Recently, I was asked to write a long-form article about the history of anime in Japan. I was confident in my knowledge of the subject matter (that’s why they asked me, after all!), but as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. Research proved more time consuming but also more interesting than I had anticipated.
My biggest knowledge gap proved to be early, pre-war Japanese animation. Learning about pioneers Oten Shimokawa, Junichi Kouchi, and Seitaro Kitayama gave me even more appreciation for the medium and the creative stories told with it. Another interesting piece was realizing just how far Osamu Tezuka’s influence extended. If you know much about anime, you’ve probably heard him described as the “Father of Anime,” but it’s one thing to hear that and another to see his studio pop up time after time when tracing the history of prominent animators and influential works. The man was everywhere.
Some tips for anyone writing a research-based article of their own:
- Always budget more time for research than you think you need. If you don’t, you run the risk of racing the clock to meet your deadline or (worse) undercharging your client if you’re working for a fixed price.
- You’ll probably have more you want to say than you can fit into an article of any reasonable length. Triage by thinking about what your audience is most likely to want to know (key test: does this fact make a good quiz answer?) followed by what’s most interesting to you personally (key test: does this fact make readers want to know more?).
- Keep your notes. You never know when you might write a follow-up article or need to back up a claim during a Twitter argument.
- Agree on a style guide with your client before you begin writing. In this case, that meant things like agreeing in advance on whether to write Japanese names English style or Japanese style (we used English style), use of italics (yes for titles, quotes instead for foreign words), and section division (we went with decades). Agreeing in advance keeps you from having to rewrite sections after the fact or make extensive changes you didn’t budget time for.
- Include how edits will be handled in your contract. How many revisions are included at your quoted price? How much are you willing to edit your writing style to match their vision if your name will be on the byline? Who will be editing your work?
- Have fun if at all possible. If you’re not interested in your topic, it will be hard for your readers to be. An engaged writer translates to engaged readers. You don’t have to be stiff and formal to be informative!