The Trail of Research

the blankness of paper

This week, I was happy to be entrusted with a freelance project to write articles for five different travel blogs.

I just sent the last one to the client.

I now have a folder with 100 pages of printouts of research material in it. For five one-page articles. And I read more than that online that I didn't print out!

So I thought it would be fun to talk a little about my process of writing. This is when I'm writing for an assignment, not creative writing. Although some of it stays the same!

For this week's assignment, I didn't have a lot of time to do research, as I was working on a tight deadline. This helped me to tighten into a theme for each article as quickly as possible.

For example, I had a list of around 30 destinations I could write about. I could write about a region (like the Andes mountains), a city, a type of sightseeing (such as safaris), or a specific ship, hotel, etc. on my list.

There were lots of options!

My friend Tim had just returned from a whirlwind tour of parts of Turkey. His brief highlighting of some of his experiences in the Bible study we're in together piqued my curiosity. I didn't know much at all about Turkey, but it sounded like it was an incredibly interesting country with a rich history.

So, I decided to make my first article about Turkey, and specifically, about Istanbul. I chose Istanbul because it had stood out for Tim, and it was a major tourist area.

Did you know that the first people to use money was an ancient civilization in Turkey? That they were the first country to give women the right to vote? That it is a treasure trove of Christian history and artifacts? That the Turkish baths preceded the Roman baths? That tulips were given to Holland, and this began a European tulip craze that became a huge economic force?

I could go on and on.

There was a lot to read about, even though I was just skimming for notable bits of information.

I knew that one of the articles had to be on cruises and one had to be on South America. So I decided to research Ecuador. This led to the following research - wildlife in the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galapagos Islands, 16th and 17th century art and architecture in Quito, Amazon river expeditions, and eco-friendly tourism.


I used my yellow highlighter a lot as read and re-read the sections that most related to what I was writing about at the time.

I cut and pasted from web pages certain descriptions that I could mold into sentences of my own. Sometimes these were immediately cut again, but sometimes they reminded me of an important feature to talk about, or gave my descriptions a more first-hand feel.

Back when I was in high school, I enjoyed research papers. As long as I could find something in the topic I could relate to or be interested in, I could lose myself in learning about the subject. In those days, I had to troll through books and magazines, using the card catalog in the library. Besides learning things, I couldn't really be wrong in a research paper, unlike a multiple choice test. I got to pick out the specific aspects of the research topic to focus on (usually), and then it was just a matter of learning; snipping out quotes, details, and notes; and sewing it all together along one common theme.

God has given me the ability to see common themes more naturally than some. So I like this kind of work.

At the University of Texas, as a journalism major, I had the joy of a free subscription to a news industry database that you could search for newspaper and magazine articles by date, subject, title, etc. It was pretty clunky to use, if I recall. But I loved printing out background information for feature articles I was working on, and sometimes just mining it on a topic of interest when I didn't have an assignment.

Quickly after I graduated, the internet became an information powerhouse. I've fallen in love with the vastness of knowledge that I can access, so quickly, just by searching.

I am not limited to just what one library has on its shelves on a particular day. I don't have to go to a library for the research. I can pull all these pertinent tidbits, work my magic, and create a whole new creative piece.


Anonymous July 26, 2009 at 10:16 PM  

Great that you got another project come in. It sounds like a fun topic. But, a lot of work -- wow!

Anonymous August 8, 2009 at 12:24 AM  

I commented on this blog a week ago, but it's not showing up, maybe I messed up. Anyway, I wanted to say I've always wanted to go to Turkey. It's on top of the list of all the places I'd love to visit some day!

Tina B August 8, 2009 at 12:45 AM  

Martha, Turkey is really fascinating. A friend of mine just got back from a 12 day trip and was so impressed. I really never considered it before, but now it has peaked my interest!

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