One Secret for Advancing Your Career
As readers know, in order to create this e-zine, I spend 45 minutes to one hour a day, seven days a week, surfing the Internet and downloading news stories and feature articles for my private archive. It currently contains close to 40,000 entries in 154 major categories—indexed and cross-indexed.
In the four years I've been publishing, a number of readers have asked what software I use to create the archive. I tell them that I don't use software, and that I've created my own system.
As you can see from the “IN THE NEWS” e-mail, Stan Fineman would like to know how I do it.
So here goes.
I hope you find this helpful to your career.
A Personal Digression
My first job after the Army in 1960 was in the publicity department of Prentice-Hall’s trade book division in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. One of the authors assigned to me was thoroughgoing, professional, no-nonsense nonfiction writer Harry Kursh, who lived in a small town in Westchester County, N.Y.
Kursh wrote books on all kinds of subjects. Some titles: “The Franchise Boom,” “This is Alaska,” “Inside the U.S. Patent Office,” “How to Get Land from Uncle Sam” and “The United States Office of Education.” I asked Kursh how he knew so much about so many things.
“My files,” he said as a beatific expression crossed his face. He described how he subscribed to a slew of newspapers and magazines, spent many hours scanning them and cutting out articles that he thought would be useful, and then filing them. I was given to understand, that in his home, was a mass of filing cabinets. This was a tedious, labor-intensive, time-consuming and—after paying for all those subscriptions—expensive task.
I really admired the guy; he was a kind of journeyman Renaissance man who knew something about everything and could become an expert on anything in very little time. When a publisher called Kursh for a book or article, he could agree to it before knowing the subject.
Forty-five years later, I'm doing the same thing—only using the Internet. I can do in 20 minutes what Kursh spent hours doing. And instead of a basement full of file cabinets, the entire archive fits easily in my laptop and travels with me everywhere.
Why a Private Archive?
An archive—indexed and cross-indexed—is your private information source and idea file.
No matter your profession, if you have an extensive file of retrievable, cutting-edge information that directly relates to your business and industry, you can lace your memos, e-mails, letters, reports, speeches, PowerPoint presentations and white papers with tidbits, factoids and statistics that show you know a lot, are on top of your job and are a force in your industry
With a private archive, you'll be far less likely to suffer writer’s block than your colleagues and competitors who must start every new assignment from scratch.
Instead, you'll have an invaluable series of dossiers on people, businesses, business practices and events.
Many correspondents and presenters want to dazzle their audiences with clever writing and brilliance. I like being known as an aggregator of information, a connector of dots and a fair researcher. Whenever possible, I credit the source of a factoid or quotation, which lends credence to my argument and makes me look like a smart guy for knowing about a lot of stuff.
How to Start an Archive
Presumably, you surf the Internet; read newspapers, trade magazines and journals; and perhaps go to conferences where you take notes.
When you come across something you might be able to use someday, get it onto your computer immediately.
You don’t have to read the entire document; only scan the first paragraph, which will tell you what the story is about. Then come up with a file name, and file it in a place where you can easily find and retrieve it.
Traditional news stories are created in the “inverted pyramid” format—with a short lead paragraph that describes who, what, where, when and how—enabling the reader to grasp the basics and decide whether or not to continue. Subsequent short paragraphs fill in details, from the most important down to the least important.
When an inverted-pyramid story goes out over the wires, newspaper editors can pick up as much or as little as they want, depending on the space available. Even if all but the first two paragraphs are lopped off, readers still get the guts of the story.
All you need do is scan that first paragraph to know what's there and whether it'll be of value to you.
- Downloading from the Internet
- Many stories on Web sites are presented a section at a time. When you finish reading the first section, you must click on “Next” or “2” to get to the next part. Don’t waste your time.
- Click on the “print” link, and the entire story appears on one page. Copy and paste it into a word processing document—Word, AppleWorks or whatever you use.
- I suggest you put all stories in one or two formats—say Word and PDF—so they look alike and are always accessible on whatever computer you end up using.
- Often the name of the publication and date are omitted from the “Print” version of a Web story. Be sure these are in the story you save. If not, manually type them in.
- If the story has helpful illustrations, charts, graphs or time lines, you can paste them into most word processing documents.
- You may want to copy the URL and paste it at the top in small type — so if you need to see the original some day, you have the information. This is also handy if someone challenges your accuracy. Reply with the URL and you're done.
- If you have a story you can't identify, go to Google and type in the first sentence surrounded by quotation marks. Google will find it.
- From a newspaper, magazine or journal
- Go to Google and type in the first sentence surrounded by quotation marks. Google will find it.
