What jobs consist primarily of research and writing?
January 20, 2017 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am currently employed, but need a new job. The two things that I'm good at and get lost in are research and writing. Is your job comprised mainly of these two elements? What do you do?

I should clarify that by "research" I mean the kind that you used to do for book reports--dig around on the internet, consult books and journals, interview a couple of people. I love to get lost in a new subject that I know little about and emerge at the end of it with a carefully crafted, possibly even entertaining narrative about it.

It seems pretty obvious that I should just be a nonfiction essayist, author or journalist, but I get the impression that these are not ways to make a living wage unless you're on staff at a major publication or a superstar book author, neither of which I aspire to.

Is there some hidden market out there for the type of writing I like to do? Even better, someplace that would hire me on, give me health insurance and pay me $36,000 a year or more to do this every day?

If it matters: I'm not an expert in any particular field. I do very general admin-type stuff in my current job. I'm a timid homebody who lives in a boring city, hates to travel and is possibly on the autism spectrum. I value security and routine, hence my desire to find a regular employer who will pay me to do this kind of work.

If you do the type of work I'm interested in, do you have any advice on getting into the field?
posted by whistle pig to Work & Money (23 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Copywriting? I don't have a ton of insight about getting a leg up in the field -- like anything, I think it's competitive and sometimes boring, but the freelance copywriters I know are definitely involved with research (both into specific subject areas and into SEO/content best practices) and obviously writing. Doing all of this quickly, marketing yourself well, and networking are common threads to the people I know who've been successful.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:37 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like that stuff and I do grant writing. I work in-house at a nonprofit and write grant proposals and reports. The research involved is largely talking to people on the program side, plus the research you'll need to understand the context. I think you might really like it - and with admin experience you're not in bad shape, because you could look for a job as a development assistant. That's how I got into it - I was just doing filing and stuff and then I started taking on editing responsibilities, and then writing responsibilities.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:44 AM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I know a lot of people who have jobs like this in the public sector (typically in either city/state/federal government, non-profits, or for public colleges). They are often called "Policy Analysts" or "Research Analysts" or something like that. I'd say a good way to get a leg up on those types of jobs would be to have some experience or skill doing data analysis/data visualization.

Another thing to explore is paralegal work. It might not be as creative as what you are thinking, I think in some law offices there is a lot of research and writing work to be done.
posted by mjcon at 8:51 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding copywriting. I'm a copywriter for a small agency focused on business-to-business marketing. A lot of my job is like you describe : I'll get an assignment to "write a brochure/webpage/sell sheet/email" about a given topic. Length can range from a couple paragraphs to an extensive, multi-page, ultra-detailed manual. Depending on the subject matter and the scope, sometimes I'm handed source documents to work from, and other times I'm doing in-depth research or talking to an "expert" or two. I've previously been a copywriter for a couple different corporations, which was pretty much the same gig, but the advantage of an agency is the topics can vary widely. (In my case, from electrical connectors and nuclear pharmaceuticals to general health topics and conveyor belts.)
posted by writermcwriterson at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Technical writing sounds exactly what you're looking for. This typically involves writing manuals or tutorials or guidebooks for people who need to learn a certain computer or web program or how to operate/troubleshoot a machine or device. It involves a TON of research, fact checking, and collaborating with experts.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:54 AM on January 20, 2017

I work in fundraising as a prospect researcher; my job involves researching people and their assets and then writing about them for fundraisers. You might also look into advancement communications or donor relations, which are similar to the grant writing mentioned above, but on a broader scale (eg why a donor should make a big gift, or thanking them for their gift by showing the gift's impact).
posted by mogget at 10:11 AM on January 20, 2017

I'm not one to ever suggest that someone should go to law school - see the literally hundreds of articles out there about how there are more lawyers than legal jobs - but you've described the work of an appellate attorney, or an appellate law clerk, or a judicial staff attorney. Particularly the staff attorneys and clerks, all they do is research and write. I clerked for a judge for a year and it was too monastic for my tastes, but I have friends who have done it for over seven years now.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:11 AM on January 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do a lot of research and writing for my job as an environmental consultant. It's not exactly like book report researching and it's certainly not creative [it's very cookie cutter as we follow industry and regulatory standards that dictate what the reports look like], but you might look into it. You'd need to get at least a bachelors degree though in environmental science, geology, environmental engineering or similar. As a large part of my job, I research properties that people/companies are buying/selling and write up reports on their history and whether there might be contamination there based on prior operations. Feel free to message me if you want more details. Entry level people in this field usually make more than 40K or so depending on the location. Civil engineers I've worked with also do have their own level of doing research and reporting for projects. Maybe just look into consulting in general - most of consulting that I've seen so far is people like me selling our time for our expertise and the final product is usually some kind of report.
posted by FireFountain at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2017

I used to be an analyst at a Market Research company. This is basically what I did, investigated a topic and wrote about it. Maybe look into that?
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:36 AM on January 20, 2017

Expanding on what mjcon said about public policy, what you describe is the business of think tanks. Of course, to succeed as a think tank, you need to have big name, but I suspect most of those big names have research assistants. It would mean more focus and greater depth than, say, an investigative reporter hopping from one issue to another.

