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“You must have mindshare before you can have marketshare” – Christopher M. Knight
Why Learn From Me?
First of all – I’ve done this successfully. I’m proud to be a “million dollar blogger” – yes, one of my 20+ blogs has earned me over $1,000,000 in revenue.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve created literally thousands of articles of my own, on a very diverse array of topics – in addition to several books and countless pages of unpublished notes and research.
I’ve also hired and trained a team of article writers: I did all the quality control, guidance, editing and proofreading. Prior to all of this, I was a top academic scholar to a private school twice in a row (rare achievement), with both English Language and English Literature as core subjects of course.
I’m something of a compulsive writer – always have been – and have sometimes been known to create over 15,000 words of original written content per day, including links and HTML formatting – which any author will tell you is very good going.
I’ve striven to push the envelope in terms of the quality of writing and research I have put out – with for example my health websites referencing in total over 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies! I’ve also written articles which have overturned previously accepted historical facts and challenged conventionally held ideas.
You have heard it before and I’ll say it again: Content is King. This tutorial takes a look at how to raise your content creation game from run-of-the-mill to royal. Let’s dive in:
You cannot compete at the top level unless your grasp of the language is perfect. Spell checkers and apps such as Grammarly will only get you so far and shouldn’t be relied upon; you are better off learning and acquiring the skill for yourself.
If English is your second language, please check out my free tutorial The Top 15 English Grammar Errors That Most Non-Native Writers Make – Fix These ASAP. In addition to this, there are numerous free grammar tutorials out there. If you want to succeed, you’ll have to put the work in; either your command of the language is essentially perfect or it is not – because you are competing against native speakers / writers and you need to be as good as them.
On the positive side, if you are working with an editor, then they will be able to fix any errors and clean up stylistic flaws. However if you are running your own blog, then it’s all on you!
For an excellent grammar reference, please visit https://www.lexico.com/grammar – which is the Oxford English Dictionary’s grammatical resource.
It hardly needs to be said that the greater your vocabulary, both in terms of magnitude and in terms of the precision with which it is wielded, the better the impression your work will make.
For an excellent dictionary, please visit https://www.lexico.com/ – which is the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary.
For a thesaurus, my current favourite is Power Thesaurus, which gives a wonderful array of synonyms for any word entered into their search box.
3. Writing Style
Wikipedia has excellent style guides for informational article writers – and I don’t really need to add anything to them. Just reading these two documents (especially the first one) helped me improve greatly as an informational writer and I think you will like them. It’s like a high level article writing training guide in a box. 🙂 Something to study a few minutes per day maybe:
4. Top Quality Research Sources – The Secret Weapon
The biggest “secret weapon”, in my view, to creating amazing quality content, is research. Once you can write fluently on a technical level, the quality of your research is the main factor that will dictate the quality of your end result.
It stands to reason that the quality of your research rests entirely upon which sources you choose and how you go about finding them.
Where do you go for your info? You’d better not say Google, otherwise you’re fired! 😉 News Flash: Google does NOT necessarily put the best content at the top! Google essentially rewards large websites and articles that have a lot of links pointing to them – yet it should always be remembered that the algorithm cannot detect QUALITY.
In other words, you absolutely SHOULD NOT be creating your content by just doing a Google search and hashing something together from the top few results. Do not do that! Reheated garbage is still garbage!
Recognizing the Authorities:
If you are sourcing ehow.com or about.com or whatever generic site appears at the top of Google as your resource for your content creation, did you really think that you are accessing the foremost authorities in the world on that subject? Think about it. If on the other hand you are researching from the top experts in the field, your efforts will likely be at least half decent.
One of the keys to being a great researcher is knowing how to locate and identify the true experts in the field. There are a few hints to show that you have found the true expert – and it is NOT what position in google their article appears!
Some signs of expertise:
1) The content is NOT on a mainstream media, “popular culture” or “alt news” site. Typically, I think it’s almost essential to avoid these sources that provide highly clickable “news” information, or simply report on the findings of other people and simplify things for easy reading. The key is to look beyond these channels, which are mostly filled with garbage, to the more serious resources. Note also that “fact checker” type sites are typically full of horrendous bias and are often politically motivated. Bad news.
2) Their content is clear, detailed, impeccably written, usually lengthy… and provides references to high quality sources. The other sources they reference appear “heavyweight” and intellectual or academic.
3) The author has published books that have high “5 star reviews”, or is introduced as someone who has worked in the field for many years or with many accolades.
