Being a good writer isn’t all that goes into a successful freelance career — researching abilities are just as important.
Freelance writers need strong research skills and a critical eye for evaluating sources — just being a great writer is not enough to build your reputation. The good news: thanks to the Internet, doing solid research has never been easier.
Finding Trustworthy Sources Online
The trick to quality online research is separating the wheat from the chaff. The Internet is full of unreliable information, so locating legitimate sources is critical.
The first principle of web research is to look carefully at where your information is coming from. Avoid sites that have .com or .net in their web addresses; there are exceptions to this rule, but this is a good starting point. Instead, stick with government (.gov) and education (.edu) websites as sources whenever possible.
Before using a website for research material, ask yourself these questions:
- Does the website look and feel professional?
- What is the purpose of this site? Does it have an agenda that could compromise its integrity as a source?
- Does the site prominently display contact information for its operators?
- Is the information properly cited and current?
Have a Few Go-To Credible Sources
Here are some sites every freelance writer and researcher should add to their favorites list:
- Spend some time getting familiar with the Library of Congress site, which is probably one of the best resources available on the web.
- The New York Public Library has concentrated its wealth of information into a searchable database.
- Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab is very useful for research, proper citation formats, grammar, style and usage. It’s a large, detailed source that every writer should visit often.
- Science.gov is a great reference website covering the sciences.
- The United States Census Bureau goes well beyond providing basic census data — it’s a great resource for all kinds of demographic statistics.
- Check out the Journalist’s Resource from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy for news and reports on public policy topics.
- Finally, here are several other online references for research.
Citing Source Materials
Finding good sources is one thing, but their information is useless if you don’t properly cite your sources.
The Internet Public Library’s Citing Electronic Information page explains the many formats and requirements for citing web resources in your articles and blog posts. In addition, the Online Writing Lab offers several must-read pages on proper source citation for freelance writers, journalists and students:
- Research and Citation Resources
- In-Text Citations: The Basics
- Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing
- Purdue OWL Citation Chart
As a freelance writer, you can’t afford to be caught using inaccurate information and data. Performing quality research — and citing that research correctly — will make your work more professional and polished.