Research Tips for Writers

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I’ve been doing some research lately for my current work-in-progress and thought it’d be timely to discuss the topic of writer’s research on the blog as well as share some of my research tips.

Writing and research seem to come hand-in-hand. Even when you’re writing fiction, there’s plenty of research to be done to ensure your facts are accurate. I’m a research fiend and I like nothing better than to be click-click-clicking away on the ‘Net, happily exploring tangent after tangent, link after link until I look up two hours earlier with bleary, aching eyes and a head full of information ready to explode. 

Also, if you’re a fellow writer, you’d know this – we writers research the weirdest things! Sometimes, I swear my Google history is going to land me on some CIA watch list based on the stuff that I look up for my writing.

Unfortunately, not all of us have a research assistant the way bestselling authors like Salman Rushdie do. However, sometimes doing your own research is the joy of it as we follow tangent after tangent down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia and the Internet, finding out new things. The only problem is when it comes to putting it all together or chasing down a site that I remember vaguely. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind having a research assistant to do the more boring research for me sometimes!

So here are a few of my research tips for writers:

Research now or research later?

It’s always a good idea to do some preliminary research for your novel so you can pull together background information and brainstorm more ideas for your new project. That will also leave you with some research gold on hand that you can easily access while you’re tapping out the first draft of your book.

However, there comes a time when you need to stop researching and just start writing. We writers are very good at procrastinating and doing research is one of our best excuses yet for putting off writing! Sometimes it’s time to just stop falling down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia and instead pull our finger out and actually start writing.

 

Perhaps you haven’t got all your information together yet. No matter. Sometimes, when I’m writing my first draft, I haven’t even got the right names for some of my characters. But I’m not going to stop writing just so I can start Googling a bunch of names and their meanings or look up articles about Siberia or how a certain gun works because I know I could very easily spend hours on this. And before I know it, my writing time is up and I haven’t written a word.

So I just give my character a random name and suddenly there are flowers growing in the moors in my manuscript that have never ever blossomed in any moorland and I’m pretty sure that’s not the way an AK47 works but what I’m putting down now are just placeholders while I’m trying to get the scene down on paper (or rather the Word Doc). This way, when I’ve got a good flow going on (and we writers know how important and elusive that good writing flow can be!), I don’t interrupt it by stopping to look up Mongolian names that mean ‘fire’ or how volcanoes actually work. When the editing process finally starts, I can go back and start doing the research then and changing the details to make sure they’re accurate.

 

Keep a research notepad or Word Doc with you.

So I’ve mentioned how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. And that’s fantastic when you’re on the Great Research Train and it’s running away with you and you’re discovering all sorts of cool things and thinking, “Ooh! I bet I can use this later in my novel!” or “That’s such a quirky bizarre fact, I’m going to save this one for later!” But then when it actually comes time to write or fact check and you’re trying to remember one little fact and you can’t lay your hands easily on where you got that info from, well…

All hell breaks loose.

So it could be ideal to bookmark interesting links as you go through your research tizzy, or at the very least have a notebook or Word Doc labelled Research/Fun Facts on hand where you can jot down a few notes about where you saw this or that particular fact. An example would be you idly flipping through the Fabulous French Magazine website when you saw a throwaway line in an article that states Marie Antoinette was eating caramel whipped shortbread when she uttered, “Let them eat cake.” Later, when you want to double-check for a story you’re writing that Marie Antoinette was actually eating caramel whipped shortbread and not caramel nougat macaroons, you can flip through your Research/Fun Facts notebook and identify that you did in fact get this factoid from the Fabulous French Magazine in their September issue.

Save some for later. 

It’s good to be able to know you’ve thoroughly researched every aspect of your book and to know that this will definitely shine through for your readers. But there’s also such a thing as an overload of info and facts. Don’t feel like you need to include everything you’ve come across in your research in one book. Sure, there’s some really cool and interesting facts you’ve uncovered out there that you’d love to share with your readers, but you can always save them for another story. It’s a win-win situation because now you know you’ve got more story ideas for the future!

 

Twitter is great for research.
Obvious avenues of research include the Internet, books, journals, magazines and interviews with real experts. But I also like social media, especially Twitter, because you can follow a variety of experts in different fields. Folks like astrophysicist, rare book experts, astronauts, artists, museum curators, entrepreneurs and the like, all happily sharing 140-character glimpses into their lives. And if you ask nicely, they’re usually willing to answer your questions about how things work in their line of expertise too!
So there you are – these are a few of my tips regarding research for writers!
What are your tips for writerly research? Comment below and let me know!
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