4) Quantity: The source seems to have more info on a subject than any other, or more detailed, in-depth reports.
5) The source is an officially recognized or world-leading authority on the subject.
After a while, you get the feel for this and it becomes intuitive. You can just tell by the words they use whether they really know what they are talking about.
High Quality Research Sources:
I have a small number of research sources that are my “go to” resources. I use these every time to build articles quickly that are still superior in quality to most of what is out there. While a Google search may sometimes be great, in a lot of cases the google results are populated with inferior quality materials, so you have to be careful. I honestly think that if you use the sources below for research, your article quality will go way up without you even thinking about it.
I also send this list to my outsource writers and have them use these sources when they write for me. You probably use quite a few of them already, but there are a couple of really good ones here you may not have thought of. 😉
1) Wikipedia Reference Sections. Wikipedia pages are often really good (sometimes with big mistakes in them). But the problem is, anyone can contribute to them and everyone uses them! So the trick is not just to read the Wikipedia page but to follow the numbered reference links at the foot of the wikipedia page. This is where many of the real “heavyweight” research sources can be found; the stuff that only a small fraction of people take the trouble to look at. Just this can often give plenty of materials for a really high quality article – and the links in this section are curated, therefore are usually the kind of sources that will lend an air of professionalism when you list them as references at the foot of your article. And then these sources often have lists of references also. Once you dive into the world of academic references and become accustomed to the headiness of it all, it becomes way easier to find top quality information.
2) Amazon.com. Yes, Amazon. This is a really sneaky but brilliant research technique that most people have overlooked!! Amazon, in addition to being a shopping website, contains one of the world’s most powerful search engines of the world’s published books! Simply put your keyword / keyphrase into Amazon.com search bar, set the category to “books” and off you go…. a lot of Amazon books have a “search inside” feature and you can even enter keywords inside the “search inside” panel! So you can treat Amazon as a searchable library of the world’s books at your fingertips, giving you high quality research sources – and when your articles have references from good books on the subject and not just web pages, it looks really professional!
One thing to note about this is that the Amazon previews often omit quite a lot of pages from the book, so as to prevent people from copying it, and you end up with that annoying message saying “this page is not included in this book preview” or something like that. However, it is still very often possible to get some great information from Amazon and I think it’s always worth a shot.
3) Google Books Advanced Search. Fantastic for anything historical. I’ve uncovered amazing information and overturned widely held false ideas this way.
Notes on Google Books Advanced Search – always select the button that says “full view only”. Also, if the research is historical, you can set the publication date “second box” (for example) to 1900, then you will get only materials from before 1900. Google Books Advanced Search is amazing, and I’ve used it to even write “super heavyweight” articles that overturn the current theory on things – simply by finding information in ancient books that everyone has forgotten about! An example of this work was my article on the History of the Black Diamond – which demonstrated that this stone was known considerably before the date it is typically assumed to have been first discovered. One trick I like to use is to dial back the publication date and find really old books on a subject. It’s more time consuming and so should perhaps be used sparingly; and there are often errors in publication date caused by the fact that everything was scanned with OCR (optical character recognition), which is just not all that intelligent yet.
4) Google Scholar is only for when you need to research something super academic, scientific etc. This is the “crazy stuff” – heavyweight papers full of words that are way too long. 😉 Google Scholar searches are limited to academic papers from research and scientific institutions around the world. I hardly ever use it for general web content, because the information is usually too scientific and specialized for mass consumption; but it’s a vital resource for some fields of work.
5) Pubmed – this is only for medical / health information and is the master research resource for medical / health / herbalism / nutrition articles. If you are writing anything at all in the medical niche, your Pubmed links will add the required air of real authority to the research. It is one of the primary sources that medical professionals refer to. Tip: – look for “Free Article” in the search results and you will be able to see the full paper, not just the abstract.
I’ve found Pubmed really good for writing about natural health. You can type your query into the search box, and it pulls up a list of papers published in medical journals which have that keyword in them – with the most recent at the top. So you can see at a glance the actual scientific research that has been done.
http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/ Over 30,000 full texts for free download.
http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu – listing over 3 million free books, with many full texts.
6) Major Libraries Of The World:
Wikipedia now has a list of national libraries of the world.
Other notable libraries:
Library of Congress – Washington DC, USA. The largest library in the world with nearly 142 million items and over 32 million books.
The British Library – London – the biggest library in the UK – over 150 million items in total and second largest book collection in the world with around 25 million books. Extensive collection of ancient manuscripts. Famous for its reading rooms and policy of openness to “anyone with a genuine need to use its collections”. Also see British Library’s wikipedia page.
