Friday, July 8, 2011

6 Brilliant Ways To Be The Best Intern Researcher

Ciao, fellow Edsters!

It wasn’t long before I tired of explaining to my non-Edster friends that the majority of what I do at work is research (as opposed to fetching coffee), so I crafted a little ditty to spice up my unchanging, uninteresting response: “Researching, researching, yeah! Dossiers, dossiers, yeah! Fun, fun, fun, fun.”

Okay, so that wasn’t a fully original composition.

Anyway, everyone seems to take pity on me for spending a big chunk of my internship on Lexis Nexis and Google.

Look, I’ll level with you. I secretly love doing research. I know that makes me a huge geek, but putting together profiles on celebrities we’re interviewing and filling binders with articles by our competitors on a certain subject – well, it just feels like I’m doing something useful, and I can’t say that I feel useful all the time at the office. On Monday, for example, most of my day consisted of reading the July issue and making some phone calls. Not exactly the kind of work that begets satisfying results.

But research binders, man. I’m a messy girl, but even I cannot resist the organization of a nice, neat dossier. I love the dividers, the pages and pages of highlighted and Post-It-noted articles in plastic divider sheets and labeled folders. I enjoy lining everything up in chronological order. Most of all, though, I love seeing my work alluded to in an actual article. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the impact of my research in print just yet (since we’re working on issues for the Fall right now), but I’ve helped my editors with the background for a few online articles, and it’s so gratifying to see how my efforts contributed to the final project.

Anyway, I put together this beautiful, hefty specimen of a binder a couple of weeks ago that, according to Manager 1, impressed a bunch of the editors (she said one of them joked about hiring me. Pretty please?!). Shortly after, Manager 2 let me assemble one for our utterly glamtastic EIC, which was, of course, completely nerve-wracking as I worked on it, and thrilling when I actually saw her reading it during an interview with the subject of said binder later that week.

The bottom line is, research matters! I thought I’d share a few tips on what makes a beautiful binder.

1. Show it off.
It’s all in the details, so I like to kick off each dossier with a title, a color photo, and a table of contents on the front cover of the binder. Also, I always hoard an extra binder at my desk, because they seem to fly off the supply closet shelf like hotcakes. Anyway, I like to insert a slip of paper bearing the title into the plastic pocket on the binding, as well. Labels all around!

2. Be the best source.
If I’m profiling a celebrity and I have the time, I’ll usually go through a lot of bios and, if available, timelines ( has really good ones), and write up my own timeline. If there’s a lot of information, I’ll divide it into sections – early life, career, personal life, fun facts, etc.

3. No glove, no love.
If I don’t have too many articles, I like to place the papers in plastic protector sheets. Yes, it takes forever. It’s also what got that one editor joking (or, hopefully, not joking) about hiring me, so I’d say it’s worth it. Plus, it just makes everything so nice and uniform looking.

4. Embrace the season’s color-blocking trend.
It’s helpful to highlight the most pertinent information, especially in an article that covers more than just the subject of your research. Post-Its on the front of articles that briefly summarize their content are also useful.

5. Get crafty.
We tend to have a shortage of my favorite translucent, hole-punched plastic folders in the office, so I’ve had to get crafty in terms of how I organize my articles. When you’re dealing with a huge pile of articles, it’s not ideal to have to place each individual sheet of paper in a protector sheet, nor is it ideal to just hole punch the pages and slam them between dividers, because sometimes the hole punches right through the text. It’s kind of problematic. Lately, I’ve been hole-punching tabbed folders and taping the bottoms so I can jam my papers in. Hey, it gets the job done.

6. Show ’em how hip you are.
One of our Spring interns impressed one of our harder-to-impress editors by including a celeb’s most recent Tweets. Kind of brilliant, no?

Of course, the quality of your research is the most important part of your dossier. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the Karen Smith (from “Mean Girls,” of “I’m a mouse, duh!” fame) of binders – pretty but so, so disappointing substantially. To that, all I can advise you to do is to fully utilize all your resources. Lexis Nexis. Google. Email. Twitter. Text your high-school acquaintance who makes you sincerely nauseous but who knows someone you need to know.

Pick up your phone and call people. It’s amazing how far, “Hi, my name is Features Intern, and I work for The Mag” can get you in a conversation (actually, not mentioning that you’re an intern gets you further). Since I started working here, I’ve spoken to the FBI, the CDC, and the Department of Justice… And, by the way, all of those were in one day.

Of course, if you’re a big, honking research dork like I am, you already knew all that.

So are the rest of you Edsters as much of a nerd as I am, or are you a little too cool for research? Do you have your own tips on how to put together a slammin’ dossier? I’d love to hear from you!

Yours in organizational geekdom,
Features Intern

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