Diana Kelly Levey

How Much Time Should Freelance Writers Spend Researching Articles?

A woman conducting freelance research on her laptop

March 1, 2021

A few years back, I received this freelance writing question on an Ask Me Anything (AMA) I hosted on AMAFeed.com, where beginner freelancers sent questions on freelance topics.

Freelance question: How would you go about researching a new piece of content? How long would it take?

My response: It depends on what the freelance assignment is and the client you’re writing a blog post or article for.

You might be wondering how much time you should spend researching a magazine article pitch before you send it to an editor, as well how much time to spend doing research for an article assignment an editor assigned to you. This guide should help clarify these freelance questions.

How Long Should You Spend Researching an Article Pitch?

If I’m coming up with the idea myself for an article pitch, I poke around the internet to see if it’s been written before and, if so, who published it.

Then, I spend time thinking about and researching a new spin on the topic I can take that someone else hasn’t done. I’ll try to think of a timely reason as to why I’m pitching this idea to a freelance client now. Did the topic come up in popular culture discussions recently? Did new research come out that offers a fresh perspective on the topic? Did something personal happen in my life that got me thinking about this topic and how writing about it could help others?

I also might search through some of my regular freelance clients (usually health, fitness, weight loss, pet health, sleep and wellness) to see if they covered that topic already, and if not, how I can make the topic work for their audience. (Learn how to get better-paying freelance clients this year.)

That’s a long way of saying, it may take 30 minutes to an hour of research for an article pitch that would result in a 500- to 600-word article assignment. If I’m familiar with the freelance client’s website and what they’ve been assigning  — and know my idea hasn’t been covered — I might spend about 15 minutes or so writing up a freelance article pitch that includes research if I don’t need to get too in-depth for the editor.

Sometimes I write for clients on content marketing agency platforms like Contently that have “calls for pitches.” The editors have come up with topic ideas they’d like writers to send fleshed out pitches for and include some background research. I want to spend time answering these pitches within the time period provided and suggest a sample article pitch or two for these clients so they know I’m open to working with them and doing ongoing freelance work. For one sleep client in particular, I might spend about 20 minutes doing research and writing up a pitch in order to answer their “call for pitches.” While that might seem like time wasted if they assign the article to someone else, if I get the article assignment, it usually only takes me about 30 minutes to write the complete article because I already did the initial legwork. That might mean I spent about one hour working on an article that pays about $300. That’s a great hourly rate!

I try not to go too far into researching something if I don’t think I can sell my freelance idea to an editor. Unless I’m simply just having fun learning about the topic and chalk it up to enjoyment and knowledge gained.

Ready to take your freelance career to the next level and get higher-paying assignments? Get my new e-book 100+ Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers!

Check out these freelance pitches that sold and learn tips to get more freelance assignments. (BTW, here’s how to come up with article ideas fast.)

How Much Time Should You Spend On Research for a Freelance Article That’s Been Assigned?

If I’ve been assigned to write a freelance article by an editor, I make sure I understand scope of the project and what I think they want to see in the finished piece. This includes confirming the assignment details with an email with some bullet points that will be addressed in the final articles as well as the type of people they want me to interview (certain certifications, M.D.s, Ph.Ds, etc.) as well as the word count range and freelance SEO target keywords.

Once an editor assigns me an article, I might spend about an hour or two researching the background information if it’s a medical topic I’m not familiar with — like the best devices for depression — or something complicated, like that time I wrote about high-security revolving doors for Bloomberg Businessweek.

If I’m writing a straightforward article that I’m familiar with and mostly up-to-date on the research — like a weight loss foods piece — I might only need to spend an hour doing the research before I write the piece. (You might also find it helpful to know how much time freelance writers actually spend writing.)

So that’s a snapshot of how much time this freelancer spends researching topics before sending an article pitch to an editor as well as how much time I dedicate to the background work before writing up a final freelance article.

How much time do you spend researching topics before sending them to editors?

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