New York Public Library – third biggest in the world with over 20 million books, over 50 million items in total. All of the 89 libraries in the NYPL may be used free of charge by all visitors.
Bibliothèque nationale de France – fourth biggest in the world – 30 million total items, 14 million books.
Harvard University Library – widely recognized as the largest academic library in existence – over 70 libraries gathered into a single system. Over 16 million volumes.
Yale University Library – second largest academic library in the world – approximately 13 million volumes. Includes famous collections such as the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Lillian Goldman Law Library with nearly 800,000 volumes.
Princeton University Library – over 11 million items, 6 million volumes.
Bodleian Library – second biggest in the UK and one of the oldest in Europe.
Cambridge University Library – UK.
University of Pennsylvania – 5.7 million volumes.
7) Other Major Online Booksellers. – if a book is in print, you’ll find it here. Several of these – such as Amazon and abebooks, make use of online databases to bring the catalogs of many independent booksellers and used bookstores together for price comparison. In general, it’s much quicker to try these first than to visit bookstores – but of course you miss out on the physical browsing.
http://used.addall.com – another great service that combines a search of several booksellers
http://www.bookfinder.com – great search engine!
http://www.abebooks.com – great search engine!
5. The Process Of Inquiry, Separating Fact From Fiction, Fact Checking And Putting It All Together
Trace the tree:
Every statement comes from somewhere and one of the first tasks of the researcher is to “trace the tree” and find the originator of the idea, claim or statement. This can be challenging on the internet where people copy without reference and even without cross-referencing to ascertain whether there is any truth in a statement.
Hypothesis: The enemy of research?
The great challenge in the academic world is that it is required that research come to conclusions. A thesis must provide answers – and not just an endless array of questions. Part of the standard method of modern science, is to create a hypothesis and to test it.
However, in my view, there is one fundamental flaw in this method.
Namely, that the hypothesis interferes with the work.
A classic example (in my opinion) was the work of alternative historian Erich Von Daniken. Published mostly in the 1970’s, his books have, according to Wikipedia, sold over 60 million copies worldwide. His grand hypothesis was that extraterrestrials had visited the earth in ancient times, and seeded modern humanity.
Von Daniken’s ideas were fascinating, radical and though highly controversial, challenged existing ideas. However, it appeared that he became obsessed with his search for evidence of “ancient extraterrestrials” – and began to see them everywhere. Ancient, crude statues with bulbous heads immediately became depictions of humans wearing space helmets.
It is as though the hypothesis itself becomes a lens, through which everything is then viewed. This lens has a nasty habit of tinting everything with the same hue. With all but the very best researchers and scientists, hypothesis inevitably leads to bias. You cannot be attached to an idea and also impartial.
My solution – create both anti-hypothesis and alternative hypothesis – and pursue them with equal vigour. The idea here is to create at least one other hypothesis – perhaps either diametrically opposed to the original idea, or wildly different from it.
Do this as an experiment. I believe that what you will find – if you are a good researcher – is that a curious phenomenon occurs: You may find that finding support for the anti-hypothesis often is just as easy.
You tend to find what you are looking for.
Celebrated intellectual, poet and occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) came across exactly the same phenomenon in his quest for truth. He proposed an experiment whereby the investigator adopted opposing views to the ones previously held, deliberately thinking the opposite and “playing devils advocate” to his own views. He rapidly discovered that it was possible to counter every position if one was determined to do so. He observed:
Only in the absolute calm of the laboratory, where the observer is perfectly indifferent to what may happen, only concerned to observe exactly what that happening is, to measure and to weigh it by means of instruments incapable of emotion, can one even begin to hope for a truthful record of events. Even the common physical bases of emotion, the senses of pleasure and pain, lead the observer infallibly to err… Plunge one hand into a basin of hot water, the other into a basin of cold water, then both together into a basin of tepid water; the one hand will say hot, the other cold.
Even in instruments themselves, their physical qualities, such as expansion and contraction (which may be called, in a way, the roots of pleasure and pain), cause error.
Make a thermometer, and the glass is so excited by the necessary fusion that year by year, for thirty years afterwards or more, the height of the mercury will continue to alter; how much more then with so plastic a matter as the mind!”
Separating what you know from what you think you know:
Everyone in the science world seems terrified of the most simple, honest statement: I do not know. However this position is the cornerstone of any investigation. Your task is not to reach conclusions, but to do meticulous work.
