Sources - Step 2 – Collect information

7 Steps to Better Writing - Charles Maxwell 2020

Step 2 – Collect information

As you determine what evidence will best suit your purpose, consider where to find that information. Ask yourself:

· Do my readers expect to see evidence from primary or secondary sources? (Primary sources are those with immediate knowledge: experiments, observations, interviews, surveys, etc.; while secondary sources are distillations of primary sources.)

· What are the sources that I can most easily access that will supply the information I need?


Start your research by determining what you already know on the topic and what resources you have in your immediate possession. Do this before expanding out.

Other People

Other people usually are your next best source of information. Talk to those who can directly supply information or who can direct you to other leads. Tap into coworkers, your professional network, suppliers, and customers.

Determine the experts who are accessible to you. Specialists can quickly provide information that would take you much longer to discover on your own.


As you proceed, use good interviewing techniques. Here are tips for conducting interviews:

· Interview one person at a time. Group interviews are difficult to control and can easily get off track.

· In advance, make an appointment for the interview, even if the appointment is as little as 15 minutes ahead. This allows the interviewee to focus on the interview and avoid interruptions. In addition, it allows the interviewee’s subconscious mind to begin collecting information before the interview.

· Schedule enough time for the interview.

· When first talking to the interviewee to make an appointment, avoid launching into a discussion. You will get better information if you schedule the interview, because this allows the interviewee time to think about the topic.

· Plan what questions you will ask, and anticipate what your interviewee might say. Prepare your questions in such a way that you can rapidly take notes.

· Arrive on time.

· Upon arrival, briefly chat informally to establish rapport, but quickly move to the purpose of the interview.

· When starting a conversation, gain permission to take notes and/or to record the conversation.

· Do not attempt to write everything the other person says. If necessary, use a voice recorder to capture the conversation. (Obtain verbal and/or written permission before doing so. If you need written permission, come prepared with a permission form.)

· Minimize noise. Ask the person to turn off music or the TV. When recording a conversation, move away from other sources of noise, such as heaters, air conditioning vents, and open windows.

· Minimize interruptions and distractions. This can take the form of asking the person being interviewed to avoid answering the phone and asking other persons in the office or the home to refrain from coming into the room.

· Ask open-ended questions. Listen patiently for answers. Do not prompt answers.

· Take notes as you listen, even if you record the conversation. When you have questions that need clarification, write them down and ask them later, rather than interrupting the interviewee—let the person talk without disrupting their flow of ideas. Even if answers are lengthy or predictable, do not cut off the person’s answers, because you think you know what he or she is going to say.

· As the conversation draws to an end, summarize what the person said and what you learned. If you intend to create a transcript, ask permission to send the material back to the interviewee for his or her review.

· If appropriate, later provide the interviewee with a copy of the corrected transcript, voice recording, and/or notes.


Once you have exhausted the immediate resources of people close to you, reach out to compiled resources. Today, the internet provides the best source for free and quick information. Google, Bing, and other search engines can identify a wealth of resources. This may be sufficient for your assignment.

For material that was on the internet in the past, but which is no longer online, consult also preserves books, audio recordings, videos, images, and software programs. It is a wonderful storehouse of published works.

Wikipedia and its sister projects are powerful resources for getting started. While they are not unbiased, they provide broad understanding on millions of topics. In addition, the Wiki-links and references offer launching points to find more information.

For research by scholars use Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic. In addition, you might want to check into some of the specialized academic databases and search engines listed by Wikipedia at:

Government websites

Government sites also are highly useful. An exhaustive index of US federal agencies is at:

Wikipedia also provides an extensive index of US government websites organized by branches of the government:

For economic data, see the World Bank ( and the US Federal Reserve Banks (

If you cannot quickly find what you need, consider phoning government offices and asking where to locate information. In much of the world, governments are legally required to make information available to the public.

Published sources

If you believe you need to consult published sources, start with WorldCat ( WorldCat is a huge, online catalog of materials from libraries worldwide. It catalogs books, articles, music, and videos from more than 72,000 libraries located in 170 countries and territories. As of 2020, the catalog identified 3 billion items.[6]

If your local library does not have what you need, use an inter-library loan service to access distant sources.

Often it makes sense to purchase books that discuss your topic. Used books generally are inexpensive. Amazon and other booksellers are where to look. Book and product reviews, which Amazon pioneered, are particularly helpful.

Also, consider videos, films, television, radio, podcasts, and audio books for collecting information.