Professionally, I write content for clients’ websites, email marketing campaigns, and other media. There’s a whole website about it.
Personally, I write fiction. My stuff tends to fall into the thriller, crime, and sci-fi genres.
Whether I’m writing for myself or for a client, one of the most important parts of the work is content research.
I know, I know. Content research is nice, but you’re here because you saw, “Why you shouldn’t steal crawfish” in my title and you want to know what I mean. I’m getting there, I promise, but if you’re sincerely bored, skip to the bottom.
Content Research for Clients
The clients with which I work vary in industry from healthcare to manufacturing to retail e-commerce. There’s a huge amount of information that a person needs to know to be an expert in these fields, and as the writer, I’ve got to know enough about these areas to achieve their business goals and audience needs through my words.
When I work with a client, my process typically relies on an informational interview. I’ll speak with a combination of the business owner, the head of the marketing department, and other subject matter experts. I’ll ask questions about the business, its services, its competitive advantages, and its customers, and I’ll find out about existing resources I can use to support my writing. These might include other industry-related websites, competitor websites, and the company’s print collateral.
The conversations are actually kind of fun. For me, it’s a chance to get to learn about an industry I never considered before. For the client, this process often prompts important questions about what makes their business unique and valuable to their audience.
Content Research for Fiction
Content research is one of my favorite phases when I’m writing fiction, too. In revising my stories, I’ve had the chance to speak with a variety of interesting people, including:
- Members of the C.I.A. and F.B.I.
- Staff at the National Arboretum
- Professional magicians
Doing my homework is also really important. For example, I’ve been redrafting a new novel. It’s a crime thriller set in New Orleans, and while every detail of my book doesn’t need to be researched to death, I do expect that the characters will adhere to legal and practical facts.
For one reason, I like reading books in which interesting details make the story’s world more real. For another, I’m paranoid that someone’s going to read something I’ve spent months of time and tons of energy producing, turn to me, and say, “Yeah, but that would never happen.”
By the way, if you’re going to do this kind of research, always explain your intentions up-front and demonstrate that you are serious about your writing. It’s a cool opportunity to speak with cops in New Hampshire or lawyers in Louisiana about your work. However, asking a policeman about a fictional felony WITHOUT telling him why you need to know… well, it’s a little too close to saying, “So, I’ve got this friend who’s planning to commit a robbery…”
The Crawfish Rule
In the process of researching sentencing guidelines for criminal conduct in Louisiana, I came across this gem: Apparently, there is a separate law for the theft of crawfish in which the value of the crawfish is $500 or more. Check page 171.
I’m not sure if this law is still on the books, though I fervently hope so. Finding the rule is just another Lagniappe part of the process.
One last thing: spell-check is giving me guff about the spelling of “crawfish.” Anyone want to start a petition? I’ll do the content research.