How to Use Forums to Research an Article

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Forum research

As a writer, half of my job is straight research, and every so often I get stuck in the research rut known as Google. It doesn’t matter if I’m researching sales techniques or consumer psychology or environmentally-conscious mobile apps: my first instinct will always be to Google it, then peruse the highest ranked articles.

For kicks, here’s a random sampling of things I’ve googled in the past few months:

  • email tracking software
  • horse-hair vs wool mattress filling
  • crowdfunding tools
  • companies with tuition assistance programs
  • LLC vs. sole proprietor
  • Disqus pros and cons
  • sauerkraut recipes
  • how to get rid of lingering sauerkraut smell
  • value-added service
  • minimalist web design
  • Febreze in bulk.

I can find valuable information on most of the topics I research, barring a few (seriously, this sauerkraut smell is getting ridiculous). The internet being the ever-expanding universe of information that it is, I can often locate articles, interviews or videos concerning the topic. Fortunately, sources are aplenty.

But while I don’t have an issue mining secondary sources for background information, I don’t enjoy parroting these sources throughout the entire article. I’d much rather introduce the reader to something new on whatever topic I’m discussing (a new perspective, a new piece of data, etc.). Well, new to the internet, at least.

To find the new, I may seek out a subject matter expert and request an interview. I may speak to friends, family or scour my network for someone in the know.

Or I may seek wisdom of the crowd, and turn my attention to the mighty forum.

Forums as a Source of Information, Guidance and Inspiration

Also known as message boards, an internet forum (yes, I’m actually going to explain what an internet forum is) is an online discussion platform where users can communicate with each other via posted text messages. The forum was one of the very first internet contraptions, and some of the earliest internet forums include the Delphi Forums and The Well.

Forum topics can range from video games and proper wood carving techniques to conspiracy theories and base jumping, and because of this diversity, I can almost always find a forum dedicated to the topic I’m researching.

Some of my favorite forums and forum platforms to use for research purposes are Quora, Warrior Forum, Inbound, HTML Forums, Creative Cow, the ever-expanding inventory of Reddit subreddits, and of course, the SitePoint forums.

Users of these forums are surprisingly willing to help me with my research, as long as I take the right approach.

Tips for Posting Questions

I begin almost all my forum research by posting a question. I make sure to post the question in the relevant forum (for instance, don’t post a question about web development in a graphic design forum), and I try to make the question as specific as possible.

Specificity is really the key. Users aren’t going to write your article for you. If I’m working on a piece about the economics of coffee, asking a coffee forum to “Tell me about the economics of coffee” won’t garner many responses. In fact, it might result in hostility. And can you blame them?

Asking such a vague question tells people that you know nothing of the subject, you’re too lazy to research the subject enough to formulate a realistically answerable question, and ultimately, that you don’t respect the users’ time.

Instead of asking open-ended questions, I always try to ask something specific, such as:

  • How has the expansion of Brazilian coffee plantations in the mid ’90s affected the country’s economy?

  • Are you a coffee shop owner who roasts their own beans? If so, has roasting your own beans made economic sense?

  • What are some of the lesser known benefits of Farm to Cup?

When I narrow the focus of my inquiry, I tend to receive a greater number of quality responses. Users have plied me with new information, hard-to-find statistics and unique perspectives, all of which help me develop fuller, more compelling articles. Many users have also shared personal stories concerning the topic at hand. Sometimes I take cues from their experience and let it inform the article. Other times I reach out to the user via private message and ask to chat further. I’ve been able to score some very insightful interviews this way.

For example, I recently wrote an article for a sales blog about selling under pressure. I wanted to offer readers some concrete advice that could be easily integrated into their sales process, but I’m not a salesman by any means, so I turned to a popular sales message board. There I found a commenter who was lauded by the community for his valuable insight and practical advice. I asked the commenter if I could chat with him about my article, and he agreed. His unique input gave the article an extra dose of credibility.

Forums are also helpful for idea generation. Perhaps you’ve been asked to present your editor with a list of pitches, and you’re wracking your brain to no avail. To spark an idea, seek out a relevant forum and browse the posts. What are people talking about? What are people concerned about? Are there new developments in the industry? What do people think of them? An hour on a forum can open your eyes to what’s new, what’s trending, what’s ending, and what’s controversial.

What’s more, if you end up writing an article that was inspired by something you read on a forum, you know there’s an active group of users who are willing to discuss the subject further.

So the next time you’re researching an article or brainstorming pitches, find your way to a forum and stir up a conversation. With the right approach, a forum can introduce you to knowledge you wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Using Forums for Article Research

How can I effectively use forums for article research?

Forums are a goldmine of information where people from different walks of life share their experiences, opinions, and knowledge. To use forums for article research, start by identifying forums that are relevant to your topic. Once you’ve found a suitable forum, use the search function to find threads related to your topic. Read through the discussions, noting down key points, popular opinions, and any expert advice. Remember to consider the date of the posts to ensure the information is still relevant.

What are the benefits of using forums for article research?

Forums offer a wealth of user-generated content, providing a unique perspective that may not be found in academic articles or books. They can provide real-life examples, personal experiences, and diverse opinions. Additionally, forums often cover niche topics that may not be extensively covered elsewhere. This can provide unique insights and make your article more comprehensive and engaging.

How can I ensure the information I get from forums is reliable?

While forums can provide valuable insights, they also contain a lot of subjective opinions. To ensure the information you gather is reliable, cross-check facts with other reputable sources. Also, consider the credibility of the forum and the expertise of the poster. Posts from industry professionals or experienced members are likely to be more reliable.

Can I quote forum posts in my article?

Yes, you can quote forum posts in your article, but it’s important to respect privacy and copyright laws. Always attribute quotes to their original authors and, if possible, ask for permission before using someone’s post in your article. Also, remember to provide a link back to the original post.

How can I engage with forum members for more information?

Most forums allow you to engage with other members through private messages or by responding to their posts. Be respectful and clear in your communication. Explain why you’re interested in their post and ask for more information if needed. Remember to follow the forum’s rules and guidelines when engaging with other members.

Can I use forums to get feedback on my article ideas?

Absolutely! Forums can be a great place to get feedback on your article ideas. You can start a new thread explaining your idea and asking for feedback or suggestions. However, be prepared for both positive and negative responses, and remember to thank everyone for their input.

How can I find relevant forums for my article research?

Start by doing a simple Google search with your topic followed by the word ‘forum’. You can also use forum directories or look for forums on social media platforms. Once you’ve found a potential forum, browse through it to ensure it’s active and relevant to your topic.

Can I use forums to identify trends for my article?

Yes, forums can be a great place to identify trends. Look for threads with a high number of responses or views, as these are likely to be topics of interest. Also, pay attention to recurring themes or questions, as these can indicate trending topics.

How can I stay organized when using multiple forums for research?

Keeping track of your research can be challenging when using multiple forums. Consider using a spreadsheet to record the forums you’ve visited, the threads you’ve found useful, and any key points or quotes you want to remember. This will make it easier to review your research later.

Can I use forums to find experts to interview for my article?

Yes, forums can be a great place to find experts in your topic. Look for members who consistently provide detailed, knowledgeable responses. You can then reach out to them privately to request an interview. Remember to be respectful and professional in your approach.

Joshua KrausJoshua Kraus
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Josh Kraus is a Chicago-born, Denver-based writer and mediocre autobiographist with an interest in art, entrepreneurship, and emerging industries. When he's not writing, he attends to his t-shirt business, Bird Fur. Find him at joshkra.us and birdfurtees.com.

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