Nowadays, it is extremely easy to research any sort of topic that tickles your fancy, thanks to the internet and the spread of digital devices. As straightforward as it may sound, the process of conducting preliminary research before starting to write shouldn’t be underestimated. Every book, whether fiction or non-fiction, needs some solid grounding. Sometimes, however, even research motivated by your best intentions has the potential to end up being another form of procrastination. So, how do you get things done? Here are some tips on the best ways to research your book (without getting lost in the process):
While researching your book, you’re bound to come across fresh information, or even revive your own knowledge of your chosen topic, which might affect the development of your whole story. You may even find it necessary to adapt your work to these new discoveries, by redirecting the focus of your writing or changing your intended readership. It is worth researching the essentials at an early stage.
This applies to every author, but especially to the ones who are writing for a very specific audience. Consider what kind of content your readers are interested in, what kind of style they are expecting. Be careful if your audience is defined by an age group (e.g. children’s books), as the language and content might need to be adjusted for that specific readership.
If you’re setting your book in the real world, don’t invent information about authentic locations – there will always be someone with a vigilant eye who will be eager to point out your mistakes. The more detailed the account, the more interesting and engaging it will be for your readers. If you find that your chosen location is unreachable or if you are unable to personally travel there, try to find what you need online: there are plenty of travel blogs and picture databases that can help you recreate the atmosphere of a specific country or city. Any small but spot-on details – like a particular smell, colour, or sound – can make a great difference.
If you want to use historical facts, scientific data or technical information, it’s vital that your knowledge is accurate or you may lose both credibility and marketability. Again, make use of the inexhaustible online resources, this will be the quickest way of researching something, but do not regard all the information you find as true. Some websites are more reliable than others, and it might be worth spending some time double-checking some facts. Generally, library databases, journals and professional publications are more trustworthy than blogs and Wikipedia. It is also likely that someone has already written about your chosen topic: take some time to research papers from academics in the field you have chosen and browse the key titles for your area of interest (universities and specialised libraries are particularly helpful for this).
Carrying out some general research on your own is fine, but what if you have a very specific question that no book or website seems to be able to answer? In this case, the best solution might be to interview a specialist in the field. It never hurts to ask for help, and most experts would enjoy talking about their areas of interest. Do not forget that when you’re writing about a specific profession, friends or people you know might also be of help! When drafting your characters, for example, it can be very useful to get an insight into the daily life of a doctor, a police officer or a librarian and it will inevitably add authenticity to your work.
Remember to make lots of notes about what you discover: you never know what could come in handy later! Try to file all of your data accurately and conveniently, so that you’ll be able to easily retrieve a key piece of information at the exact moment you need it. Keep track of the websites you visit and bookmark the most interesting articles.
This is the trickiest part! Preliminary research is helpful in setting up the backbone of your novel, but when you approach a more specific subject it’s better to set some goals before starting (e.g. find out about a specific historical period, question the daily routine of a certain profession, etc.). Try not to research your book blindly or without sight of an end point or you might find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of information available online. Try dedicating a fixed amount of time to it in order not to neglect your actual writing in favour of research. Stay focused and avoid going off track, no matter how inviting that next link may look!
Why keep it secret? You can share your progress with your audience, keeping them informed of your findings through social media. You can write blog entries on what you are researching, create a Pinterest board or just share what you have learned on Twitter. It’s a great way of actively engaging with your readers and you might even interest some of them in buying the finished book!
For some useful worksheets and extra resources to help you research your book click here.
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