Doing Blog Research Like a Sociologist

My major in college was sociology, and while I'll always be the butt of jokes about "useless majors for people who will never find a job," I have no regrets. Mainly, this is because thinking about people and their motives and how they interact is really, really fun, but also, I learned a lot of practical skills.

I gave my first "Content College" presentation here at Wistia a couple weeks ago, sharing how I use the qualitative research methods I learned in school to craft blog content. I'd say these lessons are most useful for crafting well-researched posts that you're willing to invest a bit more time in, but hopefully there are helpful tidbits for other types of content, too.

Here's a basic breakdown of how to apply qualitative research methods to the process of blogging.

The Literative Review

What's already been written about this topic?

In research, the literature review, affectionately termed the "lit review," is the process of reading existing academic articles about the topic you plan to investigate. Luckily, when it comes to blogging, your lit review can focus on shorter readings like blog posts and magazine articles, which takes a lot less time.

For Wistia, this step is usually pretty speedy, since our blog's focus (video marketing and business video production) is very specific. Still, it's important to see what else has been written about a particular topic and how we can approach it from a unique angle (and what we can learn from others' content).

This is also a good time to start thinking about outside content you might want to cite in your work. What writing, inside and outside of the business world, might be applicable to what you're writing about? Whether it's articles, books you've read, or blog posts by people you admire, keep an eye out for relevant content.

Field Work

Who do I want to write about and what's interesting about them?

The next step in the qualitative research process is field work. In the academic world, this is the process of going to a place and furiously taking notes about the way people are behaving. I'm a bit liberal with defining what "field work" means for a blog post, and there's definitely some overlap with the lit review.

Basically, I consider my "field work" to be the time spent gathering relevant examples for the topic I want to talk about and taking notes about why I thought they were interesting. During this process, I also take notes on how I might contact the creators of these examples.

For our recent post on Teaching with Video, I reached out to my coworkers for their ideas on who to look at, then compiled a list of about 11 different companies using video for education. Then, I visited each of their websites and took notes summarizing what they did and what was interesting about their approach.


What can I learn from the people involved with my examples?

This is generally the most enlightening part of the research process, and the most important thing is to go into this step without preconceived notions about what you're trying to prove.

Reach out to the companies that you decided to use as examples, and set up as many interviews as you can. I've found the following to be the post important factors in getting a reply back:

  • Brevity: Offer context, but don't waste their time. Include a brief description of what you're working on and for whom. One short paragraph should be plenty.
  • Flattery: Tell them why you want to feature them. Flattery goes beyond sucking up; it's about letting them know that you're reaching out individually and have done your research. Basically, this is your chance to convince them that this isn't a mass email.
  • Options: Offer a few different ways to contact you. I personally prefer to steer people towards an email interview because transcribing phone calls is a substantial timesink, but if someone else would rather talk on the phone, let them contact you via their preferred method.

Interview techniques are beyond the breadth of this post, but I'll cover them in their own post later!

Coding: Organize Your Notes

What is the meaning of all of this?!

This one can be daunting, but it's also where everything comes together! Gather all of your interviews, notes, and transcripts. I like to print them out. Give them a quick review to remind yourself what the entire body of notes looks like. Then, begin reading them thoroughly, outlining or highlighting significant sections and taking note of significant recurring themes in the margins.

Once you've finished, create a separate document where you list out all of those themes, then copy and paste the highlighted sections from your notes into those sections.

Now, rejoice, because you basically have a rich outline of your content! With a bit more thinking and tweaking, you'll be well on your way to a complete, well-researched blog post.

The end!

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