Researching for Writers.

So no matter what genre you write in, you’re probably going to have to do some research at some point in time. If you’re like me, you’ll be fine with this because its exciting. If not, well not so much. But some times even when you know what subject you’re researching, it might be hard to know where to start. So tonight, I’m going to give you my suggestions for how to conduct good research.

Step 1- Know what you’re looking for.

You can start with a broad topic, like The Roaring Twenties, or make it specific like, what kinds of food did people eat back then? The more specific you are, the easier/harder it will be to find information. But if I’m researching a time period, I’ll start with broad things.

Step 2: Gather your resources

Once you’ve decided on your topic, now its time to start gathering your materials. The best place to start right off the bat is Google because that’s fairly simple.

Rule of warning: Remember that when you’re looking for sites for information, you have to keep in mind that there might be a ton of sites out there with a bunch of different information. One of the things here is that some of that information may not always be true. I have two ways of checking information, 1) Does the site list references? And are those references valid sources and are they dated? 2) Can this information be found on other sites. If you can find generally the same information on at least two or three other sites, you know that its probably true. Even better, see if you can find it in a book. (Although if you’re writing a fiction novel, your facts don’t always have to be strictly true. Because you’re writing fiction and you can sometimes get away will little things as long as its not too big).

Once you’ve found your internet references, its a good idea to bookmark all those files in a separate folder or two so that you’ll be able to find them again.

After you’ve found your internet resources, make sure to check out your local library or bookstore. Books are generally the best places to look for information that’s true. And don’t be afraid to check out kids’ books too. Sometimes those may be helpful although you might look a bit silly reading them. Other good resources to check out are magazines, TV shows, movies, documentaries, and journals (not like personal journals but academic ones).

Make sure to keep track of all the things you’ve used to find your information in because those might come in handy if you need to rent them again or something. Sometimes I give my list of resources to friends who might be resourcing the same things.

Step 3- Organize your resources and make notes

Say you’re researching the 1920s again and you need to know exactly where to find something or there’s something in a specific book you need. If you’re looking at your internet resources, make sure to organize them. For example I’ve been studying this era for a novel and under my bookmarks I have specific folders for sites related to “Flappers”, “Model T Ford”, “Speakeasies”, “Prohibition”, etc.

If you want to make notes, keep a stack of notecards near you and write down the quote you want and then remember to source the item you got this information from. If you can’t remember how to do something like the MLA from high school, there’s plenty of sites that will show you how or even do it for you. Doing something like the MLA may not seem all that important, especially if you’re writing fiction, but its a good habit to get into. Not only will this help you keep track of your information, but you can’t be accused of stealing that quote or anything.

And remember basic note taking tips like, you don’t have to write everything down and summarizing is useful.

Step 4- How do you know when you have enough?

This is a good question, one that I’ve often struggled with myself. I’m one of those people who will research a subject until I’m sick of it and ready to die. But from that I’ve learned that there’s ways to know.

A good way to know is that you can just start with the basics. Because you can always go back and research more later. But most of the time we just need a couple things to get us started and informed.

Also, research as you go. You don’t need to know everything before you begin writing because you don’t know what you’ll encounter as you write. Or what will come up. Research what you need and leave it as that if you’re afraid of over researching.

Also keep in mind that you won’t use everything you’ll learn. Sometimes not only that, but if your story is still good without knowing what exactly people ate in the 1920s and how long they cooked it, you don’t need to research that. Its not needed! Don’t go through the trouble of putting something into your story just for the sake of putting it there, cause that’s unnecessary.

Step 5- Don’t be afraid of creating. 

If you can’t find something you’re looking for, keep in mind that the information you want may not be known or even accessible to you. And if you are determined to add something that you can’t find, add that something anyways. Its okay to expand on a topic even if you’re not exactly right. (Mostly though if you’re writing fiction.)

If you can’t find say what was the most popular hair color back in the 1920s, its okay to put in that lots of people like blonds or red-heads. After all, you’re writing fiction, not a non-fiction book. You don’t always have to have all the facts out there.

Main Points to Take Away

  • Don’t limit yourself to just one resource! There’s a ton of information out there on any subject. Don’t just look on the internet or in books, try other types of media too. Like movies and magazines.
  • Its a good idea to double check that your facts are true. Even if you’re writing fiction. While it may not be the most important thing, it’d be horrible if you got something wrong and everyone knew it but you, after you’ve been published. Because then its kinda hard to go back and change it.
  • Don’t steal! Make sure to give credit to where you found your information. Even if you’re going to be the only person to know.
  • Keep organized. This way, its very to find information when you need it.
  • Keep notes! Also makes it easier to find information!
  • Use what you need as you need it.
  • Try to have fun!

So, do you enjoy researching? Why or why not? What is some of the most interesting things you’ve come across before?

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