Have you ever gotten knee deep in a writing project and realized you knew nothing about elephants, the West Coast, or sail boating? With no knowledge of your protagonist’s passion for wildlife, their hometown, career or hobbies, your writing won’t be very believable.
Research is work, but it can also be fun if you know how and where to look for information. Research is important—if readers have to double check your writing for accuracy, they won’t trust you.
What Should I Research?
If you’ve chosen to write about something you know, you might not realize you still need to research certain topics in your work.
Several basic questions you should ask before you start your novel.
Hobbies and jobs of my main characters?
The region/country/city or state of your setting.
Weapons research (if the use of weapons are in your story)
History and time-period of your novel
These are just a few of the must-knows before beginning your project. There are also many small details you will probably need to research when you’re in the middle of your project.
My Mini Research Moments
When I’m writing a novel, article, blog, or short story, I keep a computer close by for mini research moments. This strategy comes in handy when questions arise that I cannot answer, such as:
Should I use the word bear or bare?
What does a gun sound like when it is fired?
Which bullets or cartridge is needed for the Heckler and Koch P7?
What does dried blood smell like?
What kind of hats were worn in the ‘50s?
These questions are not worthy of months of research, only moments.
I choose between one of several answers, then I turn back to my writing keyboard and keep going. (your cell phone works great, too).
The secret is not to hang out too long on the internet when only a couple of minutes of research will get you the answer.
Do not check your social media accounts during this time. I mean it!
Finding Sources of Information
Thirty years ago, research used to require holding an encyclopedia in your hands, going to the library, interviewing people in person or over landline telephones, browsing bookstores, and traveling to make sure you really knew the geographical area you were writing about.
Today, these sources work great for me:
Bookstores and Libraries—Librarians and bookstore clerks are still quite helpful.
Interviewing experts online or in-person
Using the internet to research
Scholarly articles and research studies (check university libraries (online and in-person) Also check out Googlescholar
Trade magazines and books (online and print)
YouTube, social media, and blogs to get more information, as well as the vibe of today’s generation, to handle quick interviews and get ideas (Always check sources for accuracy)
Check out the Library of Congress for information.
Examine the accuracy of sources with 3 simple questions
1. Is the writer credible and an expert in the field? What are their credentials?
2. Is the article or source up-to-date (written within the past 5-10 years)?
3. Who is your source writing to—are they biased and one-sided?
How to incorporate these sources into your writing
Being kind by letting readers know where your ideas or information came from is ethical and a great way to pay it forward. Check out the Jerry Falwell Library and the Calvin T. Ryan Library to find out how and why to cite or reference sources.
Three ways to share your sources:
Creating a reference or bibliography page at the end of your article or book
Sharing the information and source within the body of your work
Creating Hyperlinks for online writing
Where to find more information on researching
If you perform a google or Duck Duck Go internet search about researching, you will find a plethora of information to choose from. I find Jerry Jenkins blogs and workshops wonderful for new writers.
Another expert blogger with a mine of information is Jane Friedman. Her blogs and classes are filled with wonderful information about research and writing.
I’d love to hear about your researching adventures and tips. Leave a comment, and don’t forget to sign up to be the first to receive my latest blogs.