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Writing

Research

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 14:32 min

Malcolm shares his guiding principles to uncovering a good idea for a story through research.

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Malcolm Gladwell
Teaches Writing
In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.
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Preview

The very thing that makes you love Google is why Google is not that useful. So you love Google because I want to know what the capital of Tanzania is. So I say, what is the capital of Tanzania? And it tells me, right? But that-- Google, in other words, has given me a dead end. I have my question. It answers my question. If I'm looking for a story, I don't want a dead end. What I want to do is I want to be lead somewhere entirely new and unexpected. So how do I get led to somewhere in entirely new and unexpected if I type in, what is the capital of Tanzania? I suppose I could type in "Tanzania." That kind of helps. But now, I'm still getting all the stuff on Tanzania. In other words, Google's too good. What you really want Google to do is to make mistakes-- to type in Tanzania, and Google gives me a bunch of stuff on Tanzania, but it will also randomly-- because it screwed up, throws in three things that are sort of about that, but are actually something entirely different that makes you think, oh, my goodness, I had never thought of this. Or-- and then Google gives you everything ranked by its popularity, right? That is the worst thing imaginable. Can you-- you're trying to write an article that's about something new and fresh that people want to read. What does Google show you? All the things that people have been reading. It's set up to confirm-- to confirm the direction that you're already on. And that's fine if that's the kind of story you want to write, if you know exactly where you're going. But I think the real problem-- the central challenge of the writer is the challenge you have at the beginning. What direction-- not what direction do I want to go in, right? I mean, of all of the different places I can go in the world, give me-- I want to find me some new, interesting place to go. And that is where the computer is not your friend. [MUSIC PLAYING] Librarians, as a class, are the friendliest people in America. Let's just start with that fact. Their job is to help you access the knowledge they have under their control. That's their job. They're trained to do that. It's what brings them pleasure. So once you understand that they're there for you, then it-- then the world is your oyster, right? You-- they want you to come into their library. They want to help you find stuff. They want to root through the archives for you. They want to do everything for you. And they-- I think their biggest problem is they think the world has forgotten about them. So you are, I mean, answering so many basic human needs by showing up at the library. So that's the easiest part of it. The hard part is-- the library is-- I mean, it is the physical version of the internet. I mean, it's like-- the problem is, where do you go? I even do things-- something as simple as, if I read a book that I really love, I will go to the library and I will see what books are around that book on the shelves, right? Because if that topic's really inter...


Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.



Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Loved this class. Loved getting to know him and his writing process.

Incredibly insightful. Malcom is a master and a great teacher.

I loved this class. I took so many notes and downloaded the awesome PDF so I can highlight and notate in Kindle. Very glad I took this class as I'm trying to write something of significance. Certainly, "the best problems to write about are about the imperfect ones."

Excellent writing advice for non-fiction writers from a seasoned pro.


Comments

Oksana H.

"I am writing a book which.. It is not about suicide.. it is about something esle.. hmm.. kinda hard to explain!" Sure, Malcolm, Sure.. Flawless execution of "withold the information" act from the last chapter. Well done!

Sheila S.

Listening to this is so fascinating as I found Malcolm to be like thinking in his topics and his style of writing is how he became my favorite non fiction writer. I looked back at a murder of a beautiful young women in my small home town that shocked everyone back in 1982 recently but let it go. Now I see so clearly how I can use her story from listening to this research section as have the research just needed a place to share it. I am so excited. Just heard Zeus the thunder God.

Brian H.

4:39 “Follow the footnotes.” This method works well with Wikipedia. Good Wikipedia pages are a great place to start, and often they list dozens—maybe hundreds—of sources at the bottom. Malcolm’s advice to follow the trail backwards reminds me of something Eric Clapton said about music. Clapton urged learning musicians to find out what their favorite artists listened to and listen to those same people. Then find out what THOSE people listened to, etc. Follow that listening trail back as far as you can. Roots are fascinating!

Lee T.

I'm only ninety seconds into the lesson and the problem Malcom describes in regards to the search results for Google is the same problem in the algorithms that govern the feeds in our social media. He's struck upon the paradigm for what might be the biggest problem of the information age: the paradox that within a world of infinite possibilities our periscope stays locked in a single position.

Doahna B.

Hi! I read some of Malcolm's books and I find his books really interesting and inspiring. I can re -read them over again and highlights some of it's famouse phrases and quotations. I'm an avid reader and love to read books. It's fascinating to learn on how to write creatively, to be engage in story writing whether it's your own or not.

Vikram G.

I am enjoying this course. An open question to all here - How do you keep track of vocabulary? Any ideas or inspiration would be great.

Michael D.

Malcolm - Your perspective on Google is fantastic. When you look across a wide subset of industries and queries you start to see real lack of diversity in results. Big brands and publishers dominate the first page of results in some cases occupying more than one result. I've been doing SEO as a career for a nearly a decade and this always struck me as a poor solution for finding novel information as you mentioned.

Alexa E.

Malcolm talks about exploring ideas, even if they are not useful right now. My only issue here is how to organise all those ideas so I can find them again? Any hints, suggestions?

Chikezie

Great insights into the comparison between the library versus Google as a search engine. The tendency to see searches by popularity (though valuable) is unnatural in a sense since you may be trying to find something that may not be everyone's radar.

Robert C.

In Lesson 3, Malcolm mentions giving his readers "tools." Can someone give me an example of such a tool. Feel free to create a context.