At school, we were punished if we gave the answer: I do not know. But, it is often the most honest, and therefore the best answer we can give. All research starts from the point “I do not know”. That is why the ancient saying “The realisation that you know nothing is the beginning of true knowledge.”
Many people are stuffed with opinions, ideas and beliefs which get in the way of research and therefore knowledge. “In order for the vessel to be filled, it must first be emptied” is a very famous old saying – and it is a good one. You have to rid yourself of preconceived notions if you are to be impartial.
A good researcher starts with the question “How do we know what we know?” – and makes no assumptions whatsoever. A great researcher or student keeps an open mind even after conclusions are reached. They are not attached to a certain outcome, but instead owe their loyalty to truth – and are therefore more able to make a good examination.
The trouble is, most of us have a vested interest in wanting a certain thing to be true. Yet, it is often these hopes that we hold on to that block the path to true knowledge. At the end of the day, no progress whatsoever can be made without intellectual honesty.
Intellectual honesty is overwhelming – but without it you cannot serve the edifice of knowledge – which is after all why we are here; to make a contribution. You reach a point where you suddenly realize that “known fact”, actually, is little more than “accepted fact.” The gaps are bigger than the knowledge.
For no matter what theory you come across, you can always find counter-theories, which if looked at with a completely open mind, are plausible.
David Zindell invented two new words Epistane and epistnor: The necessity to know something as absolutely true, and the impossibility of knowing absolute truth.
A good researcher sets out neither to prove nor disprove. A good researcher seeks to investigate and to ascertain; a task which is both challenging and honourable!
Intellectual honesty requires referencing your sources. This is because you are inviting others to review, evaluate and build on your work. Everything you do should be viewed as a brick in the edifice of knowledge. You cannot and should not be attempting to rebuild the entire structure yourself. There will always be those that come after you and build upon your work, and your goal should be to serve them.
Develop the habit of providing a reference whenever you make a claim or statement that was derived from research. For my more scholarly articles, I reference in the “Wikipedia Style”, which simply provides a number in square brackets ( “” ) and then the links at the foot of the article in a dedicated “References” section.
Finally, check all your links to make sure they work. It’s also good to go back through your references periodically (every year or so) and check links; you will find that some sites change them or delete articles. If I can’t locate the new link I tend to use archive.org to locate a historical copy of the reference source; and link to that.
Maintaining continuity of formatting throughout your blog / website / ebook will aid visual comprehension and improve your readers’ user experience. Keep the same font styles, text sizes, heading sizes, line spacing and so on will improve the overall look and feel of your work. Breaking up large chunks of text into smaller paragraphs is often recommended; together with judicious use of subheadings, bold text and italics to improve readability.
For the formatting of the reference section, I like to use a <div> container, with a pale grey (#eeeeee or #dddddd) background and a slightly smaller font size than the main article. Keeping the same referencing style throughout your site will also improve your readers’ user experience.
“Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research. ” – John Milton
Articles should use original wording. You must not copy-paste from other work. Short quotations, correctly attributed and referenced are of course accepted, however your own articles should not contain content from other articles.
There are two simple tools that can and should be used to check your work, especially if you are writing something heavily based on research: a) Search Engine – copy-paste sentences / paragraphs from your article into a search engine will reveal duplicates. b) (better) – Copyscape Pro. I use this tool extensively. It only costs a few cents per search and it will reveal duplicate content immediately. You can copy-paste an entire article into their search box. Simply make edits until no extraneous results are found!
9. This Is A Golden Age Of Information. Make The Most Of It:
Since the dawn of the internet we have entered an incredible new age where a vast amount of information which was previously very difficult to access, is now at our fingertips. We’re in a golden age for research – especially when you learn how to sidestep the MSM / social media garbage dump of bad information. We may be in the greatest era of knowledge since that great library of Alexandria, if not ever. It would seem that we are literally a few clicks away from almost anything we wish to know.
Make the most of it – it might not be around for ever. Whether or not the internet remains “free” – is not guaranteed – also, some avenues might be more closed than others. The internet is becoming less of a level playing field – which means that dubious, poorly researched or even plain incorrect information often receives far greater visibility than accurate information. Also, given the nature of digital information storage – the information is, ultimately, perishable; perhaps more so than before – though we don’t like to admit that civilizations rise, fall and perish.
At least it can be copied – but when you have built up your own library – guard it well.
Libraries are one of the greatest forms of wealth that exists – so make a backup!
“The unknown is, and will always be, bigger than the known”.