How to Research Effectively

No matter what type of story you’re writing, you’re likely to need to do some research for it. A colleague of mine recently wrote a novel that took place in the Carolinas. One important place in the story was set at a house on the bluffs. The only problem was there were no bluffs in that part of the state. Needless to say, she had some serious rewriting to do. So research is important. It’s also a time suck, frustrating, and chaotic. So how do we make some sense out of researching and make things go more smoothly?

  1. Identify topics that need researching. Figure out exactly what you need to research and make a list. These may be vague topics, like WW2 history, but make sure to write down everything relevant to your story.
  2. Identify tangential topics. Here’s where we get more specific, such as women’s hairstyles during WW2. If there is a tangent that needs to be explored, write it down to research later.
  3. List topics by importance. Not everything will be crucial to your story so you want to avoid spending long hours researching them.
  4. Know your research goals. What needs to go in your story and why are questions you should be asking yourself as you research.
  5. Set aside specific blocks of time for research. This way you don’t eat into your writing time or find yourself researching to procrastinate. Beware of both these reasons.

Once you start researching you want to evaluate the legitimacy of each source you find. Websites that end in .edu or .gov are reliable authorities. Wikipedia shouldn’t be completely accepted as fact if the article isn’t properly cited, but it’s a good place to start to find key words and sources.

Use apps like Evernote to keep and organize your notes. It saves whole website pages for later use and is easily accessible anywhere and easy to use. It also has a great free version.

Once you’re done researching, don’t overwhelm the reader with information once you begin writing. And remember the Show Don’t Tell rule is crucial. You don’t want to bombard your reader with facts. Show the world your characters live in and weave in facts with description. Keep it simple. And remember that you are writing fiction. If there is a fact that you absolutely cannot find, then you are allowed to reasonably use your imagination. Just don’t rely on this cheat too much.

These tips should help you stay abreast of researching. Starting with a plan will keep you on track and on topic, better utilizing your precious time. Do you have any tips for researching? Comment below and happy researching!

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