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Gathering Information and Organizing Your Writing

Gathering information

The first step in the writing process is generating ideas. This involves three steps: identifying the purpose of your writing, identifying your audience, and creating a freestyle list of ideas. The output of this step is an unstructured set of ideas that you can take as input into the second step in the writing process: gathering information.

You need to gather information on the ideas you generated during the first step. Often, you’ll know what you need to write about from experience. But sometimes you need to do additional research. If your writing task is similar to another of your documents, consider using that other document as a source of information. However, overusing previous sources could stifle your writing skills.

You can conduct two types of research to gather information — primary research and secondary research. Primary research is information gathered firsthand — by you or others — by conducting interviews, making observations, or reading source material such as customer letters.

Secondary research relies on getting information by analyzing existing primary research material. Sources of secondary research include newspaper reports, product evaluations, and marketing material.

There are drawbacks to both approaches. Primary research is time consuming, so this avenue may not be an option if deadlines are tight. Primary research may also be skewed by your own biases. Of course, if you rely on secondary research, you may be subject to the biases of others.

Imagine this scenario. Joan is the marketing manager for a computer graphics company. She wants to write a proposal to develop an innovative new web application. Her ideas list includes ideas such as features and functions, programming languages, and development effort. She now wants to research her ideas in detail.

Let’s see each idea to learn how Joan researched it.

  • Features and functions — She conducts primary research into innovative features and functions the product should have by interviewing the engineering manager and his team.
  • Programming languages — She conducts primary research into the programming languages to be used by interviewing the engineering manager.
  • Development effort — She conducts primary research into development by interviewing the head of the program office. She wants to understand the cost, time, and complexity involved in product development. She also reads past product proposals to get an idea of how much effort was needed for similar products.
  • Market window — Joan carries out secondary research into the market window for the new product by reading marketing analyses from the Marketing Department. Her research shows that the new product needs to be on the market by the end of the year.
  • Customer acceptance — Joan conducts primary research on customer acceptance when she interviews several potential customers regarding features, support issues, and product pricing.
  • Performance — She conducts primary research into expected system performance by interviewing the engineering manager.