- If the publisher requires payment, Google may well list this same story on some other site for free—the result of a deal between the original copyright holder and a licensee.
- If not available online due to exclusivity, scan the text and illustrations into your computer.
The File Name
- Once in your computer, the document must be labeled.
- Do not rely on the actual headline; writers frequently use cute or clever headlines to attract attention that make no sense six months or a year later.
- Instead, give the story a title that will jog your memory on what it's about.
- This is your private archive, so you can use shorthand (e.g., “2” for “to,” “4” as “for,” “FU” for “follow-up,” etc.). These may not make sense to an outsider, but I recognize the stories. Examples from my archive:
- Fire People, How 2
- Ad $$ Moving Out of Media
- Be 1st, Not Better – Reis
- Blogs 4 Lo-Cost Mktg
- Search Engines R Thieves
- Think of your filing system like a cookbook. You would not file recipes under “Scrambled Eggs” and “Fried Eggs,” but rather “Eggs, Scrambled” and “Eggs, Fried,” so all of them appear under “Eggs”.
- With people, use last name first (e.g., Obama, Barack rather than Barack Obama)
Where to File
The first thing I see when I go into my archive is a series of file folders. The first five major subject headings:
- Aid, International
The largest main heading is: I-N-D-U-S-T-R-I-E-S. The reason for the spaces between letters is that this is a huge file with 80 subfiles, and I want it to pop out immediately. The first five subcategories (also as file folders):
- Alcohol, Beer, Wine
Each of these has dozens of subfiles—some in file folders, others as individual Word documents.
Another huge file is P-E-O-P-L-E with subfiles being letters of the alphabet. Generally, I aggregate all the stories about an individual in this one place.
A story only appears once in the entire file. Keeping duplicate stories all over the archive would be confusing and gobble up space. For example, here is what you will find in my file on Steve Case, founder of AOL:
- Case, Steve
- Case Admits Failures
- Case Quits as T-W Director
- Case Health Biz
- Case Sorry 4 AOL-Time Merger
- Case-Levin Anncmt
- Case, TW Is a Thorn 2
- Levin & Case
- Levin, Gerald Talks
- SEE AOL
- SEE Brandt, Janice
- SEE Levin, Gerald
NOTE: See illustration below how this file looks on computer screen.
Five of the entries are file folders: “Case Health Biz” is a dossier on Case’s new venture. “Case-Levin Anncmnt” has a number of stories covering the disastrous Time Warner-AOL merger and the embarrassing press conference where Case and TW prexy Gerald Levin dislocated their shoulders patting each other on the back.
The entries that start with “SEE” are blank file folders for cross-indexing purposes. Under AOL, which is a massive file, are “SEE Case, Steve” and “SEE Levin, Gerald.” All of these are designed to connect dots when doing research. Search the computer for "Brandt, Janice," Case’s brilliant marketing VP responsible for AOL’s explosive growth, and you will find my Target Marketing cover story naming Brandt Direct Marketer of the Year 2001.
Backing Up the Archive
Once a week, the archive is backed up into an external 40 GB drive that lives outside my house. At the same time, it's transferred to my laptop, so if I'm traveling, the laptop becomes my main computer.
Using the Material in Your Private Archive
Everything in your private archive will be under copyright, owned by the author or the organization that published it. Under the Fair Use provision of the copyright law, you can reprint some of these pieces in order to discuss or analyze them. It is imperative that you understand Fair Use so you don't get sued for copyright infringement. Here's the link.
How to Avoid Plagiarism
Some famous celebrities have been mightily embarrassed because they used the exact words of other writers without giving proper attribution. Among them: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Nina Totenberg, Steven Ambrose, Molly Ivins and Mike Barnicle, who was fired by the Boston Globe for stealing George Carlin jokes without giving credit.
Plagiarism is easy to detect now because texts can be compared using the Internet, unlike the pre-Web days when this exercise had to be accomplished by hand on a page-by-page basis.
I'm sure plagiarism by Steven Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin was inadvertent. Most likely, they were copying text from library books into their notes and failed to use quotes—or a big fat Q—and the original work slipped into the printed books.
Here's how I avoid plagiarism:
- Use the quote exactly with full attribution.
- If working online, give the gist, attribution and a hyperlink so the reader can click on the URL and go directly to the original source.
- If I want to use the material sans attribution, I create two Word documents and position them one above the other. In the top document, I paste the original paragraphs that I want to use (but not steal). In the bottom document is my text. I then use the bottom document to rewrite the material in the top document, changing words, syntax and emphasis until I have said the same thing, but so differently that I can't be accused of plagiarism.