How I Research A New Subject

There’s no magic bullet. It’s mostly about sheer, dogged persistence

Clive Thompson
8 min readFeb 28, 2023


Photo by Michaela Murphy on Unsplash

“How do you research a subject?”

I got asked this last week, while being interviewed by some college students. We were chatting about energy and technology, but they were also interested to know:

As a journalist, how do I set about researching a new area? If I’m starting fresh and reporting on a subject I’ve never reported on before, where do I begin? How do I know when I’m done?

They’re great questions. I’ve pondered this a lot during my 25 years writing long-form magazine journalism, and I can’t say I have a precise set of rules I follow; every research journey tends to be a bit idiosyncratic.

But there are some general guidelines. So I told them what I’ve learned.

Having done so, I figured hey — public thinking — let’s set it down here in case this is useful to anyone else!

So here are A Few Guidelines For Doing In-Depth Research Into A New Subject:

1) Start by getting a 50,000-foot-in-the air view

When I’m researching a new area, the first thing I try to do is get the lay of the land. What are the core concepts I need to understand in the…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”.