Insightful research is always valuable to writers — and there are plenty of old, worn-out expressions about how 99% of writing takes place before pen ever touches paper. Research is certainly critical for copywriting, just as in life.
A few months ago, my wife and I were visiting family in Washington. Because of her extensive international travel through the years, she has developed a particular affinity for Ethiopian food and wanted me to try it for the first time. The Washington metro area happens to be home to the largest Ethiopian diaspora community outside of Africa — so needless to say, the Ethiopian food around D.C. is the best you can find.
I knew I needed to brush up before my first experience, not only so I wouldn’t embarrass myself at the table, but so I could fully appreciate it as well.
I thought back to a helpful set of four “dimensions” of research I had studied in the past, as described here by Christian Rohrer for the Nielsen Norman Group.
First, there’s behavioral research about what we do.
Then, there’s attitudinal research about what we say.
Next, there’s qualitative research about why we do things.
Finally, there’s quantitative research about measuring outcomes and results.
Considering Ethiopian food is traditionally served on a large, round platter that’s shared by the whole table, I knew some behavioral research was in order. I learned that the food is enjoyed communally — without silverware — encouraging prolonged conversation and a sense of shared participation.
Various individual preparations of vegetables and grains are placed around the edge of the platter and picked up using injera — a kind of malleable flatbread made from teff flour. We also ordered tibs — an extremely spicy stir-fried beef — which was placed in the middle.
Once I learned the basics of using injera (and got up the nerve to try some new and adventurous flavors), I found myself enjoying a new favorite type of international cuisine among the many I had tried before.
And in case you’re wondering about applying the other three research methods in order to learn more for your own Ethiopian dining experience, I can only say it was absolutely delicious (attitudinal), I was extremely hungry and then immediately full (qualitative) and — ultimately — I developed a real appreciation for a different culture and a really engaging way to enjoy food (quantitative). The results were in: I couldn’t wait for my next Ethiopian meal.
Another pro tip: Eat your Ethiopian food very, very slowly. It’s filling. Trust me, I researched this firsthand.