How Original Research Can Help Writers Combat 5 Key Issues [New Data]

When we recently joined forces with Typeset to understand how business communicators are approaching writing — and if the writing they are publishing is effective — I knew we’d learn some things.

But, when we published the State of Writing in 2020, I was surprised to see how many of the challenges and gaps that writers face are related to (and, quite frankly, can be addressed with) original research.

I’ll be honest: I almost didn’t write this article because I preach that the punchline of any research project shouldn’t lead someone to want your solution. (It just feels insincere and, well, yucky.)

As I looked through the data, though, I couldn’t help but see that research really does address what writers are experiencing, right here, right now.

Business communicators are too focused on more

One of the themes we see throughout this research is that writers are planning on more. For instance:

  • 57% plan to increase the amount of writing they do in the next 12 months.
  • “More frequent publishing” is the top thing writers want to change about their content. (This ranks above everything else — including better quality/accuracy, which is startling.)

But — and here’s one of the rubs — only 30% plan to increase their budget.

I’m so very tired of this “more but on a shoestring budget” mentality. It just doesn’t make sense.

This may sound strange, but I liken this to food cravings (hear me out).

Sometimes, when my brain is tired and work isn’t flowing as well as it should, I feel snacky. So maybe I have a few crackers. The salt makes me crave sweet, so I grab a piece of chocolate  . . . you get the picture. I continually want more because nothing I am eating is “good enough.”

But, when I have good, wholesome food — and my body has the right kind of fuel that actually makes it work — I don’t need more. I have enough because I ate the right things.

The same is true of content. If you create the right kind of content — content that actually works and makes an impact — you won’t always feel the need for more.

And, original research is one type of content that works well — on a lot of different levels. Read about 10 ways to justify original research.

To continue with the snacking analogy for a minute: It’s the right kind of fuel for your marketing. It’s not a “grab and go” snack — and it takes some time to prepare — but it can easily serve as a core piece that works.

Said another way: Research is an ideal opportunity to invest in better instead of more. It gets results, so you aren’t constantly craving more.

Marketers struggle with publishing consistently

This next challenge is one I can relate to all too well: 48% of communicators report it’s difficult to publish consistently.

It can be challneging to come up with one story idea after another  . . . and, if we’re being really honest, it can feel soul-sucking to write about the same topics that have been covered ad nauseum.

Enter original research. When you plan out your study well, you’ll have a LOT of content you can publish from it. Original research can work beautifully, because it can be the editorial cornerstone from which you spin off many assets. Here are just 13 ideas to get you started.

In fact, you’ll likely have too many ideas and will need to prioritize which ones to use. This chart is a quick glimpse of some of the content you may want to produce based on the goals of your research.

Marketers want to tell better stories in 2020

The State of Writing in 2020 reveals that half of writers report they want to tell better stories in 2020.

If you approach original research in a smart way, you’ll have a lot of stories you can tell. While there are many ways to tell stories from your research, the chart below offers four options to get you thinking.

Option 1: Find the stat

This idea comes from Andy Crestodina, who recommends you find the missing stats — which are those datapoints that are frequently asserted but rarely supported. When you do this, you become the source others link to.

Option 2: Bust the myth

This next idea turns Andy’s idea on its head and asks, “What do people believe to be true that isn’t?” Using data to disprove common beliefs can be incredibly effective, especially if you want to get your research covered by the media.

Option 3: Uncover the gap or opportunity

Your research will undoubtedly uncover what your survey respondents believe to be true. But are there things that people believe that don’t make sense? Or are there things people aren’t doing but should be? Spinning off stories from your data can work wonderfully.

Option 4: Compare segments

Readers love to know how groups compare. What are the differences between millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers? Or what are those who are successful doing differently? Looking at your data from this lens is a great way to tell a compelling story.

The one thing to remember is that you want to tell one story per piece of content. Don’t try to jam every stat and insight into one article. Instead, think about your main point and then weave in the data points that best tell the story.

Marketers don’t know what their audience wants to read

Another key finding that came out of our research is that business communicators are challenged with understanding what their audiences want to read.

It goes without saying, but it’s very difficult to create content that makes an impact if you don’t know what your readers care about.

Of course, one obvious solution to this issue: Talk to your audience! I know, this isn’t always easy. In fact, in a new study from Radix Communications found that the majority of marketers (78%) say they have an issue with getting access to talk to customers.

One way to get insights from your audience is to do a survey. For instance, conduct a benchmark study of your industry, to learn what challenges your audience is facing and what their attitudes are about key issues. Ask at least one open-ended question so you can read the words they are actually using.

While survey-based research doesn’t replace conversations, it does give you insights you may not otherwise have. Of course, you can then use those insights not only to educate the market but to shape your content plans as well.

Marketers are too focused on website traffic instead of backlinks

This last point is something I see in so many marketing surveys. 76% of writers report they use website traffic as a metric to evaluate the effectiveness of their written content while only 17% use backlinks.

This makes me sigh every time I see it.

One of the best ways to get website traffic is to get backlinks, especially from sites with a higher domain authority than yours. This is a signal to Google that your site has authority. And authority is a key way to increase your search ranking — and traffic.

In short, backlinks are a far more important way to measure the effectiveness of your content than traffic alone.

How does research play into this? In the Buzzsumo Content Trends report, Steve Rayson found that authoritative content and original research are the best ways to get backlinks.

Where to go from here

Of course, publishing your own original research isn’t the only way to address the challenges and issues listed above. But it is a huge opportunity for many, especially those who participated in this study. Only 18% of respondents report publishing original research.

Original research does take time and savvy, but it works really well. To get started, download our Ultimate Guide: How to Publish Survey-Based Research for Content Marketing or reach out anytime to get answers to your questions.

And, if you are interested in learning more about the State of Writing in 2020, download the full findings at Typeset.

Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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