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Trend-spotting is a good sport for the young at heart. For writers, it's an important tool to gather information that might be of interest to editors in the coming year.

These trends are not silly fads that appear and disappear like pet rocks. They can be silly but indicate something that involves a good many people such as the trend of outsourcing jobs to India and Malaysia.

Here are some 2004 trends as reported in various media: Mobile Phones; China; Home Theater; Broadband; Pharmaceuticals; Baby Boomers.

There is a top tier of trend spotting referred to as Metatrends (from Trendsetters 2004):

  • Time Compression
  • Fountain of Youth
  • Generation X-tasy
  • Multitasking

* * * * *

The word "trend" was used to describe the way a river or stream ran in physical space. Now we use it to describe events running through time. From the writer's point of view the best tool is simple observation, intuition, and reading in the right places.

One thing that characterizes a trend is that it has, like a river, momentum.

The list above indicate trends in the general culture. But within every industry and community of people there are trends that can be developed as ideas and sold to editors.

All a writer needs to do is write a one or two sentence description of what the trend is. And then brainstorm to build up ideas, take each idea and break it down, ask questions of it, begin to research and interview and start the process of marketing.

* * * * *

Resources abound for trend-spotting. Most magazines try to highlight the trends for their subject whether it is fashion or computers. Futurist think-tanks publish books and papers on trends. And sometimes just a sharp eye on what young people are doing can give a writer a sense of what will be hot and marketable in a short while.

One of the best sources come from marketing groups like Iconoclast. Another good source is the magazine, American Demographics.

* * * * *

Here are some examples of how trends appear in print:

An example of a metatrend in the software infrastructure industry. It's very technical but if you are able to interpret the arcane information and relate it to possible advances in the near-term, it can lead you to some good stories.

Often an institute or organization will send out a press release like this one, about the Top 10 functional food trends for 2004.

* * * * *

The Internet provides an example of what happens. In the mid-90's there were books, magazines, and articles pouring out about the Internet. It was the trend that set the tone in the mid-to-late 90's. People needed to know what e-mail was, what a web site was, what html was, what usenet was and so on. More than a few writers made a living through that period because they could ride that wave. And a few of them are still riding this wave, as experts, because they discovered the trend early and learned everything they could about it.

The trend slows down, however, and the writer needs to have an instinct about it. Don't let trends mature before you get on it and flesh it out. And, of course, whenever a trend is a bull running loose through the streets, do something counter-intuitive to it. Write what is wrong with the trend. Editors like that type of stuff.

Trend-spotting: Anyone can play.
Trend-spotting for small business
A plague of bogus trend setters.

A writer doesn't have to be absolutely correct about the trend. The writer isn't creating the trend or predicting it. She is simply picking it up early on and carrying it to interested readers. Whether it succeeds or fails as a product or an idea is neither here nor there. The writer's job is to find the cutting edge and get the information out about it.

There's always a trend book that details a rising generation. The latest is Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters. Here's a review of it in the Guardian Unlimited:

Remember that the ideas you come up with from a trend is only the first step in a process that will lead to publishing an article. You need to target the article to the appropriate market, to the right editor, with the right format. Read the guidelines and study the publications you intend to send material to.

Written by David Eide, Sunoasis.com

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copyright 2000-2006