutes or so away from the article (at this point I normally get up and make myself a cup of tea and then stare out the window for a little while). Then with a fresh eye, read through the article, tidying up any little typos or other errors that weren't picked up on during the editing stage.
This is the basic plan I've developed for myself and have found it works for me. Of course, every article is different but I do believe there are some tips which will help across the board. Hopefully I've managed to list some of them here!