Once upon a time when looking for a job, I found myself in the office of a little company down the street who did just about what you describe. (I don't thing they are there anymore.) They would assign a person to "find out everything" about a particular topic, write book-length report, and publish it. I couldn't see how they could sell as many as 100 copies. The guy was clearly willing to assign me a topic to see what I could do, but that wasn't me, so I let it go. I tell the story to indicate that there is a big market out there for anything people consider to be "breaking news" about just about any topic related to business opportunity.

I suggest you try to rub elbows with members of your Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, small business or entrepreneur groups, etc. Ask them where they get the information they need to keep up with the times.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2017

Doesn't cover the research part but communications jobs cover this.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:55 AM on January 20, 2017

In some nonprofits we call that a "research associate" or "research assistant" and the titles above that end up getting more field-specific. In a big East Coast city, even a research assistant gig can pay $36k+.
posted by OrangeVelour at 10:56 AM on January 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

The federal judiciary has been pushing to phase out career clerks for years. I wouldn't pick that as a career goal starting out.
posted by praemunire at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2017

A researcher for a university advancement department might be a possibility - you could do something researching potential donors or foundations, but you could try getting into the acknowledgments writing side of things as well, where you're writing reports to donors about what their money is doing, etc.
posted by marginaliana at 11:16 AM on January 20, 2017

I write and edit scripts for interactive educational simulations. There's a lot of intensive reading about a subject, and then trying to write an educational narrative about it.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 12:05 PM on January 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Prospect research would fit well. You do research on people and foundations so your organization can ask them for money. You take everything you find and write-up a sort of dossier. Fundraising is often called "development" at non-profits.

This job also exists in politics where you do opposition research on the candidate that your candidate is running against, or self research on your own candidate to identify vulnerabilities and strengths. But this involves long hours, high-pressure rapid response situations and total devotion to the cause, which it doesn't sound like you'd be up for.

I'd be wary of the suggestions here to look into market research or policy analysis. That kind of research often requires experience or a degree in statistics and qualitative/quantitative research. So, different kind of research.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:06 PM on January 20, 2017

I hesitate to urge anyone into academia who's not very comitted to a specific research agenda, but if you were accepted to a social science PhD then this would be the essential job description. It's possible that you could get that sort of salary as part of a graduate assistantship, but 36 would be the high end of a very competitive program. Benefits would be included. You would also be honing a resume that would set you up for similar work as a professor, or in industry. Professorship would involve teaching and writing grants as well.
posted by codacorolla at 1:09 PM on January 20, 2017

I write freelance science articles that appear in major magazines and newspapers. I have an agency that gets gigs for me, so I don't actually do any pitching or pavement pounding myself. My average day involves an hour or so of telephone interviews with subject matter experts, a couple of hours of Internet research, and maybe an hour of actually putting words to blank page.

Without going into too much detail, I earn somewhere in the range you are talking about, and only work about 20 hours a week. No job security or health benefits though. If you memail me, I will happily share more details about what I do and how I fell into it.
posted by 256 at 5:59 PM on January 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thank you all for your answers. Much to think about here.
posted by whistle pig at 6:53 PM on January 20, 2017

If academia interests you, then message me, and I can give some more details about whether that would be a good idea or not.
posted by codacorolla at 7:39 PM on January 20, 2017

Medical writing.
posted by oceanmorning at 2:00 AM on January 21, 2017

Performance auditing and program evaluation. Draw on a wide range of sources to develop a rich understanding of what a thing is meant to do and whether it's well positioned to do that. Present analysis of the root causes of any shortcomings and make persuasive recommendations for improvement.

Join the Institute of Internal Auditors and explore their courses.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:37 AM on January 21, 2017

Content Marketing is researching, writing, and editing essays and blog posts, and maybe at a smaller place also managing social media, for a company. If you can work for a company in a domain that interests you, even better! You mentioned enjoying crafting an 'entertaining narrative' and this makes me think that this kind of broader, faster research and writing would be more your style than trying to head into academia or a super-focused research-first position.

You'll earn much more doing this than being a freelance writer or journalist.
posted by LadyGerbil at 9:35 AM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

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