A lot of writing depends on what you’re writing and who you’re writing it for. A personal column may draw mainly on your own experiences and expertise, while a human interest story will be mostly composed of material from interviews. An investigative report may consist of research gathered from government documents. So you would go about doing research in different ways.
Your best research tool is of course the internet. A good book for a beginning reporter interested in doing internet research for stories is “How to Find Out Anything”” by Don MacLeod. It goes into how to use Google in a much more powerful way than most people use it, and it contains information on how to use government databases to gather the most up-to-date research possible.
Another good research tool is reliable sources–people you can count on to give you good information about any number of topics. I had many of these as a freelancer and often knew exactly who to call when I needed a good quote on whatever topic I was writing on. They may be people you know or distant government officials, depending on what kinds of stories you plan to write. When I was a food writer, I quickly ran out of friends to interview for stories. I then gathered up various cookbooks compiled by churches in the area and started calling those contributors for interviews. I kept a list a phone numbers handy for all my contacts in the arts community. And sometimes I had to cold call people I never met because their expertise was needed for the story to be complete. (The highest elected official I ever got a quote from was the governor of the state at a press conference I attended. That was a scary moment. But I had to get it, and I did.)
Interviewing is the art of getting people to talk about themselves. Some of my hardest interviews were with people who were suspicious of my motives as a reporter when I did faith stories. They were afraid of being misquoted or misrepresented. You need to put your interviewees at ease right off the bat with nonthreatening questions so that if you get into difficult territory later on, you have established a rapport where they feel they can trust you to get their story right. Ask for clarification often and let them know you are just as interested in getting it right as they are. Being friendly does not mean being fake. If you only do stories you are personally interested in, then you never have to fake interest.
Next time I’ll talk about why I had to give it all up. It’s not a total downer, but it does illustrate some of the difficulties of working with a mental disability.