Both fiction novels and non-fiction books need some level of research with regards to place and time or data and facts. As writers, we need to be very careful about when and how we dive into a research expedition for our books. Otherwise, we end up wasting weeks months and years accumulating research with no manuscript to show for it.
When to Research
At the end of the first draft. Seriously. If you need to check on the facts or find a reference for a particular quote or statistic, use this tried and true editors’ trick. Write TK and come back to it. Why the letters TK? Because, there are no words in the English language that have the letters TK next to each other, which will make it easy for you to Find Text with your Ctrl + F function in the second draft. I have blogged extensively on the value of getting the first draft out quickly, so you have something to edit instead of allowing the inner critic to slow you down with self-editing. Research can easily be a playground where your inner critic gets to be the bully, telling you that you don’t know enough yet and halting your progress. Here’s a next-level tip: turn off the internet to avoid the temptation to research!
How to Research Beyond Google
In today’s day and age, it’s quite obvious that most of us are going to rely on Google searches for our research. I would be remiss not to include a small warning about checking your sources as credible and making sure you have more than one source for any fact you are asserting. That being said, there is so much more to this world than the wide web.
Interviews with direct quotes are amazing sources. You survey your ideal reader to collect statistics. Lastly, in the people’s category would be to consider outsourcing your research. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a university student in the field of your topic to do some digging for you.
While this might seem obvious, I wanted to open your mind to other options than your local library or ordering a book through Amazon. Schedule a visit to a university library and use the librarian’s vast knowledge to point you in the right direction. The librarian’s scope is extremely broad due to targeted online sites. A vast majority of research is done through libraries’ full-text databases.
You can interview a prominent entrepreneur as well as focus on some corporations in a specific industry. Look into the annual reports from a number of companies and read business magazines and business sections in the newspaper.
Let’s not forget the plethora of information published by government agencies all the time. From municipal travel boards to provincial (or state) level departments to federal agencies, you have many sources to dive into for data, and most of them are free and open to the public.
Once you are in research mode, be mindful of your time and the temptation of rabbit holes. You’ll also want to find an effective way to manage your findings. Putting it all in one folder on your phone or computer is much more helpful than on random scraps of paper and several notebooks. Trust me, I speak from experience. Better yet, use an Excel spreadsheet.
If you are at the research stage in your second draft, happy digging! May you find all the supporting references you need.