I get asked a lot about how I begin my research on a new article.
Well, I tell you, it depends on the topic. However, some tasks are always the same.
I always begin with secondary research. What is that, you say? It is what has already been written, if anything. What newspaper articles, magazine pieces, blog posts or research papers have been published on the topic. It’s important to see what is “out there” to be able to formulate what is missing, and there is always something missing.
Take for example my piece for Truthdig.com about women and cults. I know there are men in cults beside just the leaders. As a matter of fact, there are women cult leaders as well. But my task was to write about women who have been the victim of cults and those men who have the cult characteristics.
It’s a huge subject and my job was not to rehash what has already been covered, but to find experts who know about this topic first hand and victims as well.
I began by looking for “de programmers” to start. That put me on an excellent road to many different types of professionals who deal with families with relatives caught up in a cult community.
From there I asked the people I interview a couple of questions every time; What haven’t I asked you that I should know? Who else should I speak with and in this circumstance, if they knew anyone who would talk to me “on the record” about their experience? I always offer anonymity. Surprisingly, some people don’t require it.
Then there is always the stage where I feel I’m missing something important? But what is it? I know it’s out there. I go back and look at what I’ve got and try to see what I still need. This happens with every article I write.
So, I step back and look at what I have so far? For the cult story, I have several different experts who approach the cult issue differently. I also had several different kinds of first-person accounts from people born into a cult, a tragic story of a woman who killed herself, a woman who suffered some serious PTSD problems from a large group awareness training (LGAT) and also a woman who was taken in by a man who had the same personality characteristics as a cult leader.
These excellent examples did not just happen. It took many, many phone calls, long interviews and much back and forth editing.
The most difficult part of this process comes after I’ve done most of my research and I need to mold all this info into an article that makes sense. I always find I’ve over researched which is not limited to just me. I have what I call too many moving parts. Where to begin?
Then I remember what I advise other writers to do: Just start writing. Don’t think. Just begin with something. And you know what? It works. My advice is that once you have something down, then you can go back and work it.
After many revisions I finally had an article I could show my first editor, my husband Rick Kaplowitz. He is an excellent person to take a look at something that I am too in the weeds to see clearly. After that then I send it on to my editor at Truthdig.com and she applies her magic.
Once that piece has been put to bed, so to speak, it’s on to the next article and the process starts all over again.