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Creating a research resource

Creating an online research resource can help to establish you as an expert in your field, produce goodwill and attract visitors to your site who will also be interested in your books on the same subject. It's therefore a project well worth considering for non-fiction writers, publishers and bookshops who specialise in a particular area.

Research first
The first step is to study the opposition. There’s no point in spending hours recreating something that’s already available so surf the net to find other sites on the same topics. Look at their good and bad points and decide how your site will be different. For example, when we were planning our children's book site, we discovered that most of the online information on writing for children was US based so we created a section on our site for British writers that attracts large numbers of visitors.

Choose your market
The next step is to decide on your target readership. That will be decided partly by the market for your own books and partly by what’s already available. If most of the information online is fairly shallow, you may want to add deeper articles and more advanced facts. However, if you’ve only managed to locate highly technical articles aimed at professionals, you may decide to offer jargon-free information aimed at non-experts. If you want to attract teachers, parents and children to your site, try to include information relevant to the national curriculum and GCSEs. Don’t worry if you can’t decide. You can easily incorporate information at different levels into the same site.

Plan your content
Now brainstorm the various aspects of your subject to help you work out the sections for your site. For example, a site about a sport could include

  • how to start
  • how to improve
  • how to find lessons
  • choosing equipment
  • common mistakes and how to avoid them
  • relevant health and fitness issues
  • historical background (including a timeline)
  • other background information
  • frequently asked questions
  • great achievements
  • competitions
  • people famous in this field
  • relevant jokes and funny stories
  • quizzes and wordsearches
  • worksheets and lesson plans for teachers

How many of these you include is up to you. Your initial research and personal inclinations will help you decide whether to concentrate on one particular aspect of your subject or divide your site into sections covering a wider range of topics.

Fortunately, your website isn’t set in stone (or rather paper) like a book so you can start small and grow gradually. To encourage repeat visitors to your site, you can offer people the chance to sign up for a regular newsletter that lets them know about the latest additions to the site.

To make the site easier to develop, it's a good idea to design it in sections so that adding new pages doesn't involve major changes to the navigation. However, visitors will rapidly become frustrated if links take them to pages saying “coming soon” so, if you can't put anything useful in a section straightaway, it’s better to leave it out for the time being. You can always add it later.

Dealing with feedback
Setting yourself up as an internet expert is sure to result in people asking you questions. You are unlikely to be inundated but the trickle of email queries will still take time to answer. Some will be so interesting or challenging that you won’t begrudge the effort involved. Others will be more mundane so it’s worth writing a few stock replies that you can just cut and paste into your reply, adding slight adjustments if necessary.

Keep your eyes open for queries that turn up again and again as these can show you what visitors would like to see on your site. We added the big books section to our review site in response to requests from teachers and this has brought us many visitors.

I hope that, like us, you’ll find that running a research resource site is an enjoyable sideline to producing and selling books. Being part of the information superhighway isn’t just fun – it’s a great way to make yourself better known.

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