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Finding research assistants

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by PW2, Aug 15, 2013.

  1. PW2

    PW2 Member

    I'm thinking about starting a book project which will require some research at places I can't afford to travel to - or don't want to travel to quite yet. It's a biography, so I want to ransack some files and so forth kept at a couple of college campuses. How should I go about getting someone to do that for me? Call the history department there for a student? And what should I pay? $20/hour? $10?

    Thanks in advance. I tried Google, but it seemed all I could find was advice on actually acquiring work as a research assistant, not on finding one to work for you.
  2. At least $10 for an undergrad. Double or triple for grad students.
  3. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Pay them nothing. The exposure is more than enough and will net them future riches. #Journalism2013
  4. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Not what you want to hear but I'd strongly advise against. You'll get research but you'll never know if you got enough, and you'll probably miss some fine point details that would help put a unique spin on a book.
  5. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    I was a research assistant for a prominent writer when I was in college. He had joked how bad he was on Lexis/Nexis and I approached him and told him I was very good on Nexis (I worked in the library.) and I said I would work for free.

    Two days later, he called me and asked for background on a coach who he was profiling for a national magazine and said he needed it within a week. The next day I brought the research to him. He said, "How much time did you spend on it?" I told him 1-2 and he said, "Wow, 10 hours..." and then cut me a check for $100, which he assured me he would be expensing.

    I did this a handful of times over a two-year period. He paid me $50 or $100 each time. More importantly, he was my top reference and helped me get the internship that led to my first job.

    $10 an hour is fine for any college student unless you're asking them to do something especially tedious.
  6. PW2

    PW2 Member

    Thanks for the help, everyone.

    21 - I would say that this is largely beginning research to kind of kickstart the process and, in particular, to garner enough research to draft a convincing proposal.

    I'm wondering if I should go through the journalism or history departments? Any thoughts?
  7. Glenn Stout

    Glenn Stout Member

    $15-$20 an hour, and try to get someone you have some connection to - friends of friends, kids of friends, neighbors' smart kids, word of mouth, etc. - and sadly, a lot of formerly working journalists might spend a week working under the table to $20/HR, I've hired a handful over the years, even once from here on SportsJournalists.com... but only last resort. Do your own research whenever possible, but PARTICULARLY at the beginning of a project - the proposal is EVERYTHING in this publishing environment, the absolutely last place you want to cut corners or job out - use researchers only to plug small holes later when there is absolutely no alternative. Even the good ones will miss stuff you would find if you were doing the work - I can't emphasize that enough. A long time ago I worked in a major research library and saw the famous writers who did their own research (David Halberstam was one), and those who jobbed it out - the former usually wrote work of lasting merit, the others, not so much. If its such a good idea, bet on yourself and do the prelim research. You will not regret it - I never have.
  8. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    As usual, I agree 100% with Glenn here. Hire some help to help you plug in a small hole later ... maybe. But it's your book — only you know what you're looking for, and one of the joys of research itself is in finding the nuggets that you didn't even know you were looking for when you walked in the door or sat down at the computer.

    That said: Some historical societies (especially those in a major city) maintain a list of local freelance researchers who are available for specific projects or requests, usually for a fee.

    Otherwise, I'd recommend liberal use of interlibrary loan. Make friends with librarians (who are usually quite friendly, in my experience.) They can usually help you find what you're looking for, even if you can't get there yourself.
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